Amy Adams takes control in Arrival movie
While Hollywood has made many science fiction stories about encounters between humans and aliens, the film Arrival by Denis Villeneuve is one of the few where a lone female protagonist makes first contact with extra terrestrials.
Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a linguistics professor chosen by the US Government to communicate with Heptapods, the species that suddenly appears on Earth in disc-shaped spaceships. She says she welcomed the chance for her character to lead the way.
"That was something Denis was constantly in touch with, that this film be all from a woman's perspective," she explains. "He was always saying 'at the end of the day, it's this woman's story, it's her journey, that's all we need to worry about. Nothing else matters as much'."
This is the third time the Quebec-born film-maker has chosen a woman as his lead character, and admits he often places them in dangerous situations - his last film, Sicario, saw Emily Blunt as a female police officer in a drugs raid in Mexico.
But he points out: "It shouldn't ever be a question as to why we would choose a female lead for an action movie, and I hope that one day it will be normal rather than unusual.
"In some ways it's not my choice this time as the short story on which Arrival is based, The Story of Your Life, depicts a woman scientist going through the process.
"But there is no doubt that a woman will have different reactions to communicating with alien life than a man, and it's no surprise that it's the woman in the group, Dr Banks, who is patient enough to break through and communicate with the Heptapods first."
Avengers actor Jeremy Renner plays a supporting role in the film as a scientist and explains that "being the back up in the movie" is the reason why he wanted the role.
"It's not like the character was a departure for me or someone I had never played before," he says, "but I loved the script, loved what it was about and I wanted to be there for Amy. That's a powerful female perspective Denis has put on screen and I was raised by women and am raising a girl - I wanted to support it."
The hard hitting sci-fi drama, based on the short story from 1998 by author Ted Chiang, focuses around humanity's efforts to communicate with Heptapods and learn their language - Heptapoid - in order to discover whether their purpose on Earth is friendly or not.
Villeneuve, who is currently in the middle of making Bladerunner 2, jokes that he "always wanted to make a science fiction story and now I have two at once".
"But really, I had been looking for a subject for a long time and then I read this short work that we ended up basing Arrival on. Initially I was worried I couldn't adapt it.
"The story is all about the linguistics, and it's beautiful, but without the dramatic structure you need. Fortunately we had a screenwriter who managed to bring drama into the framework.
"But Arrival's a different concept to a lot of previous explorations of extra-terrestrial life. It's really about how would you actually go about communicating with aliens. That was exciting to me."
While Renner and Adams's characters lovingly nickname the alien figures they meet as "Abbott and Costello", powerful politicians start talking the rhetoric of war. Adams believes the deeper message of Arrival - that language is the ultimate weapon - is timely.
"The wrong words can matter more than the right words and so being careful of what you say is important," she says.
"We live in a world where media is so quickly and immediately available and easily taken out of context. Some people do need to be edited - I won't name names - but hopefully we can have honest voices in society that aren't inflammatory."
Villeneuve agrees: "Language is available to be used as a weapon of hate and I have a strong feeling of regression at the moment.
"We hailed the start of the internet as something that could bring communities together and yet it seems full of the worst of humanity - speaking without reflection, and a general narcissism."
Arrival's first screening at Venice Film Festival drew praise from critics for its "eerie poetic grandeur" and "spectacular ideas" - although it's been pointed out that Adams may end up in competition with herself during awards season as she also takes the leading role in another heavyweight contender for Oscar glory, Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals.
While some critics have drawn comparison between her character's journey and that of Sandra Bullock's astronaut in 2013's Oscar winner Gravity, Adams dismisses the idea that Arrival is a "space film".
"This is so much more about language, and ideas about time, rather than just action and adventure. We present time in the film the way the aliens, the Heptapods, think of it - as circular and non-linear.
"It will make you think of time as very precious - that it's all too fleeting and too quickly become memory. That's the nature of being human - we are doomed to miss so much."
Arrival was screened as part of the Venice Film Festival and is also part of the Toronto Film Festival, which runs until 18 September.
The film is released in the UK on 10 November.