- Street Date:
- February 14th, 2017
- Reviewed by:
- Michael S. Palmer
- Review Date: 1
- February 3rd, 2017
- Movie Release Year:
- 116 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
Portions of this review are also featured in our coverage of the 'Arrival' Ultra HD Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital HD Combo Pack. The Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts portions are different.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
It's the most average morning of your life. You're off to school or work or running errands. Coffee in hand, thinking about the grocery list or worrying about that bill you need to pay. Then it happens. The whole world changes in an instant. Word spreads on social media first, a viral explosion of information and rumors. Maybe it's all a hoax, you think (you hope), before confirmation comes...
An alien spacecraft is hovering over a Montana field... With eleven more in other places across the world.
School is canceled. Groceries stores pillaged. And fighter jets scream across the horizon.
Naturally, the government -- a collection of military, intelligence, and scientific personnel -- investigates the craft, even managing to make first contact long enough to realize these aliens -- dubbed heptapods for their squid-like appearance -- don't communicate in any languages we understand. Stumped, the military turns to linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), to translate the heptapods' language, and physicist Ian Donnely (Jeremy Renner), to advise on the important questions once communication is established.
Louise's impossible task, however, is not simply to translate, but also to teach the heptapods the basics of our language, including vital cultural and linguistic nuances, while simultaneously deciphering the circular hieroglyphs of the heptapods' written language...
And she has to do all of this before our world's paranoid hawks push humanity over the cliff of interstellar warfare.
Denis Villeneuve ('Sicario', 'Prisoners') is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. Not only does he, along with his collaborators, have an incredible sense of tone and scale and scope, but he has a knack for selecting already-excellent screenplays and improving them throughout the development, production, and post-production processes. I am simply in awe of the work he makes (and pulls out of others) and can't wait to see what he does next (he's finishing up the 'Bladerunner' sequel and is attached to direct a new adaptation of 'Dune'). But let's go back a little further.
'Arrival' began its journey to the big screen as a short story entitled 'Story of Your Life', written by Ted Chiang. Enter screenwriter Eric Heisserer who, after years of trying to get producers interested in the project, found a home for it at Shawn Levy's 21 Laps Entertainment. They were able to secure the adaptation rights by attaching Villeneuve who, at that time, was about to direct 'Prisoners' and, later, only fully committed after Heisserer wrote an amazing script that was lauded on the 2012 Black List. Despite losing studio support, the filmmakers trudged on, attaching elements like Amy Adams, pre-selling the movie at the Cannes Film Festival, and eventually entering production in 2015 for the eventual 2016 release.
It's a journey that took many years, and the results speak for themselves.
On the day 'Arrival' is available to purchase on Ultra HD Blu-ray and Blu-ray, I will have been a father for exactly sixteen months. As a first-time father, 'Arrival' breaks my heart in its first ten minutes before breaking my mind for the rest of its running tune, weaving multiple elements into a riveting conclusion that resonates wonderfully. In short, it's the most emotional movie-going experience I've had years, and among the most human cinema experiences I've had in my lifetime.
The movie asks philosophical, thematic questions about human nature and threads them delicately into a thrilling story about the nature of language and the importance of communication. At the same time, 'Arrival' builds suspense not with gunfights and destroyed moments, but on whether or not humanity has the patience and courage to resist our more destructive instincts.
Will our own fear destroy us?
It's a fascinating experiment, cinematically, especially when you consider the sheer volume of exposition dancing around complicated scientific and linguistic concepts. Ultimately, 'Arrival' succeeds because it is so singularly focused in the hearts of its main characters. We are curious about what Louise and Ian want to learn. We side with them as hostile agents threaten to derail their work. And we hope with them as they struggle to make difficult choices. It's a movie that makes its complexity, of concept and structure and character journey, feel simple and approachable and, yes, emotional.
We've all seen movies where mankind reacts to extraterrestrial first contact. It's a sci-fi trope and concept that speaks to our cultural paranoias. Like all the best science fiction, 'Arrival' transcends its own genre. I could probably write a few thousand more words about how it works on the micro and macro simultaneously and why I felt such an intense connection to it. I don't know if you'll feel the same -- especially after the hype driven by enthusiastic fans like me and the film's Oscar campaign -- but I implore everyone to give this one a shot while knowing as little about it as possible.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
'Arrival' debuts on Blu-ray as part of a one-disc Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack. The Digital HD redemption code may not be valid after February 14, 2019 and works with iTunes OR UltraViolet partners like VUDU. There are no pre-menu trailers.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
When I saw 'Arrival' theatrically, I was mid-review on the excellent LG E6 OLED UHD TV and coming off an afternoon spent in my local Dolby Cinema. It goes without saying that the black levels, color qualities, and contrast capabilities on both are divine. Stepping into a conventional digital cinema for 'Arrival', I was met with muddy black levels and poor contrast. At the time, I ascribed my impressions to my particular cinema, even snarking about it on Facebook.
Turns out this is exactly how the filmmakers want 'Arrival' to look.
Or at least that's what I'm going to assume because the Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray presentations replicate my theatrical experience almost exactly. For this Blu-ray -- encoded in AVC MPEG-4 and framed in the film's original 2.39:1 aspect ratio -- you get what's at best described as good picture quality. Images are sharp and focused at times -- particularly the military gear, wide shots, costumes and skin textures -- and there are a good amount of details hidden in the shadows.
However, much like the theatrical experience, 'Arrival' features an unsaturated color palette (save for the occasional pop of the hazmat suits and Montana landscapes) alongside muddy contrast and black levels that are barely hit deep gray, especially when considered next to the pure blacks of the letterboxing. There are also touches of banding here and there.
This specific look works for the movie, of course, creating a dreamlike atmosphere, a fluidity of memories, and adding to the overall uniqueness of the experience. In other words, 'Arrival' doesn't look like most titles in this genre and lacks certain qualities we normally ascribed to pristine HD presentations. Let's call this one accurate, but blandly so.
Further, it's worth noting the Ultra HD Blu-ray offers DCI P3 color gamut, which makes what few colors there are in this film pop; however, this Blu-ray's SDR Rec 709 offers a brighter overall picture, revealing more shadow details.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'Arrival' boasts the same English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio on both the Ultra HD Blu-ray and the Blu-ray. After 'Sicario', I was eagerly anticipating another Denis Villeneuve film in Dolby Atmos, or a first film in DTS:X, but it seems 'Arrival' was only ever mixed in 7.1.
On the surface, this is a bit of a shame given what we've heard before from this team, and also when factoring how great this track sounds as-is, but I have no complaints here. Technically, it's not the most bombastic, in-your-face surround mix, but the layers of nuanced details are reference quality and audiophile-impressive.
The sound elements themselves -- be they score, effects, or dialogue -- crackle with fidelity and unique tones. I've never quite heard a score like this, and pay special attention to the dialogue spoken into various microphones (it was re-recording using those devices rather than post-processed). All of this design work gives the elements a very textured and dynamic feeling.
Those elements are then panned with precision for a highly immersive audio experience that not only surrounds in native 7.1, but also up-mixes wonderfully in Neural:X or Dolby Surround for full a more hemispherical approach. I was constantly amazed by the ways the filmmakers added a large or small detail to this channel or that. They also modulate the mix's volume levels and aggression (quiet moments following intense noise, etc.) in such away your ears never fatigue like with more conventional blockbusters.
At the end of the day, while I wonder what a native DTS:X or Dolby Atmos mix could have added to the overall experience, 'Arrival' boasts an articulate, reference quality 7.1 mix. Turn this one up to 11.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
It's always a good idea to avoid bonus materials when you haven't seen a movie, but it's especially true in this case. 'Arrival' offers over an hour and twenty minutes of well-polished and informative making-of featurettes. Though I wish the whole experience were more fly-on-the-wall, it's a very good package fans should enjoy exploring to learn about the people and inspirations and choices and accidents that all worked together to create the wonderful film we now call 'Arrival'.
Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival (HD, 30:03). A pretty in-depth making-of coupling clips with talking heads discussing their various roles in the film's development and production. A lot of interesting details to be had here -- I only wish it was a little longer and more documentary-esque.
Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design (HD, 13:59). The sound team and director talk about how they approached creating and implementing the movie's sound effects. I always find it fascinating how these artists mix various sound recordings to create otherworldly textures and creatures and environments. Another cool tidbit -- for any scenes with on-camera microphones, they re-recorded every line of dialogue through those actual devices.
Eternal Recurrence: The Score (HD, 11:24). Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson ('Sicario') returns to work with Denis Villeneuve and once again creates something unique and textural using layer upon layer of vocals and instruments.
Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process (HD, 11:20). Editor Joe Walker, another 'Sicario' collaborator, discusses not only how they approached the editorial process, but also how editing itself is thematically relevant to this particular story. There's also a visual effects component.
Principles of Time, Memory, & Language (HD, 15:24). An exploration of the philosophical and scientific concepts behind the big question of what it might be like to encounter beings whose minds work and perceive the universe in a dramatically different way than humans. I need to watch this one like ten more times.
'Arrival' is an emotional movie-going experience built on the foundation of a thematically-haunting short story and an exceptionally tight screenplay. Director Denis Villeneuve and team have made an incredible film that is smart and tense and human.
'Arrival' in Blu-ray form offers accurate visuals with good shadow details, but unflattering black levels, along with an excellent 7.1 surround experience and over 80 minutes of bonus materials. For what it's worth, the Ultra HD option offers a bit more color, but at the expense of brightness.
If you're not planning to upgrade to 4K anytime soon, this Blu-ray comes Highly Recommended for the quality of the movie and soundtrack.
- Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- English, English SDH, French, Spanish
- 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
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