Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Arrival 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Five-time Academy Award nominee Amy Adams delivers one of her best performances as expert translator Louise Banks. When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team races against time to decipher their intent. As tensions mount between fearful governments, Banks discovers the aliens’ true purpose and, to avert global war, takes a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity. Arrival is Director Denis Villeneuve’s (Sicario) first sci-fi picture, and it is certainly unlike anything the genre has offered to date.  The film is not a creature feature.  It is about the way the humans deal with first contact from an alien race and the discovery the primary linguist will make as she learns from the visitors.Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner and Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker co-star in this epic film .
Film (4 out of 5 stars)
Soon after an alien spacecraft arrives, Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is taken to a remote location in Montana, the sight of the landing.  Montana is only one of a dozen places across the world where similar crafts have touched down. The reason for the landing sights is a mystery and the intentions of the aliens are also unknown. Louise and Theoretical Physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) have been asked to find out why the aliens have arrived. Colonel Webber (Forest Whitaker) is running the show, which has turned into a full scale military operation.

Although the aliens have made no threats, the world is on high alert. Alarms sound in schools and jets fly overhead. Louise is directed to quickly get answers and she must explain the need to start the conversations on a very small scale. The noises the creatures make don’t appear to be language.  They offer a written form of communication unlike anything in Earth’s history. Louise and Ian work tirelessly to decode and understand the images which are basically circular ink blot. As they attempt to lay down a basic vocabulary, the two aliens inside the Montana ship are affectionately nicknamed Abbott and Costello. Abbott and Costello are two heptapods that appear behind a smoky screen. Louise becomes more comfortable with the visitors but the alarmist view prevails throughout the world.

Avoiding spoilers I can only tell you that Louise has an unexpected experience with the aliens.  As she begins to understand their language she is able to think like them, revealing as much about her own life as theirs. Calling this a sci-fi film can be a bit misleading.  It is truly much more of a drama. If you wish to call it (and the filmmakers do) a sci-fi film, it should at least be classified as intellectual science fiction. Those looking for scary monsters and action as seen in Independence Day will surely be disappointed. It is important to know it is not about the aliens as much as it is about our reaction to them. The film goes on to ask deep questions about fate, destiny and love.

Amy Adams was the first and only choice for Louise and having seen the film it is hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job. Adams and Renner are able to carry the film appearing in almost every scene. This is one of the rare occasions where I enjoyed a movie more the second time around.  Knowing what to expect (and what not to expect) allowed me to take in the more subtle details, and appreciate the unique images and sounds.   
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
Whether viewing on 4K UHD or Blu-ray, Arrival does not offer much in the way of color. The film isn’t always dark but it is intentionally dull. Whether it’s the white fog surrounding the hepatpods or the drab surroundings of a makeshift military installation, there is little variation in color. The film often feels cold and distant. The difference between a 4K UHD presentation and a Blu-ray is often noticeable when you look at the bright colors. For this film, the best color comparison comes in the scene where Colonel Webber meets Louise. The overall experience felt a bit more immersive with deeper blacks and fine detail but I can’t say you’d be missing much if you just watched the Blu-ray.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
The 4K UHD version and Blu-ray both offer the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. The alarms that blare when the aliens arrive will certainly ring throughout your home.  Fighter jets overhead offer a chance to notice directionality. The guttural sounds from the two heptapods is where you’ll most feel the bass.  Dialogue is intelligible and consistent throughout the film.  Voice over by Amy Adams has a different tone than the standard dialogue, as if you’re hearing her thoughts instead of her words. There are no major complaints in the audio department, but unfortunately not an upgrade with the 4K version.
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)
Arrival’s five featurettes are found on the Blu-ray disc, as there are no 4K bonus features. Included are: 
  • Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival – Lasting just over thirty minutes long, this is not just a look at the field of Xenolinguistics but the film as a whole. Topics include story, casting, adaptation, design and screenwriting and more. 
  • Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design – The Supervising Sound Designer explains how they treated sound as a character. Heptapod Vocal Sound Designers give their input and discuss the importance of not overwhelming the images. 
  • Eternal Recurrence: The Score – An interesting look at the layered vocals and unique use of percussion that went into the complimentary sound design.
  • Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process – Editor Joe Walker takes you through his process of putting the frames together and discusses how an editor would increase or decrease the tension in a given scene. He explains how an accidentally bad cut gave just the right effect and that he didn’t have music to use as a crutch when assembling this film.
  • Principles of Time, Memory & Language – Author Ted Chiang explains the principles that drove his story. This is the most complex of the featurette’s, exploring the core themes of the film.
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Arrival as not at all what I’d expected.  It was nothing like the War of the Worlds repeat I was anticipating.  I love a good alien creature feature and would have been happy to see an invasion film.  It is an intellectual science fiction based drama. I can’t readily come up with a good comparison.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind definitely came to mind, as did InterstellarInterstellar asked the question, would you save humanity when you couldn’t save your own children? Arrival asks would you choose love knowing the result was eventual heartbreak. Whether or not you enjoy the film is largely based in whether or not you want to be faced with such weighty choices.  Recommended as a drama, not necessarily as an alien invasion popcorn flick.

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