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Old 11-30-2020, 01:43 PM   #1
Cremildo Cremildo is offline
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Jul 2011
Default Ridley Scott Turns 83: A Personal History and Appreciation

For most of my life, I regarded Ridley Scott as a director who made slick, well-crafted movies that nonetheless left me cold. Spielberg – more embracing, sentimental, whose name graced the credits of so many childhood favorites - used to monopolize my attention. Alien was a modest oldie that was overshadowed by its more action-oriented sequel; Blade Runner nearly put me to sleep back in the VHS days; Black Hawk Down had a relentless intensity that left little room for emotional resonance; Gladiator wowed with great sets, costumes and a star-making Russell Crowe turn, yet the acclaim befuddled me; Hannibal could be summed up as a bizarre exaggeration of its Oscar-winning predecessor. Scott seemed to be an imperious, scowling “man’s man”. Remember his sour face during the producers’ speech when Gladiator won Best Picture but he went home emptyhanded? Tough guy to like.

Nowadays, he’s my favorite filmmaker. How did that happen?

I warmed up to him little by little, starting with the bonus materials on the Hannibal DVD, in which I found him surprisingly funny – the story he told about calling Steven Zaillian’s office and absent-mindedly asking for Ted Telly instead made me crack up. Matchstick Men was an unexpected comedic delight, as was the taut geopolitical thriller Body of Lies and the entertaining period epic Robin Hood. After getting a Blu-ray player, I popped in Blade Runner: The Final Cut which, seen through the eyes of an adult instead of an impatient young teenager, finally earned its reputation as a masterpiece. We’re in 2010 now – I was already a hardcore Alien franchise fan, still more reverential towards Cameron’s 1986 entry. It was around that time I got wind of some exciting news: Ridley Scott would be back to direct a prequel to his own 1979 milestone! Alien: Resurrection and those accursed crossovers that shall go unnamed hadn’t killed the star beast after all. Encouraged by my newfound appreciation for him thanks to how much I had liked his recent output, I began to pay more attention to all things Scott.

Despite not seeing it in 3D and having overcome my initial disappointment that it wouldn’t be a direct prequel, I took a liking to Prometheus from the get-go. It was the kind of movie that encouraged viewers to spend days reading other people’s interpretations and theories after leaving the theater, and also my favorite brand of sci-fi: atmospheric, enigmatic, speculating on our origins, our faith, and whether we are alone in the universe. It was only in the following year, however, when I saw it again at home, that my appreciation blossomed into full-blown admiration. It provided awe and wonder with an edge, something that Spielberg seemingly no longer cared about, having turned into a chronicler of all things Old and Important. Do you know how you can be so thoroughly consumed by a movie to the point that it colors the impressions you have not only of its director’s past legacy but also of his upcoming projects? Suddenly I found myself revisiting and rethinking – in other words, seeing with new eyes – Scott's oeuvre, identifying stylistic and thematic patterns, and above all, though rather subtly, a personality as a storyteller that was unmistakably his own and which he did manage to imprint on some of his films, sometimes even in the most commercial ones. From indifference to mild interest to fandom.

What follows isn’t substantial enough to merit a detailed explanation, so long story short: I rewatched Alien for the first time in over a decade. The result? mindblown.gif. It became my all-time number one movie, and Scott cemented himself as the biggest head in my personal Mount Rushmore of directors. What about his touch that justifies this homage, though? Let’s skip the commonplace - yet totally valid - reasons, such as “a great eye for detail”, “the sheer aesthetic beauty” or “a knack for worldbuilding”. Fostering recurring themes, favoring a certain type of camera placement or movement, setting a particular rhythm to the proceedings during the shooting or in post etc. are but a few of the trademarks of a distinctive filmmaker. Just as relevant is their ability to develop a consistent cinematic reality of their own.

I’d describe Scott’s as one where human behavior and emotion are rendered in a less typically mannered, heightened fashion than most mainstream Hollywood fare, utterly apart from, say, the aforementioned Spielberg. There is an unsentimental, matter-of-fact patina to his outlook on life. Consider how God is represented simply by a curt boy in Exodus: Gods and Kings. Remember the formal, albeit merciless, dialogue-exchange-as-power-play between “father” and “son” that opens Alien: Covenant. A skeptical reader might argue that it’s in the script, therefore not creditable to Scott. I’m not referring merely to the concepts per se but to their enactment, which is guided by the hands of the director. It’s a trait detectable mainly in his 21st-century work. (With perhaps two exceptions - Black Rain, Thelma & Louise -, his post-Blade Runner, pre-Gladiator period feels anonymous, uninspired in terms of self-expression.) You will notice that these two examples stem from not long ago – a deliberate choice to illustrate how the usual claims that he has “lost it” are shortsighted. If one pays attention, however, it’s clear that said resemblance to realism in characterization and setting can be found in good ole Alien, what with its world-weary blue-collar characters, their down-to-earth banter and occasionally blunt interactions, not to mention the cluttered, lived-in interiors of the Nostromo.

Along with a select few colleagues like Mann, Fincher and heir apparent Villeneuve, Ridley Scott is living proof that intelligent life can still be found in big-budget Hollywood, catering to the demands of the adults in the audience.

This is meant as a thank-you note to a filmmaker whose vision not only helped me (re)shape my ability to recognize what I see around me in the wide white canvas of the big screen but also stimulates my imagination with waking dreams that are a tad brainier and, paradoxically, less escapist than those concocted by populist entertainers. Being a fan has never been so exciting: at 83, Scott has no less than three major theatrical features to be released in the near future.

Note to Gaff: unlike Rachael, he will live!

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Thanks given by:
dallywhitty (11-30-2020), Darkstream (11-30-2020), Dave J (12-01-2020), DR Herbert West (11-30-2020), Evanos (11-30-2020), Himmel (11-30-2020), Monterey Jack (11-30-2020), principehomura (12-01-2020), Scarriere (02-10-2021), The Debts (11-30-2020), UltraMario9 (11-30-2020)
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