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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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White Squall

"White Squall" (1996)
A sort of proto-"The Perfect Storm," Scott headed out to seas for the second time for this based-in-fact tale of a group of 1960s high school boys (including Scott Wolf, Ryan Phillippe, Balthazar Getty and Jeremy Sisto) taken out to sea by a schoolmaster and skipper (Jeff Bridges). And as you might expect, Scott fills the film with enough detail that you'd feel reasonably confident about taking out a ship yourself, while Bridges delivers a typically excellent, understated performance that steers clear from Ahab-like cliches. The storm footage, too, is as impressive as you'd imagine. But Todd Robinson's script leans too heavily on coming-of-age cliches, and the young cast never quite rise to Bridges' level, which makes the stormy climax feel somewhat unengaging, and what comes before it frankly a little dull. [C-]

G.I. Jane

"G.I. Jane" (1997)
After demonstrating a great empathy and understanding for strong female characters (a rarity from male filmmakers), Scott's 1997 misfire was trying to recapture the rah-rah girl power spirit of his groundbreaking "Thelma & Louise." Results, as they say, may vary. The elation that made "Thelma & Louise" was gone, instead replaced with a wafer-thin action plot by David Twohy (something about a woman being added to an elite combat team and missing nuclear materials), an unconvincing "gritty" turn by Demi Moore in the title role (shaved head and all), and an unrelentingly grim atmosphere, both thematically and photographically. It is interesting, however, to see Viggo Mortensen, in an unshowy role, impart even the most frivolous character with earth-shattering importance. Beyond that however, this thing is a major grind. [C-]

Gladiator

"Gladiator" (2000)
This is one that continues to baffle us a little. Certainly not bad by any stretch, it's hard to believe that back in 2000, this was an outright phenomenon, becoming a box office sensation, making a star out of Russell Crowe and earning a number of Academy Award nominations and wins, including Best Picture. Looking back on it now, it's an impressive and accomplished piece of entertainment but hardly the stuff of a Best Picture winner (though, they usually never are). That said, there is something to be said about the power of the film and Scott's filmmaking prowess that can still draw us in, and make us watch it to the end even during the most casual of channel surfing sessions. [B]

Hannibal

"Hannibal" (2001)
Ten years after "The Silence of the Lambs," it was time to cannibalize (yes, we went there) the popularity of Hannibal Lecter, but after a bumpy development which saw the departure of 'Lambs' director Jonathan Demme and star Jodie Foster, the property fell into the lap of Scott, who proceeded to shove this lump of shit down our throats like it were a Death's Head moth and we were a size 14. The mad glee and playfulness of Hannibal, made famous by Anthony Hopkins in 'Lambs,' was replaced by an over the top, highly stylized freakshow that included a (smartly) uncredited Gary Oldman cutting off his own face and talking about drinking orphan's tears, and a bored Ray Liotta eating his own brain. It's even worse than it sounds. [F]

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


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