Lionsgate // 1996 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 6th, 2009
The greatest danger facing our world has been the planet's best kept secret...until now.
From writer-director David Twohy (Pitch Black), The Arrival is a paranoia-laced science fiction tale that follows the adventures of Zane Zaminski (Charlie Sheen, Platoon), an obsessive NASA radio astronomer who listens to the cosmos for signs of intelligent life. When he hears a non-random extraterrestrial radio signal that may indicate the existence of life, his boss (Ron Silver, Reversal of Fortune) fires him and smears his reputation in the research community. Zaminski sets up an observation laboratory in his own basement and discovers that the extra-solar signal was piggy-backed on a radio station signal originating in central Mexico. Meanwhile, climatologist Illana Green (Lindsay Crouse, Places in the Heart) discovers that greenhouse gas emissions are causing temperatures to rise astronomically throughout Central and South America. The increases are too rapid to be caused by nature or human beings. Zaminski meets Green in Mexico where they team to investigate the odd phenomena they've witnessed. The more they uncover of the shocking conspiracy, the more their search becomes a game of life and death.
The Arrival isn't a terrible movie, but it plays more like a relic of the past than a classic sci-fi thriller (as a matter of fact, Arthur Kempel's synthesizer-heavy score gives it the feel of a flick from 1986, not 1996). Twohy's screenplay is built on a solid frame of intrigue and water-tight turns of plot, but stumbles in its third act. Once the truth of the conspiracy is revealed at the end of act two, the story crawls awkwardly toward a climax full of overacting, poor CGI effects, and awkwardly staged action sequences. Other smaller flaws undermine the movie throughout. The inclusion of Zaminski's smart-alecky teen sidekick, Kiki (Tony T. Johnson, North), is particularly grating and out of step with the tone of the rest of the picture. Zaminski's troubled relationship with his long-suffering girlfriend (Teri Polo, Meet the Parents) lacks a satisfactory emotional payoff and doesn't add to the third act suspense as Twohy seems to have intended.
None of these flaws (even Kiki, annoying as he is) is egregious enough to ruin the picture. Charlie Sheen accomplishes that all by himself. The Arrival came after Sheen's halcyon thespian days of Platoon, Wall Street, Young Guns, and Major League, at a dark time when he got more press for his love of cocaine and porn stars with tax problems than his acting career. In The Arrival, his best line reads exude a mild, nasally disinterest; his worst brim with wide-eyed mania and full-throated histrionics that are hilarious even though they're not supposed to be. Add a mild paunch and a general lack of coordination that make him run like a girl, and Sheen is perhaps the least convincing action hero since Joe Don Baker starred in Mitchell. I'm not here to bag on Sheen (really). In the right role (which, in Sheen's case, usually means a character that is arrogant and emotionally distant), he can be quite good. But watching The Arrival, one gets the sense that everything would work better with a different lead actor.
The Arrival was shot unostentatiously by cinematographer Hiro Narita (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). He fills the 1.85:1 frame with textbook compositions that tell the story with a maximum of naturalism and little in the way of showiness. The 1080p MPEG-4 transfer of this Blu-ray is a mixed bag. Detail is surprisingly good. Narita shot the movie with nearly all planes in focus at all time. Trees, chain link fences, and computer consoles in the background are almost always rendered in sharp detail. Long shots of both cityscapes and natural landscapes are uniformly attractive. But if detail is impressive, color is not. During its best moments, the movie's palette is flat and naturalistic. The worst shots suffer from weak blacks and colors that are slightly washed out. Source damage is minimal considering the movie's low budge and low profile. Digital noise reduction is controlled and unobtrusive.
If the video presentation is mediocre, the audio is awesome -- especially for a movie that is over a decade old. The single audio option is a DTS-HD master audio track in 7.1 surround. The spatial design is perfect. Directional panning and abundant LFE add excitement to what would otherwise be forgettable action sequences. Dialogue is crisp and clean. Effects and music sport broad dynamic range and make full use of the entire soundstage.
There are no extras, not even a trailer (the feature likely maxes out the 25-gigabyte, single-layered disc).
With The Arrival, writer-director David Twohy seems to have been trying to make a hybrid of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and X-Files. He didn't quite succeed. A mostly intelligent script is undone by some weak acting and budget constraints that leave the movie feeling ten years older than it actually is.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13