When a gaggle of gigantic, otherworldly objects parks itself at various points around the Earth, life as we know it is paused while collective humanity figures out our next move. Our finest minds—tempered by the military—seek to determine the mysterious visitors’ even more mysterious purpose, leaving us with the complicated business of learning how to communicate with them. The best hope is brilliant language professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is tasked with deciphering a bizarre form of “speech,” impossible for humans to emulate. But if she doesn’t make meaningful contact, and soon, all hell might break loose, with no guarantee of how such a conflict would end.

Working with a smart, solid script, director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, upcoming Blade Runner 2049) conjures an undeniable sense of awe, but the undercurrent of fear is never far away, either. Global tension mounts as Louise forges bravely ahead, but the real secret behind this close encounter is beyond anything we expected. is a beautifully shot movie, with mesmerizing lighting and a distinctive assortment of hues in almost every shot, imparting a look like no other film in recent memory. It’s also often shadowy, reproduced with warm, natural nuance from the digital source material for this 4K Ultra HD presentation. Deliberate imperfections are appreciable as we look through a dirty window or a clear plastic hood. Later, in an abstract effect, a multitude of TV newscasts comes together with layer upon layer of razor-sharp detail. HDR adds much to the 2.4:1 image, as when a darkness-shrouded Louise walks beneath bright overhead fixtures, or when a helicopter’s searchlight cuts through the night. Reminiscent of the early days of DVD, out-of-focus background elements can take on a mildly artificial appearance, with minor instances of video noise here and there as well. The aliens seem like they were hatched at a computer graphics workstation, but overall the enhanced visuals are convincing.

Applying the philosophy that “sound is the slave of the image,” Arrival features some of the more aggressive rears I’ve heard in some time. Many scenes bustle with activity, and a lot of thought was clearly put into the precise cues buried within the cacophony. The sudden boom and peppy zip of jets are among the more traditional moments, but the simulation of noise-canceling headphones being donned and used inside a noisy chopper is even more impressive. Subtler still is when the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack replicates the sonic environment inside Louise’s protective respirator suit. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s strangely compelling musical score, which could be mistaken for whalesong at times, is absolutely essential to the intense mood of the story.

All of the extras are on the included Blu-ray, in high definition. The half-hour making-of is happily substantive, and the segment about sound design is quite informative, although I wish it was in the same audio format as the movie. Music and editing each receive their own featurettes, while the exploration of the scientific themes dares to be intelligent, to an extent I haven’t seen since Interstellar’s bonus content.

Heartfelt, gripping, and genuinely mind-opening, Arrival is a remarkably original take on the alien encounter genre. It’s science fiction for those who are typically science fiction-averse.

Studio: Paramount, 2016
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Length: 116 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker