Contemplative science fiction with a heart, Arrival begins with a solemn voice over by Amy Adams. In just the first couple of minutes, it’s clear that this is going to be much more than just another movie about aliens. As the first few scenes indicate, Arrival, based on the short story, “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, is a reflection on memory, time and crippling grief.
Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a well-respected, serious linguist. Dealing with the death of her teenage daughter, she seems to be living life on autopilot; working and sleeping, happy with anything that might break up the monotony. Louise once helped the Army with a translation. They need her help again, after aliens have arrived on Earth, in a dozen giant craft spread throughout the world. One is in Montana. At the request of one Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), Louise agrees to travel to Big Sky Country, learn the aliens’ language and find out why they’ve come here. She finds herself paired with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Louise quickly learns that the most effective way to communicate with the Heptapods, as they are eventually known, is through the written word. It takes time to decipher the Heptapods language; just as she comes close to getting a definitive answer to the why are you here question, the world comes dangerously close to the breaking point.
Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer allow for a serious discussion of linguistics and complex math, but use it in a way that is so appropriate for the character that it feels accessible and never drags down the story. Louise, Ian and others involved are so earnest, dedicated that we want them to succeed in their efforts to expand communication–not just with the aliens–but with people in general. Whether it’s Louise, or the head of the Chinese military, if we can’t bring ourselves to communicate with each other even at a time of crisis, what’s the point?
For several years now, Amy Adams has proven to be one of the best actresses working in film today. Her portrayal of Louise Banks is gut wrenching. Adams really allows herself to be emotionally raw, without ever being hysterical. Watching her desperately trying to decode the alien language, driven by memories of her daughter is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
While Paramount’s 4K presentation is fine, it doesn’t really take advantage of the technology. Close-ups reveal the kind of detail you would expect, but the presentation lacks the extreme tactile definition found in the best 4K discs. Despite the rather impressive cinematography, depth is lacking at times, leading to a surprisingly flat appearance. Black levels appear natural and appropriate, while contrast and colors have been dialed down. The remaining cold, gray palette fits in well with the dreary feel of the film. Skin tones look natural throughout. There are no artifacts to be found.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Surround track sounds great. while this isn’t the loudest film, the eerie music of Jóhann Jóhannsson and Max Richter will keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Dynamics are superb. The score fills the entire soundscape with tension and uncertainty. Balance is perfect and dialogue is well prioritized in the center channel, clean and clear.
English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available on the Blu-ray disc:
- Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival (HD, 30:03) Here, we get a look at the short story that served as an inspiration for the film, the themes, the challenge of transferring the story to the screen, casting, character development, creating the aliens and more. Highly recommended for fans of the film.
- Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design (HD, 13:59) A look at the film’s use of sound, with emphasis on how sound really is its own character in the story.
- Eternal Recurrence: The Score (HD, 11:24) A look at the composition of the score and how it compliments events in the film.
- Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process (HD, 11:20) A look at the editing process and how the nonlinear style influenced the film.
- Principles of Time, Memory & Language (HD, 15:24) A discussion of time and the future through some of the mathematical prisms brought up in the film.
- Digital Copy Code.