Charlie Sheen as a science fiction protagonist: it works. In fact, in The Arrival Sheen, with a few extra pounds, looks strikingly like Half-Life's Gordon Freeman. Typically, science fiction films are the causes of their own undoing. Bad scripts, bad acting, worthless plots and implausible leaps of logic make every scene worthy of a head shake - that's just the typical curse of science fiction. Even the greats like Star Wars, Star Trek and Close Encounters of the Third Kind have their share of unfortunate moments - The Arrival is no different.
Zane Zaminsky (Charlie Sheen) spends his days and nights listening for communications from beyond the stars. One night, he and his partner (Richard Schiff) have a breakthrough: an undulating signal comes through and they manage to tape the tail end. Unfortunately, as is all too common in UFOlogy, the proof just doesn't hold up and his boss (Ron Silver) tells him the project has to shut down. Zane, quite upset at the disbanding of his station, creates his own personal satellite array and begins private research to reacquire the signal. Meanwhile, Llana Green (Lindsay Crouse), an environmentalist, notices an unsettling pattern of climate change that threatens to warm the planet at an alarming rate. Combining her efforts with his, Zane finds himself hot on the trail of a conspiracy that just might originate on another planet.
A handful of decent performances and a rather unexpected cast keeps The Arrival moving steadily. Charlie Sheen has done comedy for some long that some time it's easy to forget his more serious roles. I won't compare Zane Zaminksy to Wall Street's Bud Fox, but the point remains: Sheen carries a drama or sci-fi thriller about as well as he ever carried a comedy. Throw in Ron Silver and Teri Polo, two other levels of pedigree you wouldn't expect to find in an underappreciated sci-fi flick, and suddenly The Arrival has the cast listing of a much more respectable film. Each of these actors delivers and makes the eyeroll portions of the film tolerable and even enjoyable.
The Arrival had the unfortunate luck to be made in that small period of time where green screening was still coming into its own. The technology had existed for a while by 1996, but it was still impossibly hard to ignore the second rate appearance of those all too familiar green screen lines when they showed up. I remember catching this on VHS back in 1997 and at the time I thought the effects used on the legs actually looked really cool. Watching it now however, when the eyes are trained for seamless CGI injection, the sequences of animated lower bodies hurts to watch - never mind the other CGI moments of The Arrival which were even more ambitious for their time. The effects are certainly dated, in a visible way, but as a science-fiction flick The Arrival is an unexpected diamond among the rough.
The video and audio transfers receive a slight kick up in quality for the Blu-ray release. As opposed to simply transferring the movie from DVD to Blu-ray and calling it a day, the resolution was in fact boosted to a proper HD level - though that only makes the poor CGI moments all the more glaring at times. The audio sounds crisp and the film's score comes through with pounding resonance.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Unfortunately, it appears no cast or crew could be reached for a commentary. We receive nothing on this disc besides foreign language audio tracks. Disappointing considering what an unexpected gem The Arrival is.
Where this new Blu-ray release of The Arrival excels - the lack of extra features brings it back down. It's two steps forward and one step back. I appreciate the boost in video quality, but a good Blu-ray package demands more of a studio. With that said, purchasing a copy of this film in high-definition as opposed to an SD DVD is a hard recommendation to make. Only the eagle-eyed and most scrupulous of movie watchers will really notice the HD bump. It's a fun sci-fi romp, but you'll have to think long and hard about whether or not this sub-par Blu-ray release is the one you want.
"The Arrival" is on sale May 21, 2009 and is rated PG13. Sci-Fi. Written and directed by David Twohy. Starring Charlie Sheen, Richard Schiff, Ron Silver, Teri Polo.