VENICE - A group of civilised if many-legged aliens makes contact with the world in “Arrival”, in competition at the Venice film festival Thursday, and it’s up to Amy Adams to figure out what they want.

Adams, the US star of “The Master” and “American Hustle”, plays expert linguist Louise Banks who is brought in by the US army to help translate what the knobbly-kneed creatures are saying after alien pods pop up worldwide.

Banks may speak everything from Farsi to Mandarin but this modern-day version of first contact - a staple of alien films since ET’s “phone home” in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic - leaves her temporarily stumped. Predictably, the global powers argue amongst themselves and a group of “rogue” nations with China at its head decides that in order to save humanity they should blow these gentle if enormous creatures out of the sky.

It’s up to brave Banks to put her life on the line, and in doing so she uncovers a secret that will change the world in an act of intellectual heroism that may well put modern language degrees back on the map.

Beyond the nukes-versus-flying saucer scenario, Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve, who based the film on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life”, leaves a lot of breathing room for a persuasive performance from Adams.

Villeneuve, best known for his crime-thrillers “Prisoners” (2013) and “Sicario” (2015), said the idea of the flick, which pairs Adams with fellow “American Hustle” star Jeremy Renner, was to give humans a wake-up call.

As the plot develops, the past, future and present blur, leaving one constant theme: death. Villeneuve said the idea was that even if you can see into the future, knowing what is coming and preparing cannot stop the inevitable.

“By being more in relationship with death, in an intimate way with the nature of life and its subtleties, it would bring us more humility,” he said.

“Humanity needs that humility right now. We are in an era with a lot of narcissism.” Adams and Renner were set to take to the red carpet at the beach-side festival later Thursday.