Ridley Scott has been alternately praised as
a true cinematic visionary and criticized as a slick, style-over-substance
shooter. A look at his filmography shows that both qualities are present
– sometimes even in the same film.
was born in South Shields on 30th November 1937. He studied at the
Royal College of Art before moving on to work in television commercials.
Scott made his feature film debut in 1977 with The Duellists, a striking
adaptation of a Joseph Conrad story about two military officers (Keith
Carradine and Harvey Keitel) during the Napoleonic wars who find themselves
caught up in a decades-spanning personal conflict. The movie made
no money, but got Scott a lot of attention and gained a small cult
was nothing to what Alien (1979) was to do for Scott. Groundbreaking
on a number of levels: first female butch heroine, special effects
and suspense not seen since Max Von Sydow and Jason Millar walked
up the stairs…The film is a visually striking and supremely
scary monster movie about a creature stalking the corridors of the
spaceship Nostromo. The actual name of the spaceship is lifted from
a novel by Joseph Conrad – whose quote starts the film and the
same writer whose novel was the basis for the previous Scott film
The Duellists (1977).
If Alien was to be Ridley Scotts breakthrough movie it was then his
next film which was to codify him as a cult director. In 1982 we saw
the bleak early 21st Century future through the eyes of a Blade Runner.
Not a massive success at the box office – it would gather cult
audiences over the years and have people wondering if dreaming of
sheep meant you were an android!! Visually stunning with its backdrops
and intellectually challenging in its plot – I myself was puzzled
if Decker was a replicant until I saw the directors cut. Scott was
criticised for too many visuals and not enough substance – this
would stay with him through his whole career.
Blade Runner things did not go well for Scott. Legend (1985) was a
good movie – if slightly dubious in plot. Pretty to look at
but you wouldn’t want to spend to much time on it – like
Anna Kournakovia. There is a better vreion coming out called the ‘ultimate
directors cut’. The late eighties was unremarkable – with
Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) and Black Rain (1989).
early ninties was better with ‘Thelma & Louise’ (1991)
– it became a blockbuster feminist buddy movie starring Susan
Sarandon and Geena Davis. The script surrounded these towo girls running
from the law – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for sexually
liberated females. The good crtical reviews this had were quickly
cancelled out by 1942: Conquest of Paradise.
moved seamlessly through the nineties with the fairly dreadful White
Squall (1996) and Alien for the 1990’s - G.I. Jane (1997). It
had been 18 years since Ridley Scott had really stolen the screen
but the resurrection man did it all again with the majestic Roman
epic, Gladiator (2000). A success at the box office and Oscars alike
it was a massive worldwide hit. Again it was Scotts eye for detail
and breathtaking sets and scenes made it a feast for the eyes. Where
Ben Hur actually had the people – Gladiator was CGIed in the
most part – this didn’t matter. He got great support from
all the actors and the first big scene of the Germanic wars has to
be one of my favourites of all time.
soon earned the privilege of directing the much talked about sequel
to Silence of the Lambs – Hannibal (2001). It was a success
at the box office but not so with the critics. I have to say I thought
that this was grossly unfair. The adaptation was good – except
the audience I’m sure couldn’t stomach the fact that Starling
fell in love with Hannibal and strolled off into the sunset. The acting
was good – the scenes well shot and executed. The script was
funny – gut wrenching and wholly believable as a sequel. It
could have all gone wrong until Scott brought Steve Zaillian was brought
in to rework David Mamets disastrous crack at adapting the book.
moved from Hannibal directly into Black Hawk Down, the gut-wrenchingly
violent dramatization of one of America’s most tragic military
debacles in recent history, which opened to strong reviews and solid
box-office in late 2001 (its release was moved up because of current
events) and gained Scott an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The
film itself was strong but one aspect that detracted for me was the
‘we’re going to walk out of this city’ at the end.
For a start it actually didn’t happen that way and I thought
that Scott would notice that it was tacky and jingoist but I suppose
it made the film more palatable for American audiences. Watch out
for the trainspotters playing the yanks.