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The Films Of Ridley Scott: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist June 7, 2012 at 12:00PM

Ridley Scott is, in some circles anyhow, a god. Practically treated as royalty with laudatory genuflection from certain film enthusiasts — generally genre fetishists — he has turned in two unimpeachable cinema touchstones, "Blade Runner" and "Alien," plus a few other arguable modern semi-classics including "Black Hawk Down" and "Gladiator." But his track record overall? Scott's batting average isn't exactly amazing across the board, and while he has major peaks, his work can be frustratingly uneven for someone who is clearly and masterfully talented. While a craftsman of technically marvelous and grand spectacle cinema, his films can also be inordinately soulless and have become increasingly so with each film (Sigourney Weaver famously said that Scott paid more attention to the props and extraterrestrials than the actors on "Alien," but somehow that picture still worked).
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Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott is, in some circles anyhow, a god. Practically treated as royalty with laudatory genuflection from certain film enthusiasts -- generally genre fetishists -- he has turned in two unimpeachable cinema touchstones, "Blade Runner" and "Alien," plus a few other arguable modern semi-classics including "Black Hawk Down" (though as you'll see, not all us here agree with that assessment) and "Gladiator." But his track record overall? Scott's batting average isn't exactly amazing across the board, and while he has major peaks, his work can be frustratingly uneven for someone who is clearly and masterfully talented. While a craftsman of technically marvelous and grand spectacle cinema, his films can also be inordinately soulless and have become increasingly so with each film (Sigourney Weaver famously said that Scott paid more attention to the props and extraterrestrials than the actors on "Alien," but somehow that picture still worked).

And while his latest, "Prometheus," has plenty of fans, and is inspiring all kinds of arguments, many who've already seen it feel that it's another gorgeous, impeccably made misfire from the director. Scott is a great world builder, a great technician, and has plenty of facility with actors when he wants, but a look back over his career reveals just as many misses as hits. To mark the release of "Prometheus," we've given our retrospective from two years ago a fresh lick of paint: below, you'll find our take on the complete films of Ridley Scott. It's sure to spark plenty of debate -- let us know what you think in the comments section below.

The Duellists

"The Duellists" (1977)
Scott's first feature, which won him the Camera d'Or at Cannes, feels quite different from anything else that followed. It's a stripped-down, vaguely allegorical tale, adapted from Joseph Conrad's short story, "The Duel," about the decades-long feud between two French soldiers, D'Hubert (Keith Carradine) and Feraud (Harvey Keitel), who find themselves clashing swords every time they meet after Feraud takes insult at a perceived slight to his honor. It's as visually sumptuous and detailed as you might expect, even at this early stage (even if it's clearly, and admittedly, indebted to "Barry Lyndon"), it's relatively lean and compelling when it's not pursuing redundant romantic sub-plots, at least. But Carradine and Keitel are both woefully miscast -- particularly when put up against the supporting cast, which includes Albert Finney, Edward Fox, Robert Stephens and Diana Quick -- and stand out like sore thumbs in the world that Scott's created. Still, it's kind of a fascinating oddity in the director's canon. [B-]

Alien

"Alien" (1979)
Still Scott's greatest film and better than James Cameron's sequel, the director's sci-fi horror is an exercise in minimalistic terror, manifesting it in the most unknowable, terrifying extraterrestrial creature ever seen on screen. Now that it's part of film history, it's hard to realize how surprising the film must have been at the time, sitting down in the theater, and not knowing that Sigourney Weaver would turn out to be the lead, or exactly what happens in that dinner scene. But even if years of homages, rip-offs and shoddy sequels have lessened the impact, it still retains its power to terrify. If anything, "Prometheus" only goes to reinforce the original film's power, rather than lessening it, fortunately...  [A+]

Blade Runner

"Blade Runner" (1982)
What's left to say about "Blade Runner" at this point? A flop on its release, it's proven a massive influence on virtually every sci-fi movie, videogame and comic book since, and remains one of the most complete, coherent visions of a future ever put on screen that feels completely in step with dystopian classics like "Brave New World," and "1984." Whichever version of the film you watch — the pulpy Philip Marlowe original or the existentially introspective director's cut — you walk away at the credits feeling like you've spent months in Los Angeles 2019 and, despite the bleak rain-soaked atmosphere, you'd go back again in a heartbeat. But it's not just an exercise in world-creation; the noirish plot is gripping and the performances are uniformly outstanding. [A+]

Legend

"Legend" (1985)
As dated and corny as Ridley Scott's fantasy film can feel these days, the picture does get a lot of things right. Among them, the atmospheric, gauzy, elf-like aesthetics straight from the fairy world from whence it came, a dreamy score by Tangerine Dream, a wonderfully romantic closing number by sharp dressed Roxy Music gentleman Bryan Ferry, and what feels like a rare appearance by '80s hottie Mia Sara. It's also pretty damn quotable ("Black as midnight, black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch!" says the stinky little Goblin Blix) or at least... it was at the time. Sure the sets are a bit cheesy, but as a pre-"The Lord of the Rings" fairy goblins romance fantasy flick, it was certainly one of the better ones of its time. [B]

This article is related to: Features, Ridley Scott, The Essentials, Prometheus, Alien, Blade Runner


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