In utter excitement about the forthcoming release of the Alien prequel Prometheus (main image with Ridley Scott pictured on set), Flickfeast looks back at 10 magic Ridley Moments. In no particular order, then:
#10 The Hovis Advertisement (1973)
It’s true, folks: The man who gave us iconic hard-asses such as Ellen Ripley, Roy Batty and Maximus Decimus Meridius first caught the light directing a cloth-capped Dorset boy wheeling his bike up a cobbled street to the strains of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, arranged for a brass band. Not Black Hawk Down, sure – but anyone alive in the 1970s will not only remember the Hovis ad, but feel more fondly about Hovis bread than calculating logic would dictate they ought. Ridley Scott got his start directing TV adverts. No great surprise, then, he was pretty good at it.
#9 Thelma and Louise (1991)
The renaissance of the road movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for the Ladies, and a film that bequeathed the world William Bradley Pitt, at the time some sort of Val Kilmer or Dwight Yoakam wannabe. Scott has an enviable track record of directing strong female leads, and Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon can step up with Daryl Hannah and Sigourney Weaver as amongst his best. Not the only time that Ridley Scott helped propel the career of a lead from The Rocky Horror Picture Show – tip your hat, Susan Sarandon.
#8 Legend (1995)
Well, it seems awesome on paper, at any rate: Ridley Scott directing Tom Cruise against The Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s chief transvestite Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness himself. The project apparently grew out of a botched attempt to film Tristan and Isolde. Legend is a guilty pleasure, strictly for fans, amongst whom it retains a cult following. All the same, you don’t see too many online petitions for a 5-disc Director’s Cut reissue on blu-ray.
#7 Hannibal (2001)
Outside of Ellen Ripley, female lead roles in cinema don’t get much better than Special Agent Clarice Starling, and actors to play that role don’t get much better than Julianne Moore. Okay, okay — other than Jodie Foster. On that note you do have to wonder what Ridley Scott was thinking taking on the sequel to arguably the greatest thriller ever made – especially when the Thomas Harris’ novel on which it was based was roundly (if unfairly) panned. Eschewing police procedural thriller, at least for half a film, Scott finds Hannibal Lecter, now the film’s hero, at home amongst the palazzos of Florence, exploring the avarice and betrayal of life through the lens of Dante’s inferno and the history of the Florentine renaissance. The “American half” of the film not quite so satisfying, but it’s hard to see how anyone could have done a better job.
#6 “1984” Macintosh Commercial (1984)
Fresh from the success of Blade Runner Scott was hired by a young Steve Jobs to shoot a commercial for the new Macintosh Computer that aired once, during the superbowl. It presented the IBM PC regime as some sort of Orwellian dictatorship, and the Macintosh as a lady athlete with bouncy boobs and a sledgehammer and is now considered a game-changing masterpiece of marketing. At the time the enemy was IBM, and the message was that Apple was the only hope to save the computing world from conformity and control. Ironic, really – but Scott’s genius as an ad-man shows through: People still believe this about Apple to this day. It wasn’t even true in 1984.
#5 A Life In A Day (2010)
To show he is still up with the kids, Scott sponsored, curated, edited and presented A Life In A Day, the digital generation’s update of a project from the 1970s called A Day In The Life Of America – a coffee table book comprising photgraphs submitted of the same day from 200 photojournalists around the country. Scott’s digital equivalent was drawn from 80,000 videos submitted through YouTube, and is a striking and compelling hour and a half. He must have some help watching them all, I should think.
#4 Black Hawk Down (2001)
Ridley Scott’s Apocalypse Now? There are some reminiscent scenes but this remains a breathtaking piece of cinema editing – it won two oscars for that sort of thing – and it rewrote the conventions on how military sequences should be shot. Scott’s gritty, contrast-boosted, fog-of-war style has leeched into the war films as diverse as Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Even Shakespeare is in on the act: Ralph Fiennes filmed Coriolanus that way too.
#3 Gladiator (2000)
Compared with some of Scott’s groundbreaking works, in many ways Gladiator seems positively old fashioned: A return to sword and sandelry not seen since Ben Hur and Spartacus, to the latter of which this films owes a great deal. But Scott’s gorgeous cinematography delivers an epic sweep not seen since Lawrence of Arabia, and Russell Crowe’s brooding intensity and Joaquin Phoenix’s cartoonish villainy are more than large enough to fill that gigantic stage.
#2 Blade Runner (1982)
Genius: Raymond Chandler with space-ships and robots. Well, George Lucas did John Ford that way, and it didn’t seem to do him any harm. Blade Runner is a loose adaptation of Philip K Dick’s brilliant Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? though Dick, had he lived to see it, may not have recognised it. Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a down-at-heel cop, recalled from retirement to hunt down intelligent robots. Ford shows us a different side, which swashes far fewer buckles than do either Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Blade Runner is a surprisingly deep rumination on empathy and humanity, unlike so much science fiction in the 1980s (even the other PKD Adaptations tended to have an absurd body count). Not only did Blade Runner give us Rutger Hauer’s extraordinary valedictory speech and those ambiguous red retinas, it also gave the cinematic world the Esper Machine – that gadget which can magically enhance the resolution of photos. Scott’s cheeky impossible trick has graduated to fully fledged cinema science.
#1 Alien (1979)
You can just imagine the five second pitch: “Acid-blooded phallic alien freak stalks lady in her nickers around deserted space ship.” Tagline: ” In Space, no-one can hear you scream.” Which studio exec wouldn’t be sold on that? But Alien is no smutty piece of chixploitation. Ellen Ripley is a female character so hard-core that Sigourney Weaver still, in 2012, gets to be the punchline in UFO comedies (Paul). Ridley Scott has a singular vision, and the man sure knows production design. Even if this were the lamest film in the world you might not have noticed, the production design is so good – thanks to the inspired creepiness of Swiss artist H. R. Giger’s alien civilisation: a fusion of steampunk metal and fetishised human anatomy. The result is an absurdly beautiful, eerie Alien world. But once it pops out of John Hurt’s solar plexus one has no worries that this film will be a dud: Alien has one of the most gut wrenchingly terrifying last hour ever caught on celluloid.