British director Ridley Scott is the last of a dying breed. Taking his place alongside Kubrick, David Lynch, Hitchcock, Tarantino and Spielberg to name a few, he is one of the handful of old-school film-makers who throw themselves entirely into their work. And what better way to establish his place in the hall of fame than his upcoming summer epic Prometheus.
Since his first feature debut The Duellists, a 19th century historical drama in 1977, Scott has been better known as the man who transformed sci-fi from pulp fiction into almost iconic art. With Prometheus set to be an enormous triumph, Scott returns to his roots of creating the distant worlds we can only begin to imagine with a truly intriguing story.
Born in 1937 in South Shields, North East England, Scott was tied to the world of cinema from childhood. His Great Uncle, Dixon Scott, built, designed and founded the Tyneside Cinema; Newcastle’s landmark independent picture house since 1939. After studying in Teeside at the West Hartlepool College of Art, graduating with a diploma in Design, he moved to London to attend The Royal College of Art where he directed a short black and white film named The Boy and The Bicycle. The film was to star his father Francis and his younger brother Tony, also a producer who went on to become a director of Top Gun, Beverley Hills Cop and True Romance.
Scott then went on to work briefly as a set designer for the BBC before establishing his film and production company the RSA; his background in art and his eye for detail becoming a vital key to his success.
The successive hype that Prometheus is receiving is due primarily to its status as a prequel to Scott’s most famous film to date; the 1979 outer space smash Alien. Boasting the tagline ‘In space no one can hear you scream’ Scott created a claustrophobic, nightmarish world of a ‘used-future’ dystopia where a monstrous creature terrorises the crew of the doomed ship Nostromo. The scenes of Giger’s acid-spitting Xenomorph bursting from John Hurt’s chest cavity (this climax was famously kept a secret from the other cast members) was enough to scar a generation whilst his bolshy heroine Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) was the revolutionary symbol of feminism in an industry dominated by muscle-bound hunks saving the day.
Scott seemed to have found his niche in the science fiction genre and set to work on an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, yet instead he abandoned the idea and opted to work on a screenplay for Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Taking his inspiration for the run-down, dirty and used setting of a future Los Angeles from the post industrialist landscape of the North East, Scott produced Blade Runner, which trawled over familiar territory of artificial beings. After all, everybody remembers the scene from Alien where Ash malfunctions, giving way to the second most shocking revelation of the franchise. Unfortunately no one was ready for the cyberpunk classic upon its initial 1982 release where it bombed at the box office. Despite having a post-Han Solo Harrison Ford as his leading man, Scott pulled the plug on the unsuccessful Blade Runner and re-cut the entire film which would later lead to it becoming the sleeper hit and cult classic we know today.
Of course, Scott has never been afraid to experiment though his attempts have sometimes been unsuccessful. His 1984 commercial for Apple was highly commended although his career deviated and waned slightly with his production of 1991’s Thelma and Louise and 1995’s G.I Jane, starring Demi Moore, through the television and film company he shared with his brother Tony.
Most notable in Scott’s repertoire was his 2000 historical epic Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe. It seemed Scott was back on a winning streak by subsequently knocking out such titles as war film Black Hawk Down, which won him two Oscars, and Silence of The Lambs sequel Hannibal.
The Matchstick Men in 2003 also proved Scott’s return to form which was later followed by Crusades movie Kingdom of Heaven (2005), espionage movie Body of Lies (2008) and American Gangster in 2006, of which Scott was the final director in a line of names attached to the project.
Scott’s visual style, love for historical drama and previous collaboration with Russell Crowe also led to the minor success of Robin Hood in 2010, yet Scott never quite managed to recapture the thrill or excitement of Alien; the movie that put him on the map.
However, Prometheus seems to indicate that Scott is returning to what he does best. With the trailers featuring some awe-inspiring set designs and special effects (both Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender have commented on Scott’s ability to use both old-school and new-school art direction tricks to create realistic looking worlds created ultimately for our 3D viewing pleasures) and, of course, a carefully selected cast and thought-out script, Prometheus may just be Scott’s best work yet. The viral videos and sneak previews of the elusive ‘space jockey’ all make for very exciting press fodder – Scott certainly knows how to build up his audience before dropping in an almighty shock.
Whilst more exciting news of an adaptation of Brave New World and alas, a Blade Runner prequel, Ridley Scott, at the age of 74 does not seem to be slowing down at all. His love for film and whole-hearted involvement on every level of the production is truly astonishing. So, as we prepare to watch a long-anticipated piece of cinema made by one of the most innovative film-makers of our generation, we can only hope that this time round in the cinema everyone will be able to hear you scream.
Best known for:
Blade Runner (1982)
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
American Gangster (2007)
Body of Lies (2008)
Robin Hood (2010)
Prometheus (upcoming 2012)
Ridley Scott Associates (RSA) Production Company
Intricately designed and built “atmospheric” sets, lighting, props and costumes.
Innovative and creative approach to film-making
Slow paced narratives building up to intense action sequences
Use of strong female characters
Narratives focussing around father-son relationships
Narratives set in historical periods or dystopian future worlds
Narratives about artificial beings or ‘robots’ and their place in society
Extensive perfectionism when storyboarding and requesting multiple takes
(1977) Cannes – Best Debut Film Award for The Duellists
(1979) Saturn Awards – Best Director and Best Science Fiction Film for Alien
Nominated by Academy Awards for Best Director for Gladiator (2000), Thelma and Louise (1991) and Black Hawk Down (2001)
(2000) Golden Globe – Best Director: Feature Film for Gladiator
Frequently works with:
Russell Crowe (Actor)
Brian Glazer (Producer)
Jerry Goldsmith (Composer)
Hans Zimmer (Composer and Music Producer)
Mark Streitenfeld (Film Composer)
Tony Scott (Film Director and Producer)