HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:84
“Arrival” was another one of those “rave review” films that I just sadly did not get to go see theatrically and was “forced” to see it on my home theater with Paramount’s brand new 4K and Blu-ray releases. Ah, poor me. Well, I’m incredibly glad I was able to experience “Arrival” (not to be confused with “The Arrival”) as it is one of the best science fiction movies that I have seen in quite some time. What makes the film special is that it is so distinctly different than many films of the same genre, yet still incorporates enough of the typical tropes (even if those tropes are used as a double feint almost) to breathe in the familiar smells and feelings of said genre. I am going to try VERY hard in this review to stay away from spoilers, but past, present and future blend together so seamlessly in the movie that it is going to be REALLY hard to dance around the elephants in the room (elephants that aren’t revealed as elephants until the mind-blowing finale).
Like most of these alien films, it starts with the arrival (pun intended) of 12 alien space craft at different locations around. Except, unlike “Independence Day” they aren’t followed up by Will Smith making wise cracks along with the popcorn fun of death and destruction. Instead the military big wigs bring in Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to the Montano sighting in order to try and communicate with the alien beings inside the ship. They’ve tried in the recent past, but so far have failed miserably. Well, to say that it is a difficult job is a slight understatement. The aliens (dubbed heptapods for their multi legged bodies) have a visual language that is completely separate from their vocal cords. Something which makes translating a bit of a chore (especially when you’re clued into the fact that the aliens don’t view time the same way we do and their language is indicative of that feature of their race).
However, bit by bit, piece by piece, Louise and Ian are able to figure out a common ground. Something that seems to come easier to Louise than it does to Ian. But what awaits them on the other side of understanding will change life for them FOREVER, and not just for them, but all of humanity. The only problem that arises from all of this understanding is the realization that the rest of the 12 alien “sites” are not understanding in the same way. An understanding that is VITAL to the success of the alien mission, and one that will be the building blocks for something greater in the future.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90961[/img]As I said, I really need to dance around specifics that happen in the film as the movie watching experience will be greatly hampered by revealing some of these “benign” plot points. However, the overall question of the movie up until the end is the same. WHY are the aliens here? That’s the focus of the entire Montana effort with Louise and Ian doing their best to decipher the language enough to ask their tough question. Not only ask the questions but have enough knowledge to decipher the nuances of the answer. Much of the time is sifting through the written “swirly” language of the Heptapods and discussing amongst the others its meanings. Meanings that seem to have different inferences depending on who reads them. The CIA is terrified of a malevolent attack, while the military is trying to keep the peace and the scientists are desperately trying to delay some stupid attack by over paranoid (or are they?) militants while they try and figure out what exactly is being translated.
“Arrival” is a mind-blowing film, and one that really needs to be experienced to understand. Even then, a second viewing is not a bad thing, as certain things are much easier to grasp when you already know the finale and the secrets it reveals. While I won’t give too much away in terms of plot, there are quite a few hints along the way that can clue the viewer in to the inevitable (hehe) ending. Taking careful look at the discussion about language re-writing your brain (another theoretical linguist theory out there) and Louise’s discussion with her daughter about Hannah being a palindrome. While seemingly benign comments and flashbacks, they make up the very core of the film’s third act a great stab at the future.
“Arrival” is one of my favorite movies of 2016 (my VERY favorite being “Hacksaw Ridge” which I will be reviewing in the next week), and it is one of my favorite “serious” sci-fi movies ever. I still hold “Encounters of the Third Kind” as the crème de la crème for that genre, but “Arrival” comes REALLY REALLY close to rivaling that status. It’s extremely intelligent without circling back on itself and getting its head stuck up you know where, and is visually and intellectually one of the most unique films of the last few decades. Director Dennis Villeneuve really impressed me with “Prisoners” and “Sicario”, but I was a bit suspicious of his change into the Science Fiction genre. Suspicions which were thankfully unfounded as his attention to details and focus on moral quandaries make for an intoxicating viewing experience. My only complaint is that I think that sometimes the film has been misunderstood on its meaning (I have seen multiple people both online and face to face who are CONVINCED that “Arrival” is a romance movie in the guise of a sci-fi flick when that is about the furthest thing from the truth if you’re paying attention). That’s not really a knock on the film or the director at all, but more of a frustration with film viewers who have been so used to the glut of overly clichéd superhero films (as fun as those are) that something that is a brain teaser and requires you to stay awake the whole movies are something like a rusty skill. It’s there, but takes some lubrication and working of the old thinking parts to get back on track.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90969[/img]“Arrival” is not exactly a looker of a film, but Paramount’s 1080p Blu-ray release is supposedly VERY faithful to the source from what screenshots I have been able to compare, and technically looks extremely well done. There is no major source of digital artifacting besides low light levels giving way to crush. The color palette is naturally rather bleak and grim, with harsh blues and greys taking over the image. There’s very VERY little primary colors at all, and even those are kind of muted and dull, creating a grim setting that mimics the feelings of dread an uncertainty during the alien encounters. The “non present” flashbacks/forwards” tend to be given a golden hue to differentiate themselves from the present scenes, but the same dim lighting and bleak desaturation otherwise dominate them as well. I did feel some of the shadow detail was robbed due to the constantly dim and bleak color grading, but the disc itself is pretty much free from any technical issues itself. Fine detail is solid and the contrast appears to be dialed down quite a bit.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90977[/img]I was a little puzzled by the fact that “Arrival” didn’t come with a Dolby Atmos track. It was a film that just SCREAMED to take advantage of the multiple angles that atmos can provide, but the 7.1 DTS-HD MA track that Paramount provides is NOTHING to sneeze at. Right from the start we’re let in that this is going to be a fantastic track. Little dings and warning klaxons blasting off shake the sound stage with a shrill noise, while allowing the individual surround noises of students rustling with their books to get out of the room come through with pinpoint precision. This razor sharp auditory accuracy stands true throughout the remainder of the film with the surrounds actually getting some really impressive work. The echoing of feet inside the heptapod meeting chamber is eerie and ridiculously encompassing, not to mention the amazing use of the score to bring in sounds of dread and intense emotion at certain points. In fact, I would say that the score is one of the most important narrative devices used in “Arrival” and the overly powerful beats of synthesized music guide and mold the tone for the entire film even when zero words are spoken. Dialog is crisp and clear while the LFE is simply punishing, adding in some incredibly deep and very VERY low bass hits that will rock your listening position into the next room.
• Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival - Featurette
• Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design - Featurette
• Eternal Recurrence: The Score - Featurette
• Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process - Featurette
• Principles of Time, Memory & Language - Featurette
I had a blast with “Arrival”. It’s not filled with kinetic energy or over intense action scenes. In fact, it’s a very smooth, but slow, paced film that really relies on being fascinated with the intellectual concepts as well as the incredible use of the score (probably one of my favorite utilizations of music to create a mood) and intense visuals. I had to really watch the film twice for a lot of the nuances to set in, and kind of like “Interstellar” it gets better with each and every viewing. Dennis Villeneuve has set himself on my permanent “must watch” radar with his latest few films and for good reason. He makes a film that is incredibly detailed but so intensely simple upon further viewing. “Arrival” is on my top 10 films of 2016 list (there were some REALLY good ones this year), and it allows me to give this one two enthusiastic thumbs up to watch. HIGHLY Recommended.
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Eric Heisserer (Screenplay), Ted Chiang (Based on Story by)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, French (Canadian), Spanish DD 5.1
Runtime: 116 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 14th, 2017
Buy Arrival On Blu-ray at Amazon
Buy Arrival On 4K Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Must Watch
More about Mike