The United States is caught in a major Heat Wave that is pressing into autumn.
Zane Zaminsky (Sheen) is an astronomer who works for SETI. One night he finds a signal, but it gets cut off before he can verify it with another station. He takes the recording to his boss (Ron Silver), who dismisses it. Eventually he finds himself out of a job, and tries his best to keep studying in his new job as a satellite cable worker. He discovers that not only are signals coming from space, but someone on earth is responding.
Meanwhile, climate researcher Ilana Green (Lindsay Crouse) is stunned to find a field of wildflowers growing in the arctic. She brings her findings back to her superiors, but they cannot verify anything as the satellites they count on are malfunctioning.
Both track the leads on these mysteries to a small town in Mexico, where they learn larger things are afoot.
It is considered to be a very solid, believable, enjoyable sci-fi film and was well received by critics, but it didn't do very well in the box office.
Was followed by a not-as-well-reviewed Direct to Video sequel in 1998 called The Arrival II with none of the original cast returning. The sequel begins with five people receiving letters about the alien conspiracy from the first film, and then follows the story of how the aliens have stepped up their schedule due to the events of the first film.
Tropes in this film:
- Abnormal Limb Rotation Range: The first sign Zane is dealing with aliens is when one switches his knees backwards.
- Alien Invasion: They're not rounding humans up and killing them, they're just raising the Earth's temperature - terraforming it with us still here. While this isn't exactly nice by any stretch, none of the aliens says anything about getting rid of or enslaving us after the process is done (they aren't nice to folks who stick their noses out too far, though). They're for sure not ready for the information to get out yet, though. The second film adds more sinister intentions for the larger race.
- Alliterative Name: Zane Zaminsky.
- Big Bad: Phil Gordian, at JPL. He probably has folks above him, but he's the highest level we see in the film.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: These aliens, despite having high technology, sure pick some rather silly run of the mill ways to kill people. The scorpions did work, though.
- Chekhov's Gun: When Kiki and Zane meet for the first time, Kiki falls from a tree and Zane gives him an ice bag to put on his ankle. Kiki's reaction to the coldness of a simple ice bag is really excessive. People's first reaction may be the same of Zane's: Kiki is just a whiner. The reality is that the ice bag is really too cold for Kiki, because he is an alien. Almost bordering on Foreshadowing.
- Chicken Walker: The aliens walk like this, having hyper flexible knees - the preferred angle is backwards.
- The Conspiracy: These aliens are already well entrenched in Earth's customs and government.Phil Gordian: Ask yourself why an antenna won't deploy on a deep-space probe, or ask how they could launch a $6 billion telescope without testing its mirror.note
- Contrived Coincidence: Zane and Iliana happen to arrive in Mexico at the same time, investigate the same factory, and stay at the same hotel.
- Engineered Public Confession: Zane threatens Gordian with what looks like a gun in his pocket ("Fucking NRA. It's just so easy to get one."). Figuring there's no harm in confirming Zane's suspicions and gloating for a bit, Gordian reveals some general details of their plan. Then Zane pulls out what turns out to be a remote control for the camcorder he has hidden in the nearby tree and grabs the tape. The aliens end up hunting for the tape for the rest of the film. In the sequel, the recording is dismissed as a hoax by most people.
- Free-Range Children: Kiki is free to wander at night. According to him, nightly at 10pm his grandmother passes out from cough syrup.
- Harmless Freezing: When the aliens have nitrogen sprayed on them, they freeze. They seem to thaw out just fine, though.
- Large Ham: Charlie Sheen as Zane frequently dips into this mode, especially in the final act as he becomes more and more frightened for his life as he desperately tries to broadcast a message informing the world (or at least America) of the aliens' plot.
- Latex Perfection: The alien disguises, though they seem to be more like holographic constructs than any sort of makeup material.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: The specialty of the alien 'gardeners', combined with Clean Up Crew.
- The Mole: It was Kiki all along. The film uses Children Are Innocent and Plucky Comic Relief in hopes you won't suspect him.
- Nervous Wreck / Properly Paranoid: Zane is implied to have always been rather anxious and overly distrustful of people—which makes it all the harder for his girlfriend Char to believe his claims of an alien takeover—and he becomes especially frightened, anxious and irritable in the film's last half hour or so as the aliens close in on him and he desperately struggles to remain alive long enough to broadcast the tape of a conversation between Zane and Gordion in which the latter details the aliens' plan for the takeover.
- Nonindicative Name: The movie is called "The Arrival", but these aliens have evidently been here for a while already.
- No OSHA Compliance: Zane pushes the cab driver out of an elevator to his doom. The aliens have interstellar travel, secretly build a vast network of Global warming-inducing terraforming plants on Earth, yet their elevators are exposed, completely lacking in rails or even doors.
- Notice This: The movie goes out of its way to show Kiki leaving a note to his grandma on his front door so she'll know where he is. This is particularly odd when you think about it because Kiki is a Free-Range Child. This is to clue the audience in on how the bad guys knew where Zane was going - Kiki told them through the note.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Kiki, the boy next door. That is, until you find out what he really is.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Would you like to see the ruins?"
Kiki: Do they got these little flashlight fingers that...
- When Zane explains to Kiki who they are :
Kiki: Maybe they got these big metal teeth that come out and sort of...
- Spotting the Thread:
- While detained in Mexico, Zane sees a guard who looks exactly like Gordian, but clearly Hispanic and with a mustache. He later realizes that the aliens had carelessly reused the disguise.
- The aliens are clued in that Zane is human because he is sweating.
- On the way out, the cab driver notices the disguised Zane's outfit is dripping. Zane speaking to him in English rather than whatever language the aliens use was just to get rid of him.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Zane begs Calvin not to tell the "government agents" about the backup system storing a copy of the signal. He tells them anyway... so the aliens knock him out and lock him in his garage with his car running, faking suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Starfish Language: The aliens' native language.
- Unrealistic Black Hole: The aliens use golden spheres of various sizes that appear to be strange grenades of sort. When they activate, they float in mid-air, spin, and then suck everything around them into nothingness, leaving no traces. In the sequel, one is used to temporarily neutralize another.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: The aliens are very quick to plan accordingly to whatever Zane tries thanks to Kiki spying on him for them.
Tropes in the sequel
- Radiation-Immune Mutants: Not mutants, but the aliens are, apparently, completely immune to radiation. They plan to cause a meltdown at a new nuclear power plant in Quebec as part of their accelerated plan.
- Stock Footage: The footage of the inside of the alien power plant viewed on the alien computer is taken directly from the first movie. The three aliens meeting is from the scene when Zane is looking for a way out.
- Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Zane dies between the two films.