Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
When I heard that Villeneuve got the job to helm a sequel to one of the best regarded science fiction films of all time, I was both excited and afraid. I love Villeneuve, and I know what wonder he’s capable of, but I’ve also seen him crank out films like Prisoners and Sicario, that while completely competent, were more high budget, glossy, Hollywood action fodder than his smaller films, including his debut sci-fi themed August 32nd on Earth, and more recent small budget Enemy.
When the news came that he was directing Arrival, an expansion of Ted Chiang's excellent short, The Story of Your Life, I figured that it would be his ‘Enemy’ to Blade Runner’s ‘Prisoners’. After seeing Arrival at TIFF, I fell into despair. If Villeneuve ‘action-o-fied Chiang’s story this extremely, I really couldn’t fathom what he’d do with a Blade Runner sequel where the success stakes were so much higher, and the Keepers of the Rights would have so much more input.
Tepid reviews here on LB, and IRL friends complaining of it being overlong and way too concerned with long effects sequences made me question even seeing it at all.
But I did.
And I loved it.
My rewatch the other day of 2010: The Year We Make Contact after my annual HAL’s Birthday 2001 rewatch brought me back to the quandary of trying to make a sequel to a masterpiece. Peter Hyams, a competent action sci-fi director took on the challenge. I remember interviews at the time where he said he wasn’t going to try to follow Kubrick’s masterpiece, but rather make his own film. He had the advantage of a brilliant novel by Clarke to follow, and he delivered a serviceable action picture ( miscasting of Roy Scheider aside ), but a film that when watched next to the original seems disjointed, tonally wrong, and disrespectful I’ve often said that if you watch 2010 without ever knowing about 2001, it wouldn’t be half bad.
This is the big difference here. Villeneuve didn’t make the same film as Scott, but he made a film that both respected what Scott began and was unique in its own right., It’s also a film that is totally cohesive with it’s precursor, without bowing down. The most amazing thing to me, though, is that how Villeneuve and Hampton Fancher, one of the screenwriting team on the original, crafted such a nuanced, powerful, and thematicaly aligned story without the aid of the the original source author, the great Philip K Dick.
I don’t know what people are talking about when saying this is overlong and effects laden. That’s how I describe most comic book films, and this is so far from those it’s crazy. Every shot in this film is earned. Could it be a bit shorter, maybe, but I’ll have to reserve judgement on that until subsequent watches, just like I’ll have to wait to unpack the great themes of the rights of AI, and what it really means to be human, until a future viewing ( or many future viewings )
So it turns out Blade Runner was his Enemy, and Arrival his Prisoners. Whoda thunk.