THE ARRIVAL departed in 1996. Though it did well overseas, it only made it to 104th place in the States, a boxoffice bomb with a gross of just $14,063,000 against a cost of $25,000,000. There were hardly any sci-fi genre releases on the screens–Independence Day (the year’s biggest hit), First Contact (2nd in the 2nd line of Star Trek treks), and the spoof Mars Attacks!—so it’s rather odd this well-reviewed entry didn’t do better. Written & directed by David Twohy, it’s stylish, fairly smart and consistently entertaining, and its environmental-destruction theme hasn’t lost any currency. As one of the disguised alien visitors tells the frustrated hero, whose discoveries find him essentially crying in the wilderness, “If you can’t tend to your own planet, you don’t deserve to live here.”
Radio astronomer ‘Zane Zaminsky’ (Charlie Sheen), astounded to be dumped from his job after recording incoming radio signals from a distant star, obsessively continues tracking the source on his own time. His efforts lead to a power plant located outside a rural Mexican town, where he meets a climatologist (Lindsay Crouse), suspicious about a sudden rise in the Earth’s temperatures. The plant turns out to be an alien base: the cosmic colonizers plan to terraform our global habitat to suit their own needs. We’re pests in the way, taking too long to heat up home with our pollutants, so the aliens are speeding up the job for their benefit.
The plot zigzags enough to take some unexpected turns, the picturesque Mexican colonial town settings are novel, and the special effects of the aliens and their gizmos are inventive. Crouse’s character is interesting and the normally intense Ron Silver is toned down and effective in a dual role. Today, in light of his batshit crazy, self-destructive personal life and years wasting time on atrocious TV shows (albeit quite popular, defying logic and taste), we forget that for roughly a decade, Sheen did decent work in films. Though limited in range, he was nonetheless able in both dramatic (Platoon, Wall Street, Eight Men Out) and comedic (Hot Shots) venues, and he acquits himself with appropriate energy here, although the storyline does call for him to look freaked-out most of the time. Movie is overlong at 115 minutes, and the finale is too abrupt, but overall is generally engaging, with a few neat surprises.
Filmed in California (in Pasadena and at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory) and in the Mexican colonial towns of Taxco and Tepoztlán. Followed two years later by Arrival II (aka The Second Arrival), which cost half as much, got terrible reviews and disappeared into the chute underneath the bargain bin.
With Teri Polo (best known as ‘Pam Focker’), Tony T. Johnson, Richard Schiff, David Villalpando (El Norte) and Leon Rippy. A quarter century later, we’re on hyper-track to kill ourselves off without spaceman help.