Cinematic Visionary: Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott is a director that over the course of an almost 50-year career has had a hand in almost every genre imaginable, and has often redefined some of them along the way. Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Action, Epic, Crime, Drama, Thriller, and Comedy, the helmer has done it all. With his iconic visuals and gifts for storytelling, Ridley has proven to be a remarkable force behind the camera.

In June of 2012, Ridley Scott will re-enter the sci-fi genre with Prometheus – a film that is shrouded in secrecy but is rumored to be a prequel of some fashion to his suspense busting 1979 film Alien. Science-fiction and Fantasy are where the cinematic visionary truly made his mark in the early stages of his career, leaving a handful of significant movies that redefined the genres.

A Gasp-Inducing Breakthrough

Ridley Scott began his directorial career by dabbling in television during the 1960s and made his feature film debut with 1977’s Napoleonic period piece The Duellists, starring Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine. But the film that would unquestionably break the creative filmmaker out among industry tongues was his slow-burning sci-fi/horror masterpiece simply titled Alien, a project he entered after original Director Walter Hill pulled out.

Set in a far future, a mining ship is called into a mysterious investigative mission when it picks up a signal on a remote planet. As the crew touches down and finds a derelict spacecraft as the source, they inadvertently come into contact with an alien life form that grafts itself to one of their own. What ensues is a terror tale like no other as another creature is spawned from the infected host and begins to systematically wipe out the crew aboard the ship one-by-one.

Alien has been long considered a suspense masterpiece, and for good reason. The film is methodically paced and searingly breathtaking with suspense as it takes its time playing with its audience. There is one sequence in particular that shocked viewers in a way that had not been done since 1973’s The Exorcist, when the alien creature breaks through the chest of its first victim without warning during a dinner scene. Scott performed all of the hand-held camera work himself on the set for the entire movie and was able to get the initial budget doubled on the strength of his gifted storyboards.

The film also set-up a recurring theme of resilient and tough lead female-heroines in his films, with Sigourney Weaver’s Lt. Ripley struggling as the last crewmember to survive. The film was so successful that it spawned three sequels (five countings shared screen time with the Predator series) to become a bonafide franchise that would go on to mold other filmmaking careers with the likes of James Cameron and David Fincher.

From Aliens to Human Replicants

Although the Alien shoot was tough, Scott endured much more conflict and friction with his sci-fi follow-up Blade Runner in 1982. Scott came on board this project after seeing a revised script and his involvement with another sci-fi epic, Dune, had stalled. Runner refers to a cop that specifically handles terminating human ‘replicants’ – clones with fixed lifespans who work outside of Earth but seek to escape and hide among the human population in the year 2019. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a blade runner forced to come out of retirement for an assignment.

Although it failed to make its mark at the box-office, Blade Runner slowly generated a cult status as a great sci-fi film over the years thanks to Scott’s Director’s Cut version of the movie that was released on video. During the shooting, Scott and Ford developed a rocky working relationship and the studio ultimately stepped in and made changes to the ending of the film – which included a wonky closing narration by Ford’s character. This led to a trend among many of Scott’s films to receive expanded cuts on home video including Alien, Legend, Kingdom Of Heaven, Robin Hood, and Gladiator.

From Sci-Fi to Pure Fantasy

Scott would follow up Blade Runner by working with another major star on the rise in Tom Cruise with 1985’s Legend, an almost purely fantasy film about a forest-dwelling scrapper who must save a princess from an evil horned figure known as The Lord Of Darkness who is bent on creating eternal night by eradicating all the unicorns in the land.

Scott was inspired to create Legend by viewing films like 1946’s Beauty & The Beast and Disney animated classics like Fantasia. Filming originally began in 1982 and production went through many trials including nearby set fires that prevented its release for three years in 1985. With lush cinematography and fantastical make-up effects, Scott created a mystical world on film that would pave the way for other projects like The Lord Of The Rings and make them reputable.

After so many projects with vast imagery and creative concepts, Scott then made the decision to change gears in his career and explore other genres of interest, beginning with hard-boiled crime fiction.

1987-1991

After breaking out as a filmmaker in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, Ridley Scott elevated his cinematic game and career by tackling the crime-fiction genre next.

He made us afraid of space with Alien and boggled our minds with the fantastical worlds of Blade Runner and Legend in the 1980s to begin his directing career, but cinematic visionary Ridley Scott had much more in store for his audiences as his career entered the 1990’s. Although Alien was a huge success, the lackluster box-office of Blade Runner and Legend – films that would become cult hits down the road – caused the filmmaker to change gears and tackle a different genre. Crime-fiction.

Someone To Watch Over Me

Ridley’s first foray into the genre came with a little-known 1987 film called Someone To Watch Over Me, starring Tom Berenger (Platoon) and Mimi Rogers (Lost In Space). Berenger plays New York Detective Mike Keegan, who is assigned to protect a socialite murder witness (Rogers) but ends up falling in love with her as he tries to keep her alive from the mobster tracking her down.

Budgeted for only $17 million, the film had a tough time turning a profit for Columbia PIctures and brought back $10 million in return. It might be Ridley’s most obscure film of his career, but it would stoke the genre fire needed for what came next.

Black Rain

In 1989, Ridley further explored stories about New York City cops with Black Rain, starring Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia as two detectives who become involved in a Japanese gang war when they arrest a member of the Yakuza for murder. Charged with escorting him back to Japan, things turn ugly when their prisoner escapes on home soil, one of them is killed, and the other will stop at nothing for revenge.

Black Rain wasn`t a huge hit in Ridley`s career (he took over the project from Robocop`s Paul Verhoeven), but it turned a profit for Paramount Pictures by grossing $45 million at the box-office over its $30 million budget. The film would also spark a long-lasting collaborative relationship between Scott and music composer Hanz Zimmer that would continue to this day.

Thelma & Louise

Although this unique fugitive tale is forever known for its climactic ending and jumpstarting the career of actor Brad Pitt, it also stands as one of Scott`s most memorable works. It stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as two friends who inadvertently become fugitives after they gun down a rapist while on a road trip. Breaking free of the confines of their regular lives, the women embrace their situation and tear up the road by becoming thieves and avoiding the law.

Made for a low budget of $16.5 million, the movie would gross $45 million and go on to earn six Academy Award nominations – including Ridley`s first for Best Director (it would ultimately take home one for Best Original Screenplay).

“The fundamental of anything as a director is material, material, material – script, script, script – once you have the script everything else is straightforward. “ – Ridley Scott

For his following films leading into the new century, the Director would choose to widen his scope with epic proportions by taking to the seas, examining the military, and delivering a monumental work about the heart of a warrior. Never one to be predictable, Ridley Scott would forego sci-fi and crime-fiction for historic and compelling drama.

1992-2000

With sci-fi and crime-fiction behind him, Scott expanded his film vision by taking on movies with an increase in epic scope and hit a career-best in 2000.

Ridley Scott began his illustrious directing career in the sci-fi genre with lasting films Alien and Blade Runner¬†and would follow up with memorable crime-fiction works Black Rain and Thelma & Louise during the 1980s. Entering the 1990’s, the cinematic visionary expanded his filmmaking eye by broadening the epic scope of his movies. The change in style would begin with mildly-received efforts but would be capped by his most successful film both critically and commercially.

1492: Conquest Of Paradise & White Squall

Between 1992-1996, filmmaker Ridley Scott decided to stretch his sea legs with two epic films that dealt with two very different types of voyages. 1492 stood as a $40 million production marking the 500 year anniversary of when explorer Christopher Columbus (Gerrard Depardieu) discovered the Americas and how that event affected the indigenous people when Columbus tried to civilize the New World. Although it was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Cinematography, the endeavor flopped at the North American box-office; generating less than $ 8 million in return.

White Squall was based on a true 1960 story about a group of young boys sent by their parents for sailing instruction aboard a ship called The Albatross, captained by Christopher Sheldon (Jeff Bridges). Learning the value of discipline and respect, they have to come together when a freak storm hits their voyage in the middle of the ocean. Scott agreed to direct this film after reading the script, which he was given only minutes after his other production “Hot Zone” was canceled.

G.I. Jane

Representing Scott’s first work surrounding the military-based subject matter, 1997’s G.I. Jane starred Demi Moore who succeeds in enrolling in Navy Seal training, only to find that everyone expects her to fail under such a punishing training element. The film further cemented the filmmaker’s penchant for showcasing strong female characters on screen, like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from Alien and the women from Thelma & Louise. Some footage leftover from Crimson Tide, directed by Ridley’s brother, Tony Scott (Top Gun), was also inserted into the film. Both films were produced by Hollywood Pictures, with Jane breaking relatively even with its $50 million budget.

Gladiator

At the turn of the century, Ridley unveiled what is widely considered his most successful film to date. Gladiator is the swords-and-sandals’ dramatized story about a Roman soldier named Maximus (Russell Crowe) who is framed for the murder of his king and becomes an outcast warrior bent on revenge toward Commodus; the heir to the crown responsible for the murder of his family.

All of Ridley’s experience and artistry came to the forefront with this celluloid masterpiece that struck gold with audiences ($180 million box-office gross) and critics in May of 2000. The film won five major Academy Awards in 2001, including Best Actor and Best Picture. In a miscarriage of justice, Ridley lost Best Director to Traffic‘s Steven Soderbergh.

“Audiences are less intrigued, honestly, by battle. They’re more intrigued by human relations. If you’re making a film about the trappings of the period, and you’re forgetting that human relationships are the most engaging part of the storytelling process, then you’re in trouble”. – Ridley Scott.

The Dawn Of A New Era

Gladiator was the beginning of a memorable decade for the electric filmmaker, who would tackle a wide variety of genres afterward and continuously push to top himself – modern warfare, comedy, drama, and a controversial suspense/thriller surrounding one of the most infamous fictional serial killers of all-time.

2001-2005

After reaching a career-high with an award-winning epic, the master visionary bounced from one genre to another in a few memorable projects from 2001-2005.

Ridley Scott began the new century of his career on a high. After delving into sci-fi, fantasy, crime fiction, and epic genres, the well-respected Director achieved a personal best with the Academy Award-winning Gladiator in 2000. After multiple awards and an impressive box-office haul, questions began as to what Scott would do next for an encore and where his interests would go from there in the new decade.

From 2001-2005 it would be safe to say that the cinematic visionary decided to keep his doors open to whatever material piqued his interest. Scott was known for tackling a certain genre multiple times in a row but decided to flex his gifts in varying subject matter during those years. Before fans knew it, the director was attached to a long in-demand project that featured one of the most notorious movie villains of all-time.

A Controversial Sequel

In 2001, Scott made the bold choice of helming Hannibal, the long-anticipated sequel (Scott’s first in his career) to 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs that starred Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins as cannibal serial-killer Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal found Clarice Starling forced to hunt for Lecter’s whereabouts after she’s demoted within the FBI, and a scarred billionaire (Gary Oldman) manipulating her to do so in order to catch the infamous killer for his own devious purpose.

The pressure to follow-up on Lambs’ (originally directed by Jonathan Demme) critical and commercial success was daunting enough but became more so after the Thomas Harris novel of Hannibal generated waves for a gruesome and controversial ending among fans that the film could not avoid. That ending is what ultimately led to Jodie Foster passing on returning to the series as FBI agent Clarice Starling, and she was replaced by Julianne Moore with Hopkins still locked in to reprise his Oscar-winning role.

Although Scott altered the film version somewhat from the book, his melancholy adaptation proved to be faithful enough to entice a respectable box-office gross of $165 million (doubling its budget cost), but the sequel would fail to live up to its predecessor among critics.

Modern Warfare

Later in the same year, Scott also filmed a passion project that reflected the intensity and grueling conditions of modern military warfare with Black Hawk Down. Based on a true story of a Somalian mission that took a turn for the worst in 1993, 123 U.S. soldiers find themselves stranded in hostile territory and struggle to survive the ordeal.

The film featured an all-star cast of veterans, young talent, and undiscovered acting prospects in a harrowing film version of the gripping events. The movie was released in early 2002 and made only a slight profit over its $92 million budget with a $108 million gross. It was also showered with some Oscar gold for the Best Film Editing and Sound categories.

A Quirky Dramedy and Medieval Epic Missteps

In 2003, Scott radically shifted gears with a drama that was also a quirky comedy. Matchstick Men starred Nicholas Cage as an obsessive-compulsive man who works as a con artist with an apprentice (Sam Rockwell), only to have their current plans mucked up by the arrival of his teenage daughter played by Alison Rohman. The film made very little impact with audiences, critics, and only earned $36 million at the North American box-office.

In an effort to get back in his game, Ridley returned to the sword-and-sand epic genre in 2005 with the Kingdom Of Heaven, a look at the historic war known as the Crusades during the 12th century in Jerusalem and starring Orlando Bloom (Troy) as Balian of Ibelin, the defender of the city and its people.

“When I first said I wanted to make a film about Rome and cast Russell Crowe, everyone had a good old snigger. I thought, “You wait.” They’ve done the same with the Kingdom Of Heaven and Orlando Bloom. I now say, “Take a look at this” – Ridley Scott.

Failing to strike a chord with critics and Gladiator fans for being too long and bloated, the ambitious film proved costly by making only $47 million in North America. It performed better in foreign markets, ultimately earning back its $130 million budget with a worldwide gross of $152 million. A silver lining would come when in April of 2005, Ridley would be identified as the most successful British director in Hollywood in terms of box-office gross and would rank fifth on Empire Magazine’s ‘Greatest Directors Ever’.

The Future

Ridley’s future endeavors would prove interesting over the following years, as the seasoned filmmaker would once again team-up with his Gladiator lead actor Russell Crowe for four consecutive movies before making plans to return to a genre that fans have been itching for him to get back to.

“We’re suffering from saturation, overkill. The marketplace is flooded by demand, and there are too many films, so everything gets watered down. Demand is the boss and everything bends to that will. Bigger and not necessarily better shows seem to be the order of the day. I can’t watch most of them.” – Ridley Scott, August 2005.

2006-2010

Between 2006-2010, Ridley Scott collaborated with a familiar star for four consecutive movies that turned out less successful than their first team-up.

After a long career in defining genre works from the 1970s to 2000, Ridley had spent the first years of the new millennium filming several grueling projects about serial killers and epic warfare – historic and modern with Black Hawk Down and Kingdom Of Heaven. The cinematic visionary would go on scale things back between 2006-2010 in less ambitious, but no less important projects with his leading star from Gladiator – Russell Crowe.

Much in the same way that Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio would form a longstanding collaboration with Martin Scorsese or Johnny Depp’s constant team-ups with Tim Burton, Crowe would star in Scott’s four films in that time period.

A Good Year

The first film that re-united the two creative minds since the Oscar-winning epic hit would be a small, $35 million budgeted 2006 project based on a novel by Peter Mayle. Crowe would play Max Skinner, a career-driven British investment broker who inherits a vineyard and chateau in Provence, France. While trying to renovate the estate for sale, Skinner discovers the appeal of the laid-back lifestyle of the region.

The romantic comedy-drama proved to be an utter disaster with audiences and perhaps Ridley’s greatest screen failure, earning back only $7 million in North American box-office. Besides toying with humor in his previous work Matchstick Men, A Good Year represented Ridley’s first and last (so far) foray into comedy. Much was made over the poor marketing campaign and lackluster performance by Crowe in the film.

“I think Russell did brilliantly in A Good Year. He and I loved that film and Fox loved it and then they didn’t know what to do and we got beaten up. Russell got beaten up mercilessly, which I thought was disgraceful because I genuinely thought we had done a good movie about a man in transition which is also quite funny. And what’s really irritating and annoying is that I kept getting told later by actors, journalists, people outside of the industry, how much they enjoyed it. So anyway, f*** ’em. It was a good film. – Ridley Scott (Imdb).

American Gangster

The following year in 2007, Scott would direct Russell and his Virtuosity co-star Denzel Washington in a crime tale about the 1970’s rise of Manhattan drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Washington) and the detective known as Richie Roberts (Crowe) working to bring him down. With a script from Hannibal scribe Steve Zaillian, the film proved far more lucrative at the box-office for Scott even with its high $100 million budget, earning $265 million worldwide.

Unfortunately, there were hopes from production company Universal Pictures that Scott and Crowe could repeat the critical success of Gladiator on the awards circuit, but the movie failed to register major nominations, with the exception of Ruby Dee’s (The Stand) supporting performance as Lucas’ mother.

Body Of Lies/Robin Hood

2008 would find Scott pairing up Crowe with The Departed‘s lead star Leonardo DiCaprio and scriptwriter William Monahan, in an action-drama-thriller about CIA agent Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) who uncovers the whereabouts of a major terrorist in Jordan but is wary of capitalizing on the intelligence with his double-dealing boss (Crowe) back in the States. The film went on to only earn just over half of its $70 million budget, failing to strike a chord with audiences.

A similar scenario would follow with Scott aiming to provide a more realistic and medieval take on swashbuckling hero Robin Hood in 2010, with Crowe in the title lead and a script by L.A. Confidential‘s Brian Helgeland. The lukewarm North American response to the massively budgeted epic ($200 million) would lead to further criticism, but a $321 million gross worldwide would soften the blow.

A Return To Form

At over 70 years old, the visionary director has no necessity to prove himself after decades of memorable films and legendary works. But never one to shy away from genres he loves, Ridley Scott will release his new 2012 sci-fi epic Prometheus on June 8. Set in the same future as Alien, roughly 30 years before Sigourney Weaver encounters the acidic creature, a team of explorers investigate the origins of additional human existence on another planet and get more than they bargained for.

Scott’s return to the genre has been long anticipated by his fans, who are salivating with the knowledge that the film serves as a prequel to his 1979 classic Alien. Continuing his penchant for strong female characters, the movie stars Noomi Rapace (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Charlize Theron (Snow White & The Huntsman), along with Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class).

Scott has also announced his intention to deliver a sequel to Blade Runner as well, with a plan to work alongside original screenwriter Hampton Fancher once more and eyeing a 2014 release. It remains to be seen if Harrison Ford would consider working with Scott again, but as fans know, Ridley is capable of anything in any film at any time. Also on tap is The Counselor, a drug trafficking thriller starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, and Cameron Diaz which begins shooting in June of 2012 for a 2013 release.

With a groundbreaking career already established as one of the greats, Scott seems to have plenty left in the tank for film fanatics with his driven visual style and storytelling skills.

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