It’s the middle of the nineties, The X-Files is your favorite show, you strongly believe aliens are among us and then you see this movie. The Arrival is a 1996 science fiction movie about a scientist working for the SETI institute who finally discovers proof that aliens exist. To be more precise he hears a strange sound coming from outer space. This is also one of my favorite science fiction movies of the nineties. I’m going to be completely honest and say that at that time I preferred it to Contact. There, I’ve said it. Back then I was looking for more action and less philosophy.
Of course, since that time not only have I read the book but Contact is now one of my all-time favorites. I didn’t mention The X-Files for no reason because The Arrival feels like a spin-off movie of that television show. It also has a certain B movie quality which makes it more down-to-Earth and likable. During that decade we saw a lot of big science fiction blockbusters but also a surprising amount of much smaller movies riding that wave. This one uses the very real efforts of SETI institute to make its story believable.
Even the signal is similar to the now famous WOW signal received on August 15, 1977, by Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope. However, I do not want you to think that The Arrival looks cheap or bad. The production values are excellent with a couple of really stunning scenes. One with the giant satellite dish particularly stands out. The camera work is flashy and so nineties that it will bring a smile to your face. This was the time when certain equipment was finally accessible to most filmmakers and they used the shit out of it.
Keep in mind that the budget for this movie is $25 million. Too bad the premiere of one of those big ones, Independence Day was just a month later ruining The Arrival’s box office run. The movie did much better overseas and especially in Europe. There’s even a direct-to-video sequel Arrival II: The Second Arrival from 1998. I have not checked it out although it looks like one of those so bad that it’s good movies.
We meet Zane Zaminsky, a radio astronomer working for SETI on one of his usual nights. He’s listening to radio signals hoping to detect any anomalies that would confirm we’re not alone in the universe. However, tonight only seems like Zane’s usual night because he soon hears a strange sound coming from the computer. It would appear that he and his colleague have received a transmission from outer space. And at exactly that moment strange things start happening.
The Arrival doesn’t waste any time and plunges us into action literally from the first minute. There’s no boring character development and dull establishing shots. We start running immediately and don’t stop until the movie is over. I know it’s a bit hard to believe that Charlie Sheen is this scientist but he somehow pulls it off. I also found it immensely entertaining to wait for him to make his next intense stare. He gave us at least twenty of these stares so I think that makes for a good drinking game.
Director David Twohy actually made quite a few decent science fiction movies including Pitch Black and all subsequent Riddick adventures and Below. He also wrote scripts for Waterworld and Imposter. So, if you’re looking for movies with similar vibes, you might want to check them out.
Director: David Twohy
Writer: David Twohy
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Schiff, Ron Silver, Teri Polo, Phyllis Applegate
Fun Facts: Aliens cannot sweat in this movie, The Arrival making them similar to Prince Andrew. Wait a minute, it’s all starting to make sense now!