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Arrival: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Arrival (2016) movie poster Arrival

Theatrical Release: November 11, 2016 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Denis Villeneuve / Writers: Ted Chiang (story "Story of Your Life"); Eric Heisserer (screenplay)

Cast: Amy Adams (Louise Banks), Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly), Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber), Michael Stuhlbarg (Agent Halpern), Mark O'Brien (Captain Marks), Tzi Ma (General Shang), Abigail Pniowsky (8-Year-Old Hannah), Julia Scarlett Dan (12-Year-Old Hannah), Jadyn Malone (6-Year-Old Hannah), Frank Schorpion (Dr. Kettler), Lucas Chartier-Dessert (Private Lasky), Christian Jadah (Private Combs)

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Since making his name with the Oscar-nominated Incendies, French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has quickly established himself as someone in Hollywood that moviegoers around the world should pay attention to.
The September dramas Prisoners and Sicario both made their way to the Oscars with nominations in technical categories. After those, Villeneuve set his sights even higher with Arrival, a film that opened in November with prospects at major awards after making the fall festival rounds. It realized those prospects, drawing eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Director.

Adapting Ted Chiang's 1998 short story "Story of Your Life", Arrival presents alien life forms visiting Earth. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is about to start a linguistics class when she and the few students who have shown up figure out why everyone else has skipped. Twelve enormous alien vessels -- rounded on one side, flat on the other -- have docked around the world, to civilization's concern and bewilderment. There's one in Montana, one in China, two in Russia, and others scattered about. The world's greatest minds cannot agree on why the locations have been picked and why these extraterrestrial visitors are here.

To answer the latter, the U.S. military brings in Dr. Banks, who still has security clearance from a Farsi translation she did to assist an anti-terrorist mission two years earlier. She insists she cannot work from audio recordings alone. Thus, in the middle of the night, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) flies her in to the Montana site, where she will work alongside physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). The two of them are in charge of making sense of the aliens' language.

In "Arrival", linguistics professor Louis Banks (Amy Adams) tries to establish a way of communicating with alien visitors.

They meet with two of the "heptapods" (named on account of their seven limbs), whom they come to name Abbott and Costello. The aliens communicate by opening up one of their extremities like a starfish and quickly drawing a circle with notches around it. Banks tries to wrap her head around the symbols while trying to teach the aliens words in the English language and also coming to grips with her life with a beloved daughter.

As in Sicario, the versatile Villeneuve hooks us by building atmosphere and generating suspense. Reminiscent of Willard's journey to Captain Kurtz's ominous Cambodian compound, the opening act of Arrival is effortlessly inviting and absorbing. We soon come to realize this is neither your typical alien invasion story nor your run-of-the-mill science fiction film. It's a thoughtful, intelligent, human drama that has more in common with Gravity and Interstellar than just a fall release date. That groundwork makes it easy to accept that we're often watching two educated people trying to teach and learn the most basic of words to these odd-looking otherworldly beings.

Chiang's story is not the most conducive to a feature-length narrative or cinema at all. But screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Lights Out, 2011's The Thing) does what he can to give the film some structure. More importantly, Villeneuve and his team of skilled craftsmen (from Sicario composer Jóhann Jóhannsson to A Most Violent Year cinematographer Bradford Young) make Arrival a unique, memorable, and cinematic experience.

Heptapods respond to prompts with a way of communicating much different from our own.

Nonlinearity is part of the film's fabric, a fact that seemed to leave my theatrical screening audience silent and uncertain when the end credits arrived. It seemed safe to say this won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it should especially disappoint those who go in expecting something familiar, manipulative, safe, mainstream, and commercial. Arrival is not really any of those things.

It is well-acted, though. Since breaking out a decade ago, Adams has been one of the most consistently compelling actresses around. She carries this film on her performance, not quite as much Sandra Bullock carried Gravity, but almost to that extent. This isn't her first time as solo lead, but it's an all-around better experience than Tim Burton's middling Big Eyes. While the Academy has clearly displayed an appreciation for Adams' work,
bestowing upon her five nominations (but no wins) since 2005, picking up a sixth nomination required the Oscars recognizing an actress in a sci-fi film for only the third time ever, following Gravity's Bullock and Aliens' Sigourney Weaver. Adams failed to pick up her sixth nomination, the biggest surprise on a nominations morning where the Academy otherwise showed much love to the film.

With a production budget of $50 million, Arrival doesn't bear the weight of Gravity and Interstellar's commercial expectations. Still, that's a significant amount of money to invest in an unconventional, actionless sci-fi movie with a female lead. (By comparison, Sicario only cost $30 million.) There was definitely a chance that Arrival would underperform, but favorable reviews went a long way to helping this film find viewers, whether or not they leave satisfied. The film will soon cross the $100 million mark domestically and has grossed nearly as much from foreign territories.

On Valentine's Day, twelve days before its eight Oscar nominations (tied for second most among 2016 releases) are put to the test (very likely resulting in zero wins), Arrival hits stores in a DVD, a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack, and the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD edition reviewed here.

Arrival: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com 4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: February 14, 2017
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-66 & BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Also available as Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD ($39.99 SRP), DVD ($29.99 SRP), and Amazon Instant Video
Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover


Home video maintains the film's distinctive look, which is dark and slightly gray-toned. On either format, the 2.40:1 presentation looks as perfect as it can, boasting excellent sharpness, clarity, and detail. The sound is even better, with the Blu-ray's Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 striking you as one of the more potent mixes you've encountered there.

Denis Villeneuve directs cinematographer Bradford Young and others on the set of "Arrival." Concept art conveys the design of heptapods' hands and manner of writing.


Arrival is joined by five, highbrow technical featurettes on Blu-ray.

"Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival" (30:03) is the closest we get to a general making-of documentary.
Among the topics it covers: the big ideas of the movie, how Chiang agreed to let Villeneuve make a movie out of his short story, how linguistic and scientific consultants contributed, and how the spaceship and aliens were designed to be different from other alien invasion movies. Plenty of crew and some cast remarks are complemented by much behind-the-scenes footage.

"Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design" (13:59) collects reflections of the Oscar-nominated sound designers on the principles they applied to the film and the practical ways they made certain alien and technological sounds.

In "Eternal Recurrence" Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson discusses the unusual score that the Oscars disqualified. Louise (Amy Adams) gets close to the heptapods on the Arrival Blu-ray menu.

"Eternal Recurrence: The Score" (11:24) interviews composer Jóhann Jóhannsson about the distinctive music he created for the film.

"Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process" (11:20) explores another Oscar-nominated facet of the film,
looking at how the film is patched together.

Finally, "Principles of Time, Memory, & Language" (15:24) reflects further on the film's ideas, with Chiang and scientists considering variation principles, the nature of language, and other heady topics.

The discs open with some streamed trailers, almost getting through a preview for Ghost in the Shell.

The main menu simply applies a droning excerpt of the unusual, Oscar-disqualified score to a still frame.

Alongside with the Digital HD insert, the two plain discs share a black keepcase that is topped by a sleek, foil-faced slipcover reproducing the same artwork below.

Louise Brooks (Amy Adams) gathers her thoughts in Montana, the site of one of twelve hovering alien spacecrafts.


Arrival is unconventional and thought-provoking science fiction, giving us an alien visitor movie unlike any other. This technically proficient and emotionally stirring drama stands among 2016's best films and further evidence at just how strong an actress Amy Adams is.

Paramount's release would earn a recommendation on the basis of the film alone, but the high-quality feature presentation and substantial extras make it even easier to encourage you to check this out.

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Related Reviews:
Best Picture Oscar Nominees: La La LandManchester by the SeaMoonlightHell or High WaterHidden FiguresHacksaw RidgeLion
Directed by Denis Villeneuve: SicarioPrisoners | Written by Eric Heisserer: Lights Out
Amy Adams: Big EyesThe FighterEnchantedAmerican HustleThe MasterDoubtHer
Jeremy Renner: Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersThe ImmigrantAvengers: Age of Ultron
GravityInterstellarDistrict 9

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Reviewed February 12, 2017.

Text copyright 2017 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Paramount Pictures, Filmnation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films, 21 Laps Entertainment, and 2017 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.