Arrival (Blu-ray) (2016)

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Released 22-Feb-2017

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Sci-fi Drama Featurette-Making Of-Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Eternal Recurrence: The Score
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process
Featurette-Principles of Time, Memory, & Language
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2016
Running Time 115:54
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Denis Villeneuve
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Amy Adams
Jeremy Renner
Forest Whitaker
Michael Stuhlbarg
Mark OíBrien
Tzi Ma
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $29.95 Music Jůhann Jůhannsson


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

††† Science fiction movies about extraterrestrials have existed for decades, to the point that thereís ostensibly very little in the way of originality to be mined from the well-worn ďalien invasionĒ subgenre. Enter 2016ís Arrival, a rare type of sci-fi drama which dares to realistically explore what might occur if otherworldly beings visited Earth, without resorting to battles or large-scale destruction. More than just another action blockbuster involving aliens, Arrival is endowed with a maturity in both its storytelling and cinematic technique thatís rarely glimpsed, bolstered by an Oscar-nominated screenplay by Eric Heisserer (based on Ted Chiangís short story ďStory of Your LifeĒ) and shrewd direction by the ever-talented Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). Arrival is breathtaking from start to finish, necessitating deep thought and introspection to properly digest everything thatís going on below the surface, making this a must-see for those who appreciate cerebral sci-fi. Much like 2015ís equally magnificent Ex Machina, this is the type of movie which both benefits from, and stands up to repeat viewings.

††† Twelve mysterious alien vessels arrive on Earth, positioning themselves in countries around the planet, which naturally incites a global panic. With their intentions unclear, U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), giving her the daunting task of understanding and communicating with the alien beings. Joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise is taken to a ship hovering just above rural Montana where she is able to communicate directly with the giant squid-like ďHeptapodsĒ every 18 hours, when the vessel opens for a brief period. Dubbing the two aliens Abbott and Costello, Louise and Ian set about deciphering the advanced, circular symbol-based language of the Heptapods, seeking to establish a sufficient communicative basis to find out their purpose on Earth. But the pressure rapidly mounts, with world leaders fearing that the Heptapods aim to wipe out humanity, prepared to unleash military firepower on the visitors before they strike first.

††† Arrival is the first major motion picture to acknowledge that otherworldly beings may not make full sense to us, or conform to our ideas of scientific logic. Itís a refreshing new perspective and a welcome change from the norm, and this sophistication feeds into the screenplay at large. The presence of aliens is almost inconsequential to the narrative - this is ultimately a story about the importance of communication and the nature of language, not to mention itís also about time, memory and tolerance, with thought-provoking philosophical undercurrents that nobody really expected (save, perhaps, for those familiar with the source material). Furthermore, Arrival doesnít lean on high school-grade science, instead providing genuinely interesting insight into complicated scientific and linguistics concepts, and the movie manages to convey this material without talking down to the audience. To be sure, there are more questions than answers, a fact thatís basically acknowledged by the protagonists, but such uncertainty would likely plague a real-life alien visitation, and it doesnít ruin the experience to any degree.

††† Despite running a hair under two hours, Arrival is the very model of efficiency, with nothing in the way of dead weight. Initial encounters may be slow-going, but such sequences are nevertheless subtly enthralling on Villeneuveís watch, and the movie knows when it needs to start picking up the pace. Itís superlative work from scribe Heisserer, whose previous efforts are predominantly horrors (including Lights Out, Final Destination 5 and 2011ís The Thing), confidently forgoing expectations of spectacle and flippant excitement in favour of depth and thematic resonance. There is a twist of sorts once Arrival approaches its climax, but itís not a cheap gimmick by any means, as it feeds into everything that has taken place so far. It compels us to reassess and recontextualize much of the movie, and the powerful ending represents an emotionally stirring reminder of the sanctity of human life. Miraculously, in spite of its weighty undercurrents, Arrival is not preachy, pretentious or sanctimonious, and it breezes by at such an agreeable pace (thanks to Joe Kellyís judicious editing) that it never feels like a meandering mess.

††† Villeneuve continues his astounding winning streak here, showing yet again that heís one of the finest filmmakers of this generation. Take, for instance, Louiseís first session with Abbott and Costello; the suspense is almost unbearable, with Villeneuve capturing every tense step as the team ascend into the alien vessel, and the first reveal of the Heptapods is incredibly effective. Itís all beautifully shot by cinematographer Bradford Young, who uses light, shadows, fog and silhouettes to astounding effect, creating an aura of otherworldliness. The visual effects are just as impressive, though Villeneuve uses practical effects and sets as much as possible, creating a tangible aesthetic which greatly enhances the cinematic illusion. Furthermore, the visuals feel utterly inseparable from Jůhann Jůhannssonís hypnotic score, which is brilliantly ethereal and yet subdued, further cementing the sense of awe and otherworldliness throughout, whilst also accentuating the storyís emotional components. Performances across the board are excellent, led by Adams who carves out a relatable, charming protagonist, while Renner gets the rare chance to show his acting chops outside of a blockbuster setting.

††† Arrival is a superbly-woven piece of cinematic craftsmanship, and its box office success shows that not every movie needs to be dumbed-down for mass mainstream appeal. There is nothing inherently wrong with action-packed sci-fi productions - hell, Neill Blomkampís District 9 managed to be both intelligent and exhilarating, while Independence Day is the definition of Big Dumb Funô - but Arrival is more gratifying in its approach, though itís definitely for a specific type of niche film-going audience and itís not for everybody. With this in mind, itís downright miraculous that a mainstream sci-fi drama as utterly bold as this was permitted a $47 million budget in a cinematic climate where summer blockbusters flourish. Haunting and difficult to forget, Arrival will be rightfully remembered in the grand pantheon of great science fiction movies, standing proudly alongside the likes of Blade Runner, Alien, and The Terminator.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††† Arrival is available to buy on 4K Blu-ray from Paramount Pictures in the United States, though itís worth noting that the accompanying standard Blu-ray disc is Region A-locked (all 4K Blu-ray discs at this point are region free, however). I can attest that the UHD presentation is truly the best way to watch Arrival, especially with the HDR10 enhancements which make for a richer, more three-dimensional viewing experience, though the darkness of the 4K transfer has met with a degree of controversy. A local 4K release was touted initially by Roadshow, but ultimately only this standard Blu-ray came to fruition. With this in mind, itís fortunate to report that this AVC-encoded 1080p presentation provides a satisfying replication of the cinema experience, and for the most part does justice to the digital source.

††† As beautiful as Arrival does look, itís not exactly eye candy in the conventional sense. This is a dark motion picture, and the cinematography is also a tad soft, but thatís how it was screened at the cinema and thatís how the filmmakers designed it to look. Some shots, like in the opening montage, deliberately play with focus, so donít expect a consistently razor-sharp transfer. Nevertheless, with the movie having been shot with Arri Alexa XT camera rigs, the transfer is stable and well-detailed, bringing out all of the intricacies of the sets and costumes. See a close-up of Adams at the 50-minute mark; the transfer brings out plenty of texture on her face. As previously stated, though, there is a degree of softness and smoothness to the image, and thereís no pop of fine detail that you might find on other recent Blu-ray releases. Luckily, however, the video is never smeary, which is an issue that some digital movies do suffer from. In other areas, sharpness is adequate with the source in mind, and there are no issues with object delineation.

††† Itís worth noting that the movie carries a drab colour palette by design, and the colours lack vibrancy and ďpop.Ē Skin tones look pasty, blacks are deliberately pale and grey, and contrast is muddy. But again, this is all accurate to the source. And due to the limited abilities of Blu-ray encoding, the presentation does look a tad flat on the whole; the HDR grading of the 4K release provides a subtle but worthwhile improvement in this respect. I did detect a mild amount of source-related noise, but itís not distracting.

††† Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of banding in the darker scenes, which is minimised on the Region A release and almost non-existent on the 4K Blu-ray. But this is about the only encoding issue I detected on the disc, as thereís no aliasing or macroblocking, and the transfer luckily never falls victim to black crush despite the deliberately dark look. At the end of the day, this presentation is very good and will be sufficient for the unfussy, but there are better options available from overseas which benefit from stronger encoding, and of course the 4K Blu-ray is the definitive home video experience.

††† English subtitles are available.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† This is where Roadshow unfortunately drop the ball, only providing an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix which is a noticeable step down from the 7.1 track available on both the Region A Blu-ray and the UHD release. Audiofiles are destined to bemoan the lack of a Dolby Atmos track as usual, but Arrival was only ever mixed in 7.1, and therefore the 5.1 mix looks positively inadequate. Still, the audio on this release remains strong on the whole, as itís crystal clear and there are no issues with encoding to speak of. Jůhannssonís incredible, unique soundtrack truly comes alive, with superb clarity and surround channel use, not to mention subwoofer when necessary. Sound effects are crisp and effective, as well. See, for instance, the alarm which goes off inside Louiseís class early into the movie - itís so powerful that your neighbours could be forgiven for thinking itís a real alarm. And a sequence involving a helicopter might have you wondering if a real helicopter is flying overhead. Thereís effective dynamic range throughout, but dialogue is mixed a tad too low, which might leave you altering the volume from time to time.

††† For those of you with 5.1 surround sound systems, or just simple soundbars or even no external audio at all, Roadshowís lossless 5.1 mix should suffice, as it at least delivers in all the other departments. But those of you with more advanced home theatre setups are destined to be left underwhelmed. Iím deducting points due to the loss of channels, but rest assured this is still a very good track.

††† For those interested, the disc also contains a descriptive audio track in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

††† A fascinating selection of video extras, though the lack of an audio commentary is disappointing. The main menu is preceded by trailers for Collateral Beauty, Miss Sloane and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival (HD; 30:02)

††† One of the better documentaries Iíve watched for some time, this is an intricate making-of piece which runs through numerous facets of the production - screenwriting, hiring Villeneuve, the production design, the look of the movie - while a roster of cast and crew discuss the short story (the author of which also pops in for an interview), the themes, the actors, the development of the alien language, and much more. All of this is intercut with revealing behind-the-scenes footage and raw VFX imagery. This documentary could have been twice as long, but itís still enormously informative and fascinating.

Eternal Recurrence: The Score (HD; 11:24)

††† As the title implies, this piece is all about designing and performing the unique, layered score. Composer Jůhann Jůhannsson (who previously scored Sicario) discusses the movieís themes and how they feeds into the soundtrack, while Villeneuve also pops in to offer his thoughts on Jůhannssonís efforts.

Principles of Time, Memory, & Language (HD; 15:24)

††† This is probably the best of the special features. More than another behind-the-scenes segment, this featurette explores the movieís scientific and philosophical underpinnings, with the author of the original novel providing much of the discussion. The concepts presented here are simply fascinating, including whether or not the future is written, what you would do if you could see the future, and what it would be like to encounter aliens who perceive time differently. There is a lot to devour here.

Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design (HD; 13:59)

††† In this genuinely insightful featurette, the sound designers chime in to discuss their approach to the project in a number of areas. Itís especially fascinating to hear about what went into the sounds of the Heptapods - the sound designers even went hiking in New Zealand to record the sound of a rare bird. The intricacies of the process are also discussed, and Villeneuve of course has a few things to say about the end result.

Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process (HD; 11:19)

††† Sicario editor Joe Kelly gets the limelight for this final featurette, which is concerned with the editing process and how the structure enhances the movie. Itís especially interesting to get to see glimpses of raw dailies, and visual effects are brought up as well. Post-production is often neglected in special features, making this segment wholly welcome.
†††

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

† † Compared to the Region A release, here's what the local disc misses out on:

††† Both of those things may seem inconsequential to some, but those of you with more advanced home theatre systems will likely want to import. I'm giving the win to Paramount's Region A release (beware it's Region A-locked), though apparently the best-encoded standard Blu-ray is the German release, which is Region B. Make your choice.

Summary

††† I fully understand and appreciate that Arrival is not for everybody, but I nevertheless implore you to give it a chance with an open mind. It certainly breeds confidence for director Villeneuve's impending Blade Runner sequel.

††† Roadshow's Blu-ray is something of a mixed bag. The 1080p video presentation excels in most areas but unfortunately falls victim to banding, and the 5.1 audio mix is an unnecessary downgrade from the 7.1 mixes available on international releases. Nevertheless, the special features are top-notch and the movie itself is worth owning. Recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Tuesday, April 04, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSamsung UBD-K8500 4K HDR Blu-Ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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