20 Years On: “The Arrival”

Film’s about alien invasions are nothing new. For as long as film has been a major medium to tell stories, at least with sound, it seems that every other year there’s at least one new alien invasion film. While you can easily enjoy any and all, the ones that truly stand out are the ones that manage to do something that’s unique enough, and makes the viewing experience even better. For some, that’s easier said than done.

The Orion Pictures film “The Arrival” is a fun alien invasion thriller, that actually offers up a new and creative reason for their presence.

This sci-fi thriller stars Charlie Sheen (“The Goldbergs”, “Anger Management”), Lindsay Crouse (“Somehow Slow”, “Law & Order: SVU”), Teri Polo (“Royal Pains”, “The Fosters”), Richard Schiff (upcoming episode “House of Lies”, “Rogue”), Leon Rippy (“11.22.63”, “Rectify”), Tony T. Johnson (“Shadow Zone: The Undead Express”, “Theodore Rex”), and Ron Silver (“The West Wing”, “Billionaire Boys Club”).

The film is written and directed by David Twohy (“Riddick”, “A Perfect Getaway”).

The film originally opened on May 31, 1996.

While I find myself constantly wondering how I miss so many films, I still can’t come up with a good answer beyond, there are so many films out there. This is true, but some you’d think I would’ve heard of. For the longest time this one remained a mystery, and maybe that’s because of Sheen, whom I’m not a big fan of, but that’s more because of his most recent works on TV. Then the whole having too much to watch just plain got in the way. It’s like with books, I have a plan to read certain ones, but then a new book comes out and the list shifts and I put off that which I previously was going to read. Thankfully I had a free copy of this and could watch it, as I actually enjoyed just about every moment of this now 20 year old film.

Surprisingly, the characters didn’t bother me. Maybe it’s because in a film like this I just expected to not really get much deep insight. I certainly wasn’t let down on that front. The upside to this is that Sheen and Crouse, the two big ones, were fantastic! There was plenty to love about both of them, which is pretty rare in sci-fi films like this. For me, what it largely was, was the amount of time dedicated to exploring what it is that Sheen and Coruse do for a living. And by extension, Schiff’s character too, as he works with Sheen. I found that this approach was somehow different, and added a certain level to what would turn out to be a twisty thriller. In other sci-fi films like this, the heavy use of a characters scientific background, isn’t set up like this and only comes off as hokey and laughable. Here, it really served a purpose, including moving the plot along. Other films, the nuggets of information that would be gotten from someone knowing science, just happens to come up at the right moment. It’s refreshing to see that there was always a purpose.

The biggest upside and takeaway, plus one of the reasons I love this film, is the constant and slow reveal of the mystery/conspiracy, which also allowed for some decent suspense moments. A lot of excitement was had too! As the film went from beginning to middle to end, little questions just kept coming up. I was lured in by this need to know what was happening, even though I more or less already knew. To get me so wrapped up in the inevitable reveal in the story, is amazing! I even reacted a time or two like the twist was news to me. The suspenseful moments were more suspense-lite, but they were good, and had me a tad on edge. This in turn helps fuel those exciting moments I mentioned. One in particular was the climax of the film. It just went and went, never letting up and still supplying enough mystery to keep me so caught up I was relieved when it ended.

While all this suspense and mystery was good, and kept me interested in the film, it still had one minor flaw. The film had a few moments that lagged, but these moments weren’t enough to become overbearing or make me think really negative thoughts. They more just had me wanting to move past the science lesson and get back into it all and discover what the hell was truly going on!

Aliens! What’s an alien invasion movie without aliens?! In this case what worked the most was the good creature design. They’re different, which is always a good thing, but different enough from what you typically get that even for this film, it’s refreshing. Bringing these malevolent creatures to life is the ancient looking CGI, which mostly holds up, but doesn’t fully impress. It is really meh, but it’s not distracting and really allows for you to get a sense of how dangerous they are, and a bit scary. After encountering them in their true form, the rest of the sequences just had a new level of fear to them, plus I couldn’t look at them in human form the same way. Knowing how was and wasn’t an alien became even harder, and paranoia certainly increased.

When it comes to films about aliens or involving aliens in some major way, invasion or not, but usually an invasion, it doesn’t take much to like it. There’s really only two options, you like it or you don’t, there’s seldom middle ground. If you’re like me, simply having people going up against aliens will be enough. Not all of the elements needed to bring the film to life need be good, just believable enough and fun! But good certainly won’t hurt. It’s why I keep coming back to this type of film no matter how it’s released.

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