The Arrival Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Well Zane, why do we always have to analyze everything? Can't you just trust that I love you?
Algorithms I trust. Boolean logic I trust. Beautiful women... they just mystify me.
Two years, and we're still talking about trust. It's amazing.
I should shut the hell up.
Look, it's your career Zane, and I will support any decision you make. But if we are going to make it, we have to take care of our problems here, on planet Earth. But that is just a little hard when you're always looking at the stars.

"The Arrival" came out in the early part of the summer of 1996, just before the other invasion flick of that same year, "Independence Day". Whereas "Independence Day" paid homage to the classic all-out alien invasion movies of the Fifties, "The Arrival' was more of a tribute to the classic McCarthy-era sci-fi flicks, such as "Invasion of the Boy Snatchers" or the paranoid television series "The Invaders".

TA starts off strongly with a gee-whiz opening sequence of a UCLA atmosphere researcher (Lindsay Crouse) investigating a poppy field in the middle of Antarctica. Zane Zaminski (a bearded and bespectacled Charlie Sheen) is a radio astronomer working with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) with his partner Calvin (Richard Schiff). One late night, Zane aims the dish at Wolf-336, a star that is 15 light years away and has recently become unstable in the last 50 years. Contrary to standard SETI protocol, his search is in the FM band. Surprisingly, he picks up a brief random signal. But before it can be confirmed, it disappears. The next morning, Zane approaches his boss, Phil Gordian (Ron Silver, playing another creepy bad guy) with a recording of the signal, which Phil quickly dismisses. Zane is then informed that he has just been laid off due to budgetary cutbacks. However, Zane is determined to find the source of the signal and he goes off on his own to research it further. Meanwhile, some goons from the Department of Defense show up and confiscate all the data about the signal, and Calvin suffers an 'accident'. After implausibly hooking up several home satellite dishes in the city together to form a wide array, Zane picks up the signal again, however, it is an earth-based signal, piggy-backed onto a Mexican FM radio station.

Zane then heads off to Ixaca, Mexico to investigate, where he runs into the UCLA researcher, who is in town to investigate a 200% increase in atmospheric trace gases, which would increase the global temperature by 12 degrees Fahrenheit in a decade if left unchecked. Together, they find that aliens from Wolf-336 have already arrived, and are in the process of terraforming the Earth for the purpose of colonization.

I was actually surprised by TA, and I can now appreciate the reasons why Siskel and Ebert gave this movie "Two Thumbs Up" (I thought that they had just whigged out). Sure, Sheen is totally unbelievable as a scientist and Crouse's acting is wooden. And though there is nothing new in TA with every alien invasion plot convention and contrivance found here, it is a story that is subtly told, with the suspense and tension built up gradually. This movie induces a state of paranoia, which makes the audience question the motivations of all the characters. Is Zane's investment banker girlfriend acting suspicious because she is one of the aliens, or is she just concerned about her paranoid boyfriend? In the final act of TA, as the aliens are knocking down the front door, Zane comes to the nail-biting decision as to who's with him and who's against him. Another tense sequence involves the UCLA scientist getting into a bed crawling with scorpions. The special effects, though nowhere near as expensive as those in ID, are impressive, especially the sequence in the expansive underground alien base.

Of course, there are some unbelievable plot points in the story, which diminish this movie somewhat. If Wolf-336 is 15 light years, that would mean a two-way communication from Earth would take 30 years. Since Zane found the transmission on the FM band, the signal must be an electromagnetic radiation, which cannot travel faster than the speed of light, ruling out the use of more advanced faster-than-light technology, such as subspace or tachyons. So what would be the point of bouncing signals between the aliens' home and their bases on Earth with such a long lag time? Furthermore, though the stringing together of satellite dishes is an interesting idea, it most likely would not work in real-life, especially for a radio astronomer that has just lost his job and does not have millions of dollars to fund such a project (which reminds me of an "Outer Limits" episode where a janitor at a hospital was actually an ex-NASA employee with millions of dollars of radio astronomy equipment in his loft).

But despite these misgivings, "The Arrival" exceeded my expectations and was an interesting diversion.

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