Arrival is one of those films that when you first see the theatrical trailer for it just cries out to you. It screams that you must see me. Who knows. Maybe it’s the aliens in the film that called out to me. I don’t know but whatever it was I was smitten by the very first trailer I saw of it. I knew that as soon as I saw Amy Adams trying to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors that I must see this one. If she’s good enough for my God, Superman, she’s good enough for me. Couple that with the fact that we have the mind (Denis Villeneuve) behind Prisoners and Sicario in the director’s chair here and you have an event that I wouldn’t dare miss out on now that it’s finally out on 4K Ultra HD. As an added bonus it’s of the science fiction genre too. So in other words Arrival already had me at hello before I even saw it. Now let’s review this 4K science-fi odyssey that just gets better with every view (my third time now).
Much to my surprise Paramount’s Arrival was named one of the best films of 2016 by the American Film Institute, National Board of Review, New York Times, USA Today and many more. I don’t mean it like it’s a bad movie or anything I’m just surprised this one is getting so much love from everyone. I love that! In addition, five-time Academy Award nominee Amy Adams was named Best Actress by the National Board of Review and received Golden Globe and SAG nominations for her performance here. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer has also won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and received a Writer’s Guild nomination. Now it’s even an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture and more. My oh my! I want it to win! So as you can see before we ever start talking about it, Arrival has a hell of a lot going for it and even finished strong on some of our Top 10 2016 lists here on the site.
As I kind of already said Paramount’s Arrival is written by Eric Heisserer. However, what you didn’t know is it is based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by author Ted Chang. In addition to Amy it stars Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner, Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma. Everyone I personally know that attended this past Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX had nothing but “fantastic” things to say about this film. I guess one could always instantly come to the only logical conclusion. Let’s be serious. How can a movie featuring both Amy Adams and aliens possibly be anything except good? That’s the hypothesis I was willing to prove my first time out and again here with repeat viewings already.
Think of Arrival as an exercise in being proactive before all hell breaks loose. Remember how in the one and only Independence Day multiple big spaceships appear around the world? So picture this. Gigantic, flat, egg-shaped spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. In an effort to be “proactive” linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) ends up leading a team of investigators to figure out a way to communicate with the “aliens” before the nations start a global war. Banks and her crew race against time to devise a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. After all, there’s a mystery to be solved here. Why are they here? What do they want? Banks takes a chance that threatens both her life and quite possibly all of mankind by not backing down. What’s life without risks and rewards, right?
The interesting thing about Arrival is not just what do the aliens look like, but the thrill of how the hell one can possibly bridge this communication gap of the languages. It’s also very hard to talk about this essential moments of Arrival in a review. To do so would risk the chance of spoiling the big reveal or mind blowing ending as many have called it. Just know this. Arrival may be small on budget, but its big on surprises. However, when I say surprises I don’t mean bang bang, shoot ’em up action sequences like you’d expect from an alien invasion movie. Oh no! I’m talking big on twists and very deep ad heavy in meaning. Don’t think of this as an alien invasion film, but instead simply an “arrival” at a point in time. Don’t worry. It will all make sense by the film’s end when you see it.
I already mentioned what makes Arrival tick for me. However, what made Arrival a bit tedious for me is the slow pacing and choppy storytelling at times, but its much more tolerable a second time around. You have to get that first viewing out of the way to shake out any misconceptions of a possible action movie you had going in. The thrilling moments are when we are discovering the aliens, language and the overall vessel with Adams’ character firsthand. The wearisome parts are the drawn out dramatic moments and endless “flashbacks,” but alas they very much have their place too and after repeat viewings you will come to appreciate them very much. If you can get past an alien ship’s doors opening every 18 hours to the public, then like the rest of the Rotten Tomatoes crowd I think you’ll fair very well with this one. Just don’t go in expecting another Prisoners or Sicario from Villeneuve. Arrival is anything but. It may seem like an odd choice for the director who has proven himself very capable already with action, but an amazing exercise in what he can do with a small budget (and his decision to do this is explained in the extras).
The below video score and related critique of things here are based solely upon my viewing of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation of Arrival with some very minor notes on the Blu-ray’s picture quality.
- Encoding: HEVC / H.265
- Resolution: 4K (2160p)
- Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
- Clarity/Detail: Arrival is not going to win any awards for Picture Quality of the year on the Blu-ray and/or 4K Ultra HD format. However, that’s not to say Paramount didn’t go out of their way to make sure Denis’ visual design of it all is faithfully captured as close as possible here. I’m not dinging the score up above because things look really awful, but quite the contrary. The score is a tad low only because this one is not going to meet everyone’s expectations that is expecting to see the clarity of Inferno or Magnificent Seven on their expensive 4K setups. So with that being said don’t expect this one to excel in the detail department because it doesn’t. Closeups reveal textures in clothes, wood grain, crevices in the alien ship, pores, moles, etc., but ultimately this presentation lacks extreme tactile definition. Some of the sharpest moments come out as a result of the hazard suits worn because of the bright colors and many wrinkles in them.
- Depth: Don’t get me wrong the cinematography of this film is quite striking, but because of the lack of definition in things it does appear flat from time to time. However, pick your poison here as depth of field is still everywhere you look from the college classroom rows, empty lunchroom, the Montana field with the spaceship in the background and the most beautiful, tension filled shots of the film…the long hallway in the spaceship’s interior. The latter are some of the most brilliant shots of the movie despite the tight quarters. You’ll see what I’m talking about.
- Black Levels: The black levels appear natural and authentic throughout thanks to the presentation’s HDR, but overall they’re very pale and not what you’re accustomed to seeing. Thankfully in even some the presentation’s darkest shots there’s still decent detail with the shadows and dark constraints.
- Color Reproduction: Here’s where people will be decided because they want their home media to pop, especially on the 4K Ultra HD format. That’s not going to happen here. Arrival is anything but a looker on the format. Contrast, colors, etc. are dialed way down and what you’re left with is a cold, gray, sterile palette here. Three items stood out the most to me during my viewings and are a strong opposition to the bleak colors throughout, the orange and white hazard suits and any green vegetation. Other than that don’t expect much in terms of colors, it’s all about the artistic visual design of things here.
- Flesh Tones: The temperatures of the skin tones are both pale and natural throughout. They are accurately in line with the presentation’s sterile, cold and grayish look.
- Noise/Artifacts: There’s absolutely nothing to deter you in the way of any artifacts, eyesores or debris in the print, but I do have one slight nitpick. Unless it’s my equipment in more scene than one I found very minor color banding in the smoky glass the aliens were on the other side of. So when they moved while writing their spewy black ink I noticed minor color banding. Your results may vary on the topic and I hope they do. However, I do want to point out banding is more obvious in the ship on the Blu-ray, but why would you want to watch that version anyway? Ha ha. The Blu-ray also does exhibit some minor blocking in the ship’s interior so you’ve been warned.
Like I mentioned up above in the video section, the below audio score and critical comments of such are based solely upon my viewing of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation of Arrival. Sadly both the 4K UHD disc and the regular 1080p Blu-ray come armed with a DTS-HD Master Audio surround track, not an atmospheric one. That stinks on paper.
- Audio Format(s): English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Audio Description
- Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
- Dynamics: Gawd! I don’t even know where to start here as things just sound so good. No this is not a bang, bang, shoot’em up kind of track, but rather an ominous one that will fill your listening room with tension, barrage and unbelievably silence. It’s the latter that’s probably the most strongest, but don’t get me wrong either. The sound/score is a character all of its own here and it really sets the mood for all onscreen events. The amazing score will sweep you off your feet and move you emotionally with Louise’s journey. You just got to trust me. Everything is just balanced perfectly throughout and dialogue is both clear and prioritized, never getting lost in the shuffle.
- Height: Although there’s no discrete atmospheric height channel found in this 7.1 mix I feel it could have benefitted from one. From the ominous tones inside the spaceship to the helicopters and jets blasting overhead there’s enough to go around here. It’s a real shame they didn’t incorporate this as after all this one is all “atmosphere.” Get it? It’s an alien invasion movie. LOL. Nevertheless, beggars can’t be choosers as things still do sound great throughout here.
- Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel punishes you at times from the jets blasting across the screen overhead to the threatening and tension filled score and sounds, not to mention the aliens’ attempts to communicate with us powerfully in their own language. It has a heaviness and a sense of “gravity” to it all.
- Surround Sound Presentation: The main point of this surround track is not to razzle and dazzle you with the use of the rear channels, but rather to set the mood and immerse you in the film’s “non-linear” narrative. However, if you want to talk the rear channels in traditional terms you’ll get the usual atmospherics, jets flying by from left to right, helicopters and that formidable score. Oh my!
- Dialogue Reproduction: The dialogue levels are all clear, intelligible and central throughout the presentation. I had no problems understanding any spoken word and that’s important here.
Paramount’s Arrival 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack includes over an hour of engrossing special features, with in-depth explorations of the film’s subject matter, sound, score, editing and more. The UHD Combo Pack also includes a Digital HD Version of the film that can be accessed through UltraViolet and iTunes as well as the feature film in 1080p HD on the Blu-ray disc. Now let’s take a closer look under the microscope at all the extra features below that you’ll find on the 1080p Blu-ray disc. They are rather remarkable. I’m just saying. It’s just too bad there’s no audio commentary track to be found. That would have been remarkable. Double dip! Ha ha.
- Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival (HD, 30:03) – This extra is just what the doctor ordered. It explores the story of Arrival and what it all means. I can’t go into further detail without spoiling the story for everyone and that I will not do. And my question has been answered. Denis talks about how he had wanted to do science fiction since age 10. This one also goes into how the short story was selected and adapted into a screenplay for this movie. Here the producers also talk about how they lured Denis in to direct. Furthermore this extra traverses into areas such as casting, designs of the spaceships and aliens, costumes, cinematography and the real reason we are all here, the alien language. Interestingly Amy Adams was Denis’ one and only choice he wanted to lead here. Amy chats about what drew her to the project rather than her wish to take some time off.
- Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design (HD, 13:59) – This one is all about the sound design and how I talked about up above it being its own character in the film. Denis said he needed someone who can create crazy sound, but goes into mentioning the most powerful sound in the movie, which is silence (also mentioned up above). They chat about how they wanted organic sound and nothing electronic sounding.
- Eternal Recurrence: The Score (HD, 11:24) – Here’s the second character of the film, the score. This one obviously chats about that all the ways the bar is raised by the amazing score here. The composer, who also worked on my favorite Sicario, talks about how the script and design influenced his score throughout and the processes used in recording. I love how he refers to the ominous tones throughout as texture and how her refers to his score being textural.
- Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process (HD, 11:20) – This is one you guessed it the editing process. It explores the parallels between the two different non linear stories going on here and how it influenced the editing. Its cool how a lot of the people who work on Sicario followed here with Denis. So needless to say the editor of the movie goes into further detail on his art of editing here.
- Principles of Time, Memory & Language (HD, 15:24) – This one discusses the subject of time and knowing your future explained through physics and mathematics. I love pieces like this that ground things sort of in scientific reality. This one gets real deep when it dives into the theory of relativity of explaining the perception of time and formation of memories.
Truth be told had it not been for the twist, amazing score/sounds and very strong performances here highlighted by moments of extreme tension and suspense, I would not be a fan at all of Arrival. It moves like molasses at times (although some say the same about Prisoners) and you really need to be patient with it because the end will leave you mind blown. And oh yeah, I hope you’re not coming here for any desire or anticipation to see any kind of action. There ain’t none of that to be found here. However, I feel in the end your patience will ultimately be rewarded. It’s a deep emotional tale with a clear payoff with no bird poop as a cop out. You just need to wait for it. There’s a reason why this movie is so popular with the critics, but I can clearly understand why some viewers will be ultimately turned off from it. Had I had a deeper appreciation and understanding of this movie last year this would have easily made my top 10. Once you get it you’ll be smitten with joy. That’s why this is getting such a high score here despite minor video problems and lack of an audio commentary. With that being said I can personally attest you won’t find Arrival looking and sounding any better than this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation. So what are you waiting for? Pre-order this puppy already!
Amy Adams Mingles
With More Aliens in
on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray