Monday, 6 February 2017

Great Scott! Film heroes part 1.

There are certain films, film-makers and actors that have had a profound impact on me over the years. I figured that I'd share some of this from time to time, so to start off this I'm leading with the big guy. A titan of cinema. Ridley Scott.

This isn't a film-by-film account of what he's done, rather it's about how I choose to remember him. For me, Ridley Scott was the first great visual film-maker that I encountered and his visions have influenced me massively. Specifically, I don't think there's a director whose first 4 films have been so affecting. In case you aren't up to speed on his early works here's the opening films of a stunning career:

1977 - The Duellists. Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine play the eponymous duo, playing a game of cat and mouse across the backdrop of the Napoleonic era.
1979 - Alien. One of the greatest science fiction movies ever made (just ahead of Dark Star).
1982 - Blade Runner. The greatest science fiction movie ever made (two places above Dark Star).
1985 - Legend. A stunning fantasy movie that bears all the hallmarks of an Arthur Rackham painting brought to life.

Two men fighting. Yesterday.
What brings all of these together, and why they had such an impact on me is the stunning level of detail and craft that went into creating the worlds these films inhabit. Everything is believable, whether its the computers on the Nostromo, the kitchens beneath the demons layer, or the cold that  seeps into your bones when watching the retreat from the Russian front. You can almost reach out and touch it and imagine it's real.

There's a direct correlation between the film-maker and the artist in all of these films, a sense that set design and the flow of a movie is vital to breathing life into a script in order that it becomes more than just telling a story. In Alien you are brought into a horror movie in a completely alien environment (no pun intended), but it's so rooted in reality that the science fiction elements become even more believable. Eschewing a bright science fiction aesthetic for a more industrial look, Alien essentially put a cast of truckers into space. William Gibson cites it as a major influence on the birth of cyberpunk as, with such a high level of technology permeating the film, the main characters were wandering round in overalls and beaten up sneakers. And this sense of place was carried over into Blade Runner (along with quite a lot of the original sets by all accounts). The Los Angeles of the future is a living, breathing place that on the one hand is futuristic, yet on the other wholly familiar.

Still scares the crap out of me.
With regard to Legend, this is the sort of dark fairytale that we don't see much of in cinema. It's got a really mythological, northern European feel, and such a distinction between the darkness and the light. The only film in this genre I can compare it to is John Boorman's Excalibur (more on that gem in the future). This feels like an exercise in mood, where the film starts with innocence it quickly turns this ideal on its head. The performance of Tim Curry reminds us that once upon a time he was an actor of rare presence and character.

All film posters should be this good.
And yes, Ridley Scott's more hit and miss these days. He's made some films that don't live up to these early movies. But for every White Squall, there's a Gladiator. He'll pull Black Hawk Down out of nowhere. And even though he has become the director of choice for overblown historical epics (I'm looking at you Kingdom of Heaven) they are still full to the gunnels of jaw dropping visuals and set-pieces that can leave you breathless.

So with new Alien and Blade Runner films due for release this year, go back and have a look at this man's work and you'll see just how much they have to live up to.


  1. Excalibur is a work of genius. Seeing that, and Conan the Barbarian, late at night on Channel 4 at an impressionable age is probably the foundation for many of my later interests. I have to say, though, I rate director's cut of Kindgom of Heaven pretty darn highly in the Scott canon. Wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the early four though.

    1. Hi Ead, Excalibur is a stunning movie and one that I will have to write about in the future. You're right, the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven adds a lot to that film. It's a shame it wasn't released like that in the first place.