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The first sign of proof that David Twohy is the next John Carpenter.
*** 1/2 out of ****
Writer/director David Twohy accomplished the near-impossible in the summer of 1996; he delivered a fun, fast-paced AND intelligent sci-fi thriller with The Arrival, an intriguing, thought-provoking film that was unfairly ignored in theaters at the time of its release (most viewers chose to see Twister, M:I, Independence Day). The movie has a classic premise about a radio astronomer (Charlie Sheen) who receives a signal from outer space that may or may not have come from extraterrestrial life.
To say anymore would be unforgivable, as Twohy packs in believable twists and turns throughout the plot, which is fun without insulting the brain, and complex without ever bogging down in mind-numbing confusion. The script does have a few head-scratchers here and there (I was particularly miffed that Lindsay Crouse's character, an environmentalist, wasn't familiar with the concept of terraforming) and some contrivances, but they're hardly bothersome and aren't noticeable until a second viewing.
As good a screenwriter as Twohy is, he's even more adept as a director (further proven by Pitch Black, a superbly crafted deep-space thriller with a script not even half as smart as The Arrival's). With great pacing and precise editing, Twohy builds momentum with each discovery Sheen unfolds, until it culminates to an edge-of-the-seat climax that's quite satisfying (unlike...cough...cough..."V: the Final Battle", Independence Day).
The cast is all-around effective, with Sheen delivering a surprisingly terrific performance as the paranoid astronomer. It's great to see an intelligent protagonist who thinks his way out of tight jams, rather than shooting and blowing up everything in sight. No one else gets half of Sheen's screentime, but Ron Silver is nicely ambiguous as his boss, and Teri Polo, however underused, is fine as Sheen's girlfriend. Lindsay Crouse also makes a good impression as an environmentalist studying some strange activity.
On a technical level, some sci-fi fans might be a little disappointed. Those weaned on "V" and ID4 will notice the lack of large-scale special effects. Sorry, no disc-shaped motherships here. Still, the visuals present are mostly decent, certainly passable enough that they don't become a distraction to the plot. Despite the use of CGI in its more primitive stages (this was '96, after all) the effects are still occasionally excellent and imaginative, such as the spherical object those tight-lipped men wield. Composer Arthur Kempel's score adds a bit more tension to the already excruciating suspense, and evokes a creepy atmosphere during the film's quieter moments.
Remember, folks, The Arrival is a rarity, a once in a while example of how pure movie magic can be created when we've got dedicated filmmakers who want to intrigue the audience rather than catering to demographics just for the sake of box office returns. Forget Independence Day, The War of the Worlds, or V and its sequel, The Arrival is the most satisfying cinematic depiction of alien invasion to date.
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