Following the sudden arrival of a dozen alien spacecraft around the globe, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is approached by the US military to aid them in translating the alien visitors. Together with a team of mathematicians and scientists (including physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner), Louise discovers that the squid-like aliens, dubbed 'heptapods', communicate with complex symbols and starts working on a method of decoding their language. Meanwhile, tensions and paranoia about the aliens' true intentions see world governments isolating themselves from each other, leading to the possibility of a new global conflict.
Directed by rising star Denis (Sicario) Villeneuve, Arrival is that rarest of things in this day and age: a genuinely sophisticated and intelligent science-fiction film. For all of the spectacle it unleashes on the screen, at its heart Arrival is a film about language and the importance of communication, not just between humans and aliens, but between nations. As such, it feels particularly resonant.
If you're worried that it's over-worthy and dull, you shouldn't be. Over its two-hour run-time it tells a fascinating story, and in purely cinematic terms it manages to make the act of decoding alien symbols every bit as electrifying as the space battles from a more traditional blockbuster. Add to that a stunning emotional punchline that makes you re-evaluate everything you've just seen and you have an A-grade movie.
Based on this, we completely understand why Villeneuve was chosen to direct the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. Wonder what he does with it...
Picture: If you've seen Villeneuve's earlier thrillers Prisoners and Enemy, then you'll already be familiar with the restrained aesthetic the director brings to this science-fiction flick.
Framed at 2.40:1, the Full HD image (based upon a 2K digital intermediate of the 2.8K digital source) has a very muted appearance, where even seemingly sunny shots of the Montana plains are made to look like a damp afternoon in Cumbria. It's enough to have you checking your display's settings. Similarly, black levels veer towards muddy greys and while this doesn't affect the overall sharpness of the image, it does have a knock-on effect with its ability to accurately render shadow detail.
The exceptions to this deliberate desaturation are the rich, orange hazmat suits the team wear during their trips into the alien craft.
Not the most impactful HD encode you'll ever see, but likely an accurate reflection of the filmmakers' intentions, and one that suits the tone of the movie perfectly.
Picture rating: 4/5
Audio: Immersive and dynamic, Arrival's award-winning sound design makes constant use of the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundstage (Entertainment One hasn't bothered to encode it in either Atmos or DTS:X here) to create a coherent acoustic world, packed to the rafters with all sorts of finely-etched effects.
The whole shebang is underscored by a powerful and resonant low-end that will keep your subwoofer extremely satisfied – Chapter 3, for example, starts with the sound of helicopters, slowly building to fill the entire soundstage. It's a startling indication of the (carefully controlled) power and potency of the track's LF, which will become the hallmark of the sound design as the movie continues.
Don't expect the bombastic set-pieces offered by the likes of War of the Worlds or Independence Day, and you'll be amply rewarded.
Audio rating: 5/5
Extras: Arrival's Blu-ray serves up a quartet of fascinating behind-the-scenes featurettes…
Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival (30 minutes) offers an in-depth overview of the film's production, from inception to completion. Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design (15 minutes) looks at the creation of the film's otherworldly soundscape and the key role it plays in the narrative.
Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process (11 minutes) talks to editor Joe Walker about the way in which Arrival was put together and how the concept of editing is particularly relevant to the film. Finally, Principles of Time, Memory & Language (15 minutes) looks at Arrival's philosophical and scientific principles.
The Region A-locked US Blu-ray (released by Paramount) also includes a further featurette about the score, which is curiously absent here.
Extras rating: 3/5
We say: Intentionally drab visuals aside, this is a terrific hi-def release for a sci-fi masterpiece.
Arrival, Entertainment One, Region B BD, £25
HCC VERDICT: 4/5
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