THE FILM 4.5/5
“Why are you here?”
When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team – led by expert codebreaker Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.
At times it feels like the theater has gotten so used to sci-fi films where laser guns are zapped and mutant alien races wage war on Planet Earth that it’s easy to forget the genre can still be used for messages and morals of merit. Stemming back to the 1950s with The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers – both about the imminent threat of communism (although some theorize the latter was actually about homosexuality) – the genre was once used for purposes beyond intergalactic pulp escapism. Like any other genre that’s well utilized and handpicked to effectively tell two stories at once – the surface story and the hidden story – the sci-fi genre has a lead over its counterparts in that the very tenets of its foundation are based on being limitless. As science knows no bounds, neither does science fiction.
When watching Arrival play out during its opening moments, it’s hard to disassociate it from its immediate and more well-known colleagues. Scenes of people looking across the landscape in awe will trigger memories of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Bystanders huddling around televisions will (perhaps unfortunately) recall Independence Day. And Arrival, along with these associations, hits a lot of familiar beats that call forth concepts that are necessary to tell its story. But what sets Arrival off from the rest of the pack, despite its similar surface story, is its hidden story – or really, it’s double-hidden story. Because in the multi-layered Arrival, you slowly piece together the story you think is hidden until unearthing the one that you didn’t see coming, which just happens to have the power to bring you to your knees.
As more audiences discover Arrival, their reaction will be inevitably polarizing. If you were bothered by the ambiguous nature of Inception or the abstract philosophical nature of that same director’s Interstellar, you’d be advised to stay far far away from Arrival. Because multiple viewings will be required before it’s possible to begin piecing together what exactly took place on the day the Heptapods came to earth.
THE PICTURE 4/5
By purposeful design, Arrival is dark and dour. Even scenes set in exterior environments are purposely dim. Arrival was meant to look this way because the outlook for planet earth isn’t good. The mystery of why the aliens have landed pervades across every inch of the screen. (There’s another reason why everything looks so dour and void of vibrant color, but to discuss it would ruin one of Arrival’s many surprises.) Clarity is often good, however – especially in scenes taking place within the Heptapod space ship. Ultimately the video presentation offered is kind of a conflicting one – it’s not an attractive image, but it’s the one that was intended by the filmmakers, and so in that regard we’ll split the difference.
THE SOUND 5/5
Now the audio presentation, however, is absolutely fantastic. So much of the story is told through Arrival’s sound design, from the musical score by Jóhann Jóhannsson to the creation of the Heptapods and their space ship, to a slight and uneasy ambience that filters through almost (almost) unnoticed during many scenes. The film opens and closes with what has apparently become a controversial use of Max Richter’s famous song “On the Nature of Daylight” (used, among other films, in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island), and despite what you might think of the choice, there’s no denying the emotional power that the song carries with it. (Even Penny Dreadful composer Abel Korzeniowski took offense to this decision.) Where the video presentation may leave some viewers conflicted, the absoluteness of the audio makes up for it and then some.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 4/5
All told, the supplements included on this release run over eighty minutes, and not a single moment of it is fluff. Though there is the usual back-patting and complementary nature usually found in EPKs, the concept of Arrival is discussed in-depth by those who made it — and refreshingly, no one plays coy about what the film was about. There’s no “we left it up to the audience” type of comments to skirt having to answer the bigger questions. Director Denis Villeneuve flat-out tells you what Arrival is about, and why its message is so important. All the included featurettes are essential viewing, but do not miss “Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process,” which will give you a new appreciation for the artistry of editors and what they can do.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival
- Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design
- Eternal Recurrence: The Score
- Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process
- Principles of Time, Memory & Language
Director Denis Villeneuve continues a career of unique, dark, and somber films with Arrival, which so far might be his best. Not necessarily his most accessible, but — and despite the inclusion of aliens — possibly his most relatable, Arrival is a gut punch in the beginning, throughout, and especially at the end, and all of them for different reasons. There were tears on my face before the first five minutes had even concluded, and this in a movie about an alien invasion. Please don’t miss it.
Paramount Home Media Distribution (PHMD) is part of Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPC), a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment. PPC is a unit of Viacom (NASDAQ: VIAB, VIA), home to premier media brands that create television programs, motion pictures, consumer products, and digital content for audiences in more than 180 countries and territories.