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Arrival (Blu-ray Review)

10 Feb, 2017 By: John Latchem

Street 2/14/17
Box Office $98.89 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $48.99 UHD BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for brief strong language
Stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O’Brien.

A hallmark of intelligent science-fiction is the way it can lead characters to confront situations that otherwise wouldn’t be possible while telling a bigger story about the human condition. Back to the Future, for example, became a tech-heavy time-travel adventure because the writer needed a plot device to allow a father and son to hang out with each other at the same age.

Similarly, Arrival’s story of alien vessels making contact with humanity is mostly an elaborate set-up for a single question posed to its viewers, one that seems almost an afterthought given how effective director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer have crafted everything leading to it.

Based on the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival relates the story of a linguist named Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is recruited by the U.S. military to decipher the alien language. The aliens themselves and their technology are depicted in stark terms, yet appropriately bizarre, evoking memories of sci-fi classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey in their breathtaking imagery.

Louise soon finds herself in a race against time to uncover the aliens’ true intent, as other countries studying them begin to view them as hostile and make plans to attack.

The idea of exploring alien contact through communication barriers is a logical one that often gets overlooked by stories seeking more flash and dazzle. The result is a deliberative film that keeps viewers guessing without too much focus on the minutiae of plot mechanics that would only serve to complicate things.

The film plays with its narrative structure a bit in a way that invites comparisons to Christopher Nolan, whose Interstellar had its own run-in with 2001 comparisons.

The Blu-ray includes about 82 minutes of bonus material in the form of five behind-the-scenes featurettes, four of which are mostly focused on the technical aspects of the film, though there is a fair amount of the story development process covered in the primary half-hour production featurette.

The alien language is dealt with a bit in a 14-minute piece about the sound design, and there’s another 11 minutes about Johann Johannssson’s musical score. Another 11-minute featurette deals with the editing process, providing a few fascinating insights into how the film was assembled.

The final 15-minute featurette, and perhaps the most interesting, is a spoiler-heavy examination of the film’s true central premise, which should help viewers make sense of what’s going on in the story after they’ve seen it.

About the Author: John Latchem

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