Blu-ray REVIEW: The Arrival (1996)

ARRIVAL_0001THE ARRIVAL (1996 Lionsgate)

Written and Directed by David Thowy

I’ll confess that this review has little to do with rock and roll.  The Blu-ray disc does contain a killer 7.1 DTS HD surround sound mix, and that will appeal to those who appreciate a good 7.1 soundtrack.  I haven’t had the chance to review many 7.1 releases here.  Other than that, the only connection is that Charlie Sheen parties like a rock star, so he’s in the club honorarily at this point. He did in fact proclaim himself a “total freakin’ rock star from Mars,” and I’m not going to argue with Charlie Sheen.

When this movie came out back in the 90’s, I snagged a neat widescreen VHS copy in a clamshell case, which ironically has more special features than the Blu-ray or DVD releases! It’s weird and disappointing to me that the interviews from the VHS version are not available anymore, but whatever — when I found this disc at a cut-rate price I decided to make the leap from the tape to Blu.

The good: The 7.1 surround mix is really excellent. When Charlie Sheen first discovers an alien signal, it’s rotating around the room in a really cool way. There aren’t many discs out there in 7.1, but if you’ve got the equipment, here’s a good sci-fi movie to try out. The hi-def transfer also looked quite good.

The bad: Oh dear Lord, some of these mid-90’s movies have the worst CG effects. The Arrival has some of the worst I’ve seen in a movie of this stature.

Plot summary: Charlie Sheen is Zane Zaminski, an astronomer working for the JPL in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Mirroring the plot of the concurrently released (but much higher budgeted) Contact, Zaminski finds a “wow” signal and takes it to his boss, Phil Gordian (Ron Silver).  But there may be a conspiracy afoot — Gordian secretly destroys the tape, the only proof of the signal.  He has Zaminski fired, and attempts to destroy his credibility in the scientific community. Why?

The firing scene is especially enjoyable today, as Zane Zaminski has a paranoid public meltdown foreshadowing that of his tiger blood drinking, eternally winning, rock-star-wizard real-life counterpart.  It’s amusing from that point of view, but it’s also a really cool scene that Sheen and Silver both nail.

What follows is a series of mysteries, cover-ups and alien intrigue that links Zane to Ilana Green (Lindsay Crouse, Iceman) in Mexico. Dr. Green has found flowers growing in a small patch of grass in the frigid Arctic, and links it to a strange spike in CO2 emissions. But how is that happening, and to what ends?

Several exciting action sequences are to be enjoyed before Zane discovers what is really going on down in Mexico and why Gordian turned on him. It’s not a monumental earth-shattering revelation, nor is it a total surprise, but I won’t spoil it for you regardless.  The Arrival is a fun movie, and that’s all it’s really intended to be, so I’ll save the fun for you.

For the price I paid ($11), this disc was totally worthwhile regardless of the fact that it has zero special features. It’s a decent yarn, the sound is awesome, and it’s always nice to upgrade from VHS to hi-def.

3/5 stars


MOVIE REVIEW: The Running Man (1987)

Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa appear in this cheesey 80’s classic!


THE RUNNING MAN (1987, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, directed by Paul Michael Glaser)

It’s hard to believe that, as goofy as The Running Man is, it came so close to predicting what aspects of our society would be like in the future. We still have a few years before we hit 2019, perhaps we are right on track for our 2019 to match this version!

The Running Man is loosely (and I mean, very very very loosely) based on the novella by Richard Bachman, otherwise known to his “dear readers” as Stephing King. Where the King book involved a desperate man who needs money to buy medicine, and a game where he can travel anywhere in the world, the movie scales things back. Ah-nold, at his one-liner best, is Ben Richards, a former pilot who disobeyed orders and refused to fire on an unarmed mob. He is imprisoned but escapes, and is now about to appear on “The Running Man”, a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week television show (hmmm, Big Brother?) and fight for his life. The prize is a full pardon for your crimes, a loss means death.

This story was recently ripped off in a lil’ smash hit movie called The Hunger Games.  Perhaps you’ve seen it, or a 13 year old girl wearing a Peeta shirt?

Society is now a police state (hmmm?) and the people are distracted by endless game shows on television (hmmm?). News is heavily censored and “edited for television” (hmmm?). Ben Richards’ crime of disobeying orders has been spun by the networks — they show a fake video of him firing on the unarmed crowd, earning himself the nickname “The Butcher of Bakersfield”. Now he will have the chance to win his freedom on The Running Man, but the odds are well stacked against him. By his side, also fighting for their lives, are two captured freedom fighters.  These guys are hoping to use their capture to find the source of network transmissions.  Then they could jam it, and broadcast the truth of what the world has become….

The Running Man is not a great film. It’s an 80’s Arnold film.  If you’ve seen one, you know what you’re getting.  Lots of action. Arnold must battle “Stalkers” on The Running Man. Much like the gladiators on American Gladiators, these stalkers will do everything they can to stop Arnold from winning. They include:

* Sub-Zero, as played by Professor Toru Tanaka (weapons include hockey stick blade and exploding pucks)
* Fireball, played by Jim Brown (flamethrower, jet pack)
* the opera-loving Dynamo (who has a punk-rock-looking suit that can fire electricity; sings)
* Buzzsaw (so named for his use of chainsaw and motorcycle)
* the retired Captain Freedom (Arnold’s friend Jesse Ventura)

The show is run by Damien Killian (subtle!), played by former Family Feud host Richard Dawson. Nobody could have played this role better than Dawson. While playing a game show host was not a stretch for him, Dawson was absolutely flawless in the role. Other famous names include Yaphet Kotto (Alien) as another Running Man contestant, Mick Fleetwood as former-musician-turned-freedom-fighter named Mic (I like to think Mick is just playing the future version of himself) and a very young Dweezil Zappa.

The blu-ray disc has enough bonus features to keep you going after the film has ended, including audio commentaries and featurettes. The audio is really nice, mastered in sweet, sweet 7.1 surround. When Arnold is in that little pod heading down to The Running Man’s play area, the sound was awesome. If you have 7.1 at home you need to check this out. I really enjoyed the sound.

If you like other cheesey Arnold Schwarzenegger movies such as Total Recall or Commando, add The Running Man to your collection. If you like movies with a stirring plot and dramatic acting, avoid at all costs. Regardless of your feelings on this film, do try to read the book. I have always felt that a remake of this film, following King’s book, is well overdue.

3/5 stars