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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).
Someone To Watch Over Me

"Someone to Watch Over Me" (1987)
After three fantasy/sci-fi pictures, Scott headed to the contemporary world for the kind of sexually charged thriller that his old advertising colleague Adrian Lyne was having such success with around the same time. "Someone to Watch Over Me" tells the tale of a cop (Tom Berenger) assigned to protect a murder witness (Mimi Rogers), and it's a treat to see Scott take on Manhattan with the same kind of eye he shot "Blade Runner" with (right down to borrowing some of Vangelis' score). And some of the performances -- Berenger's steely working class cop, and particularly Lorraine Bracco as his wife -- are just about worth the price of admission. But the two leads have little chemistry, and the script is rote and kind of ridiculous, down to Andreas Katsulas' overblown villain. It's a movie you've seen a dozen times before, and a dozen times since, and it's very much a minor effort from Scott. [C]

Black Rain

"Black Rain" (1989)
Okay, maybe we do get plenty pumped by Hans Zimmer’s percussion-heavy, guitar-wailing theme, particularly when Michael Douglas and his glorious '80s poof of hair pursues the big baddie by motorcycle. That doesn’t change the fact that Scott’s atmospheric actioner is a product of the time, a decidedly B-affair from a guy most consider A-List. Douglas and his partner, Andy Garcia, are NY cops huffing and puffing their way through a Japanese crime investigation, cutting through red tape the way movie cops do until, shockingly, the case gets very, very personal. Action fans will find a lot to like about the film’s crackerjack pace, but Douglas is laughable as a grizzled tough guy, and the film’s East-West relationships were probably somewhat progressive at the time, but still fairly cartoonish. [B-]

"Thelma & Louise"
MGM "Thelma & Louise"

"Thelma & Louise" (1991)
On a BBC radio interview a couple of years ago, frequent collaborator Russell Crowe said that Scott made the "first post-feminist action picture" with 1991's "Thelma & Louise." We're not sure about the whole "post-feminist" bit (feminism is still going on, after all), but Scott did do a whole lot with this lean, beautifully shot and briskly paced (even at 129 minutes) road movie. Beyond a couple of absolutely riveting star turns by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, and yes, some nicely feminist subtext, the film also marked the big time debut of Brad Pitt. Most of Scott's most compelling work ("Blade Runner") involves the creation of an invented universe. Here, he was merely content on capturing a feeling of isolation, entrapment, and freedom. And he did it amazingly. [A-]


"1492: Conquest of Paradise" (1992)
After the genre exercise of "Black Rain" and the aforementioned "Thelma & Louise" (arguably his most grounded picture), Scott returned to his familiar world of spectacle with the "1492: Conquest of Paradise." The international cast was led by Gerard Depardieu, which quickly became one of many stumbling blocks for the film and indicative of the production as a whole. The actor, wonderful in his native French films, seemed lost here trying to work with English dialogue. The film, all pomp and circumstance, and brimming with its of sense of self-importance, was well-meaning, but ultimately limp and forgettable. While Scott did manage some of his trademark razzle dazzle it wasn't enough to save the film that didn't even have substance enough to fill up the costumes worn by its well-attired cast. [C]

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