Charlie Sheen goes from excited scientist to crazed conspiracy theorist in about five minutes in 1996’s The Arrival, a fun sci-fi effort from writer/director David Twohy. Keeping Sheen crazed for much of the film adds to the tension, and skips those steps usually inserted into these “aliens look like people” stories where the main character loses everyone around him.
The Arrival dumps the usual Hollywood cliches, substituting guns and explosions for some shaky science and gloriously overdone murder attempts. Aliens on Earth, disguised as humans of course, are trying to cover-up their plans as two scientists learn of their plot. Instead of just outright killing Zane (Sheen) and Ilana (Lindsay Crouse), they initiate a scorpion trap, where dozens of the creatures are spread about Ilana’s hotel room. For Zane, they weaken the hotel’s structure with water, sending a bathtub careening down multiple floors.
The movie wants the audience to believe that the highest levels of government have been breached, so going to these lengths for simple murders seems a bit drastic. For suspension of disbelief, Arrival does all right. Twohy’s script interjects enough humor and tension to look beyond the gaping logic hole and deliver something truly different. Aliens have advanced technology, yet never run around firing laser pistols or some other nonsense. Action is completely planet-bound, keeping any credibility leaks to a minimum.
The Arrival saves a few twists for the end, generating some legitimate tension as the aliens close-in on Zane’s plot to expose them. The key becomes sweat, a human function the aliens cannot reproduce, turning the viewers attention towards more than just the action, but Zane’s paranoia as well. It’s an involving way to finish, amidst all of the enjoyable action, that makes The Arrival memorable, even if the middle sections tend to sag slightly.
Lionsgate issues a real dud of a Blu-ray transfer, sticking the disc with a low-bitrate AVC encode, loaded with DNR. Faces are impossibly pasty, which makes sense for the false-skinned aliens, but not the human characters. Facial detail is all but completely lost, saved for those scenes in intense light or highly sweaty situations where some individual beads of perspiration can be made out.
It destroys all texture and the photography. A shot of the research station at 19:56 is just butchered by the processing, and as Zane drives into an area of thick foliage at 45:08, forget about seeing any of the texture generated from the leaves. When Zane opens the shutters to look over the town at 38:02, the buildings are digitally manipulated beyond all recognition. Close-ups are consistently dull and digital, from the sheriff at 1:16:59 to Kiki at 28:22.
Compression is a constant struggle. Whether that is because of the minimalist grain structure visible in a few sporadic scenes or the after-effects of the DNR is unknown. Either way, it’s ugly. What also hurts are the non-existent black levels, generating no depth whatsoever as the film is swallowed in ugly shades of flat gray. Colors are subdued and dim, and sharpness is non-existent.
Lionsgate offers up a generally bombastic DTS-HD 7.1 mix, a loud, full effort that is far more appealing than the awful video. A rich, detailed score introduces the film over the credits, with excellent separation in the stereo channels, and a full level of fidelity that satisfies.
Dialogue is clean, carrying no loss of clarity over modern films. Satellite dishes on the move, right from the start, are effective at filling the low-end with power. The alien’s murder attempt on Zane in the hotel in which bathtubs crash through the ceiling is a highlight too, with spectacular bass as the rooms crumble. The finale, in which an entire satellite dish is crushed internally, produces a consistent rumble.
Surrounds are firmly engaged and utilized. At 5:29 as the initial signal is discovered, it begins wrapping around the room, the two extra channels utilized for clean pans as the signal sits in the usual rear speakers. Likewise, the stereos capture the noise as well, effectively too. The alien grenade tossed into Zane’s home whips about objects at 51:52, a spectacular piece of audio design replicated at the end.
The only extras are trailers.