4K Adaptation

'Arrival' 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review: Brainy blockbuster delivers a refreshing take on the alien invasion genre

February 13, 2017Ben MK

Based on author Ted Chiang's Nebula Award-winning novella, "Story of Your Life," Arrival follows Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor at the center of our planet's first encounter with extraterrestrial life. Twelve identical alien craft have suddenly appeared in various spots around the globe; and after a U.S. Army Colonel named Weber (Forest Whitaker) pays her a visit at her office, Louise finds herself on the next military plane to one such location — Montana — where she's to help decipher the aliens' language and deduce their purpose on Earth.

The task seems more than daunting at first, especially since the aliens' ships — each one a silent monolith hovering ominously over the landscape — seem so... well... alien. Every 18 hours, though, a doorway opens up, allowing Louise, physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a team of military personnel entry within. Over time, however, their mission becomes a race against the clock. And as other nations begin to perceive the aliens' presence as a threat against humanity, it's up to Louise to prove them wrong — before mankind makes a decision it will regret.

That last part is where Arrival drastically diverges from what one might typically expect from a big budget, sci-fi movie released by a major studio, for director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer exhibit little concern for delivering the kind of bombastic action spectacle that usually results when one utters the words "alien" and "invasion" in the same breath. In point of fact, the aliens — dubbed Heptapods — actually end up being one of the least interesting things about the movie, which places its focus squarely on Louise's emotional journey.

That being said, Arrival may be atypical of the genre, but there's more to the film than any of its marketing or promotional material have let on. Suffice to say, this is the type of movie that deserves to be experienced with minimal advanced knowledge. But more importantly, this is filmmaking that asks its viewers to enter with an open mind. And with a third-act revelation that puts everything that preceded it in a brand-new perspective, Arrival promises great rewards for moviegoers whose aim is to be stimulated intellectually, not just thrilled visually.

Arrival is hardly the type of film one might describe as "slick and shiny," but its "dirty sci-fi" aesthetic (as Villeneuve himself calls it) is served well by this 4K transfer. The crisp and film-like image accurately represents the filmmakers' intentions, which include less-than-optimal black and contrast levels, and a muted color palette, dominated by scenes bathed in a cold, blue hue and punctuated by the occasional burst of color, such as the bright orange of the hazmat suits. Audio-wise, the movie's sound design is largely driven by dialogue and moments of contemplative silence; but, nonetheless, the accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix does an excellent job forging a convincing aural landscape, from the unconventional, whale-like vocals of the Heptapods, to more traditional sound effects, like the roar of fighter jet engines and the whir of helicopter blades.

Paramount's two-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release includes an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy and a Blu-ray copy of the film. There are no extras on the 4K disc, but the Blu-ray disc contains the following extras:

  • Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival (30:03) - "Story of Your Life" author Ted Chiang, Screenwriter Eric Heisserer, Director Denis Villeneuve and the filmmakers talk about the ideas behind the novel and its cerebral nature, bringing the story to the screen, Villeneuve's skills as a director, the casting of Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, the aliens' language and the science of linguistics, the production design, the VFX, the costume design and the cinematography.
  • Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design (13:59) - Supervising Sound Designer Sylvain Bellemare and Heptapod Vocals Sound Designers Dave Whitehead and Michelle Child talk about their approach to the movie, from the organic nature of the sound design, to creating the sound of the Heptapods.
  • Eternal Recurrence: The Score (11:24) - Composer J√≥hann J√≥hannssonn discusses the film's score, from its inspirations, to the themes and the vocals, as well as the score's relation to the sound design and the editing.
  • Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process (11:20) - Editor Joe Walker discusses his work on the film, from editing as a tool to tweak the actors' performances, to using it to change the direction of the storytelling, as well as the correlation between the editing, the score and the VFX.
  • Principles of Time, Memory, & Language (15:24) - Author Ted Chiang, Scientific & Engineering Consultant Stephen Wolfram and Linguistic Consultant Jessica Coon discuss the unconventional scientific and linguistic principles and theories that underscore the film's narrative.

Arrival is available from Paramount Home Entertainment as of February 14th, 2017. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 5.1 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. The total runtime is 1 Hr. 56 Mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on November 11th, 2016.

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