What can I say about Ridley? He has more misses than hits. His movies tend to be style over substance. But that’s his thing. He began as an art director and early on didn’t know how to deal with actors (does he now?)
Alien – Pretty impressive 2nd film. The film holds up remarkably well (better than Aliens). Great photography by the late Derek Vanlint (Ridley’s lighting cameraman from his commercial days). Derek only shot two other movies (I guess he preferred commercials), with the best of those two being Dragonslayer. Back to Alien. They did everything right in this one. But judging from Dan O’bannon and Ronald Shusett’s subsequent work, there was a lot of ghost writing on this one (but O’bannon was Pinback in Darkstar, so he gets a forever pass (and Return of the Living Dead is fun). And Shusett gives good interview bites) It may be tame by today’s standards, but still heads and tails over the quality of most recent sci-fi and horror films (at least the American ones, that is).
Blade Runner – Ahh, Blade Runner. What an interesting history. I like Blade Runner and I always have, but here began the main complaint of most Ridley Scott movies. All style and no substance. And for the most part that’s true. There’s no need to argue, Ridley is not a story teller, he’s a visualist. Blade Runner is lacking a soul. Of course that opens up a whole new debate; “That’s right man, that’s the whole point of the movie, man. See, the replicants were the ones with souls and just wanted to live. The humans, man, they had no souls and enslaved the replicants to do their dirty work, man.” Doesn’t mean your movie shouldn’t have a pulse. The only two characters I felt anything for were Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and J.F. Sebastian (the great William Sanderson). They seemed to have the most invested in their characters. Harrison was fine in his anti-Solo role, but his performance was still hollow.“You just don’t get it, man!”
It’s an absolute crime that E.T. beat out Blade Runner for special effects (Doug Trumbull is a friggin’ god, and I wish he had stayed in the game instead of moving on to amusement park rides). And that Jordan Cronenweth wasn’t even nominated for cinematography is an even greater crime (and that Gandhi beat Jost Vacano’s phototography in Das Boot is also criminal).
Jordon Cronenweth had a string of beautifully shot films in a row in the early 80’s. Altered States, Cutter’s Way and Blade Runner. I gave a presentation in film school of my favorite opening shots in films and two of them were Altered States and Blade Runner (opening shots are like the first sentences in a story, and they should grab you. Or to paraphrase Samuel Fuller, “The opening shot should give you a hard on.”) Anyway, there were some asswads in my class who tried to give all the Blade Runner credit to Ridley Scott because “Ridley shoots his own movies!” Operating one of the cameras does not make you the cinematographer. And I’ll agree that Ridley knows how to compose a shot, but it’s not the same thing. He was also shooting in America for the first time, and sets are run a little differently here than in old Blighty. Cronenweth suffered from Parkinsons and only shot a few more films before he died. It’s too bad, because he was part of one of the greatest generations of cinematographers in the history of the universe.
Oh wait, this is supposed to be about Ridley Scott. Back to Blade Runner. With all my negatives against it, I still like this movie. I liked it even more when they ripped out the studio injected voice over. This was the first movie (correct me if I’m wrong) to be re-released with a Director’s Cut (this was back when director’s cut meant something, and wasn’t just a cheap gimmick to sell DVDs). I didn’t even mind Ridley’s pointless inclusion of the unicorn daydream Deckard has. The ending was greatly improved by removing the outtakes from The Shining. I just wish Ridley had stopped there. In the recent box set of DVDs, Ridley did something that to me is almost as sacrilegious as Greedo shooting first. He changed Roy Batty’s line; “I want more life, fucker,” into “I want more life, father.” Doesn’t matter that Tyrell was Batty’s “father.” Roy was coming from a place of desperation and fear. He wasn’t asking nicely, he was angry at this “fucker.” Oh well, there’s like 15 other versions included in the box set, so I’m sure the original line is in there somewhere.
If you can see Blade Runner on the big screen, do yourself a favor. Or get the Blu Ray and a honkin’ big flatscreen (even my 52” isn’t big enough for some of these films).
Thelma & Louise – That’s right. Ridley did nothing else of note in the 80’s. The only good thing in Legend was Rob Bottin’s Oscar nominated make-up (Meg Mucklebones lost out to the Brundlefly). I believe I saw a sneak preview of Thelma & Louise before it was hijacked and turned into a feminist message movie (which is total BS). This was a smart script from Callie Khouri (born in Texas, but raised in Kentucky so I can claim her as one of our own), and possibly Ridley’s best film to that point (story and acting-wise that is). I did not expect this from Ridley and it showed a real maturation from his past work (and then he made 1492 and had to gain credibility again). This movie also introduced young Bradley Pitt to most of the world, in a great scene stealing performance. It took him several more years to realize his potential, but he’s done some good work (and some not so good work). Everyone was good in this one. I’ll even forgive Harvey Keitel (1st time working with Ridley since The Duelists), his awful twang. New Yawkers shouldn’t do Southern accents (I’m lookin’ at you Bobby D. in Cape Fear).
If you haven’t seen it because of the hype, you gotta let that go. It’s very good.
Black Hawk Down – The last decent thing Ridley made. That’s right, I did not like Gladiator. Its awards dumbfound me (just like Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago & Crash are a complete mystery). But I was pleasantly surprised by Black Hawk Down. I regret not seeing it in the theaters. I believe this may have been the American debut of Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom in very small roles. Eric Bana was very impressive in the small amount of screen time he was given, and has yet to get a decent American role. This isn’t some deep treatise on the horrors of war, but for what this is, it is solidly made.
As I’ve said, Ridley Scott is hit and miss. I don’t think his last several movies have been very good. American Gangster suffered from a weak and hackneyed script (which makes me think Steven Zaillian’s work on Searching For Bobby Fisher and Schindler’s List (there’s some good stuff in there) were accidents). I’m sure Ridley can make some more movies I’ll enjoy. It only takes him about a decade between good films, so we’re due in a couple years.