Director Ridley Scott has had his fingers in a lot of pies. He pops up all over the place, from science fiction to fantasy, from thrillers to historical epics, and has been responsible for a few of the greatest films of the last fifty years. His work doesn’t usually make it to the top of ‘greatest ever’ lists, but when asked to choose their favourites, your average movie fan will almost certainly give him a name-drop.
Even so, Scott is a director of striking duality; as brilliant as the best of his work is, that’s how awful the worst can be at the other end of the scale. It’s almost impossible to believe that the same man who directed the incomparable Alien (1979) was also behind the execrable Robin Hood (2010), but unfortunately it’s true, and the truth hurts. Here’s a quick rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly of Ridley Scott’s back catalogue.
The Duellists (1977)
Scott’s first feature was a brilliantly subdued period piece set during the Napoleonic wars. Based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, The Duellists follows two French soldiers as they fight out a nameless grudge against each other over a number of years.
Why it’s good: Scott took a miniscule budget and put together a quietly intense gem of a movie, which gradually builds to a satisfying and technically dexterous finale.
Over thirty years since its release, and Alien is still lauded as the definitive sci-fi horror film. A small group of space miners are trapped onboard their ship and gorily picked off by an elusive and toothy extra-terrestrial. Even Hitchcock couldn’t have come up with a more suspenseful, claustrophobic and generally spine-chilling movie.
Why it’s good: True terror doesn’t age, and Alien is truly terrifying. Goes down in history for the ‘chest burster’ scene alone. Also, Scott challenged the gender barrier by switching the strong lead role from male to female.
Blade Runner (1982)
Harrison Ford hunts down a group of dangerous androids in this philosophical sci-fi neo-noir based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. Set in a polluted future cityscape where it’s always night and always raining, Blade Runner is almost mesmerisingly cool (just make sure to watch the director’s cut, which axes the cheesy narration).
Why it’s good: Blade Runner is a film with layer upon layer of meaning, exploring ideas of love, memory, creation and the soul. All that, and great fight scenes too.
G.I. Jane (1997)
Demi Moore causes ructions by training to become a Navy SEAL (despite the notable handicap of being a woman) in the overly mawkish G.I. Jane. The story of a woman fighting her way through training that only men are considered to be tough enough for could actually have been quite a riveting watch; unfortunately Scott makes it into boring and predictable chewing gum for the eyes.
Why it’s bad: Script, acting, direction – everything falls a bit flat for G.I Jane, until all hints at depth are worn away.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Orlando Bloom is a Frenchman caught up in the Crusades, and finds himself attempting to defend Jerusalem against invading European forces. Even though it explores one of the bloodiest periods in history, Kingdom of Heaven still manages to overreach itself and become painfully complex, and ultimately dull.
Why it’s bad: It’s too long, too ambitious, and has Orlando Bloom in the lead role. Sorry Orlando, but you sure know how to drag a movie down.
A group of archaeologists, scientists, and be-suited business types head off into space to try to uncover the seed of creation, but get a lot more than they bargained for. The fifth Alien film certainly suffered from being built up too much in anticipation, but this is far from entirely to blame for its generally lukewarm reception. Prometheus didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be (prequel or spin-off? Alternate reality?), and kept tripping over its own feet in an effort to cover all bases.
Why it’s bad: Not nearly scary enough, and far too complicated – so complicated, in fact, that Scott allowed multiple glaring plot holes to slip through into the final cut.
A Good Year (2006)
Russell Crowe plays a London based investment banker dealing with inheriting a French vineyard. A Good Year makes an attempt at being a romantic comedy, but turns out dull, sentimental in all the wrong ways, and joyless in the way that only the worst kind of ‘comedy’ can be.
Why it’s ugly: This sort of film is often quite wrongly described as a ‘feel-good’ movie; while sitting though A Good Year, the viewer will not be feeling good so much as looking at their watch.
Any film that had to follow Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs (1991) was always going to run into trouble, but even taking that into account, Hannibal is pretty awful. There’s no psychological tension whatsoever, and the characterisation seems to bear no relation to the first film. The ending was also head-scratchingly weird, all of which adds up to a waste of our time.
Why it’s ugly: Shows absolutely no respect for the atmosphere, characterisation and plot of its predecessor. Even Jodie Foster knew not to touch it with a barge-pole.
Robin Hood (2010)
Another casualty of Scott’s continuing obsession with Russell Crowe, this version of the Robin Hood legend may have been the most ill-advised of all the director’s ventures. We weren’t expecting it to be completely historically accurate (what with being based on a legend, and all) but we were hoping for at least a vague attempt at a gritty, tense version of the classic story we know and love. What we got was an almost laughably self-conscious bowl of medieval gumbo.
Why it’s ugly: A ridiculously convoluted script. Ensures that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) will forever be described as ‘the good version’. And Russell Crowe. Just Russell Crowe.
There are plenty of other very decent Ridley Scott films that we couldn’t fit in here, such as charming children’s fantasy Legend (1985) starring a young Tom Cruise, dramatic anti-chick flick Thelma and Louise (1991), and, of course, Gladiator (although Gladiator has to lose some points for introducing Scott to the concept of Russell Crowe, which he then took just a little too far). This cross-section of the director’s work is simply designed to illustrate the huge discrepancy between the good and the bad. Just like the little girl in the poem, when Ridley Scott is good, he is very good indeed, and when he is bad, he is horrid.