The Arrival has rode 15 years of home video and word of mouth success after a brief theatrical run seemingly no one, yours truly included, has any recollection of. At the time of its release, star Charlie Sheen was on the tail end of his once thriving theatrical career including Major League and Wall Street prior to a small screen resurgence stemming from roles on Sin City and Two and a Half Men. Its director, now instantly recognizable David Twohy, was helming his first film with a direct-to-video budget and, for the time, fairly complicated CGI special effects shots to manage. All odds pointed for it to be long forgotten and irrelevant by the year 2009.
My relationship with The Arrival has been at arm’s length since first learning of its low profile existence. Throughout the years various friends have recommended it as a solid sci-fi thriller on DVD and I will take note, but never the next step of a rental or blind purchase. Its recent “arrival” on Blu-ray Disc offered an undeniable opportunity to explore the presumed cult classic and determine if it measures up to today’s commonplace alien invasion blockbusters blessed with 30 times the budget.
Sheen plays overly passionate astronomer Zane Zaminsky, a career driven man struggling in an increasingly broken marriage. In one of his many obsessive late night shifts listening to stars, he picks up a brief strange transmission that, by his calculations, can only be a sign of extraterrestrial life. Upon taking the short 42-second recording to his boss (the late Ron Silver) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory thinking he has made a monumental discovery, Zane finds himself out a job due to “budget cuts” and on a mission to recapture the signal and clear his name even if it means the end of his marriage or even life.
The Arrival is a conspiracy driven thriller that unravels a series of twists and sometimes obvious, sometimes unexpected turns as Zane pieces together clues pointing towards a nefarious alien plot of global proportions transpiring right under his nose. Barring some cheesy coincidences and cheapo sets encountered along the way, there is little let up or cause to lose focus once Zane abandons his comfort zone of home in search of the truth. His mission plays out like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only with a stronger dose of uncertainty as to what comes next.
The X-Files was still relatively young when The Arrival debuted and, throughout its existence, all but failed to accomplish what Twohy did with The Arrival in just under two hours. Pushing his diminutive budget to its limits, Twohy’s masterpiece twist is revealing the aliens, their massive technologically advanced contraptions, weaponry, and execution of their world domination plan in full view. When it happens is the moment Twohy and The Arrival have won you over.
By today’s standards, The Arrival’s visual effects and more specifically primitive green-screen work jump off the screen for all the wrong reasons. All the same, pumping even a couple extra million into the production would have been an unwise decision in hindsight. Its production flaws are an integral ingredient to its charm and uniqueness. Anything more complex or refined would ruin the sci-fi cult classic appeal, a rarity when coupled with a story compelling, briskly told, and sociologically relevant for decades or even generations to come.
Lionsgate offers The Arrival on Blu-ray framed at 1.85:1 in AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1080p video that has been “remastered” for this release. The benefits from this effort, however involved, are not as distinguishable as might be expected for a film only 15 years old. The only obvious improvement not capable from a 480p DVD transfer is seen up close in detail where line and object delineation is relatively sharp. All other aspects pertaining to the visual presentation leave much to be desired.
The image is remarkably color muted and lacking depth and dimensionality often seen in high definition transfers whose original prints date back even earlier than this ones. Contrast is nearly non-existent with blacks washing out into dark grays, and intensive shadowy areas omnipresent in an alien compound fall victim to black crush. Cap those inadequacies off with varying instances of dirt and print damage and the validity of a thorough remastering is called into question or whatever print or copy was used for this transfer also fell victim to budget constraints and this is as good as The Arrival will ever look.
Continued dedication by Lionsgate to incorporate 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio on catalog releases is welcomed and for The Arrival its presence can not only be heard but felt. Bass, though not up to par with today’s blockbusters, is deep when called upon and surround use is well defined in the score and a handful of action sequences where its presence makes sense. Pushing the score through extended bass and surrounds, at times, does overpower dialogue requiring adjusting the volume settings until the noise subsides. The mixing engineer may have gotten a little carried away having 7.1 channels of lossless at their disposal.
Sadly The Arrival’s Blu-ray treatment suffers from an absence of film-relevant bonus features as its DVD predecessor did. The only extras pressed on the disc are high definition trailers for other Lionsgate Blu-ray releases.
Sci-fi made-for-tv films of The Arrival’s production value are a dime a dozen these days. Unlike those easily forgotten “one and done” flicks, The Arrival is a memorable and intense rarity in a genre too often taken for granted by filmmakers simply going through the motions. Its message and entertainment value are unmistakably relevant today and though the Blu-ray presentation is not without flaws, having The Arrival in high definition now trumps it not arriving at all.
– Dan Bradley