Arrival, The (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The biggest alien invasion picture of the summer of 1996 is Independence Day. But it's not the first. The Arrival, with a significantly lower budget than Fox's July 3 release, has that distinction, and, while this particular film doesn't boast any radical or surprising ideas, it combines numerous familiar plot elements into a suspenseful, entertaining whole. Best of all, perhaps, is the realization that some thought went into writer/director David Twohy's script. This is not a dumb movie; in fact, with its heavy reliance upon real science, it's startlingly credible.

When aliens can disguise themselves as humans, as in The Arrival, we're never sure who's a friend and who's a foe, and the best science fiction/horror films of this ilk continuously keep us guessing. Conspiracy lovers will have fun sorting through the layers of cover-up and treachery here. And those who crave scary-looking, otherworldly creatures will get their fill from the aliens in their natural forms.

The premise is rather simple. The aliens hail from a planet orbiting Wolf-336, an unstable star located 14.6 light years from Earth. A colonizing force has arrived here incognito with the goal of readying this world for inhabitation. That process involves accelerating the greenhouse effect -- intentionally polluting the atmosphere so that the global temperature rises, causing the polar ice caps melt.

Zane (Charlie Sheen) and Calvin (Richard Schiff), a pair of SETI radio astronomers, intercept communications between Wolf-336 and Earth. When they report this to their boss, Phil Gordian (Ron Silver), Zane is fired and Calvin suffers an unfortunate accident. With the help of Kiki (Tony T. Johnson), a neighborhood boy, Zane begins investigating on his own, ignoring his girlfriend (Teri Polo) in his quest to determine who's out there. But Zane isn't the only one observing strange goings-on. A UCLA environmentalist (Lindsay Crouse) has noticed the alarming increase in global warming, and it's only a matter of time before she and Zane meet each other and compare notes.

The Arrival is low key, which is refreshing at this time of year, and it's as much horror as pure science fiction. This is the kind of movie that a director like John Carpenter might have made during his late-70s/early-80s heyday. It's creepy and atmospheric, and, after a rather protracted opening forty minutes, well-paced.

Spectacled and bearded, Charlie Sheen is surprisingly effective as the paranoid protagonist. He's more of an everyday sort of guy than a superhero, and, as a result, is easy to identify with. Everyone else in the cast is basically a supporting player, including Ron Silver as an oily CETI executive, so the responsibility for the movie lies fully on Sheen's shoulders, and he carries the burden admirably.

X Files fans will discover a lot worth appreciating about The Arrival, which shares certain core similarities with the TV show. This film, however, takes things much further. Believability is a tremendous asset in a picture like this. 1993's Fire in the Sky, supposedly based on a "true" story, was incredibly hard-to-swallow. On the other hand, The Arrival, a completely fictional tale, is easy to accept. David Twohy should be commended. In a summer when tornadoes, impossible missions, and flying dragons are grabbing the headlines and the big money, his smaller effort has shown more creativity than any of those blockbusters.

Arrival, The (United States, 1996)

Director: David Twohy
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Crouse, Teri Polo, Ron Silver, Richard Schiff, Tony T. Johnson
Screenplay: David Twohy
Cinematography: Hiro Narita
Music: Arthur Kempel
U.S. Distributor: Orion Pictures
Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 1996-05-31
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1