Roxanne -> RE: RIDLEY SCOTT (19/9/2006 3:45:49 PM)
Thank you for the advice on Kingdom Of Heaven, doncopey. Although I'm not entirely trusting of some of the assertions made, I am certainly saving my final judgement on the aforementioned film until I have viewed the DC. However I have qualms as to how much a little extra screen time will better Bloom's performance. I do believe the film could have been improved tenfold had Scott cast an actor of far more presence and conviction, not to mention natural talent. Then perhaps the lead would not have been effortlessly out-acted by his supporters; watching bloom's fellow thespians is like viewing a summary of masterclass acting. Irons, Thewlis and Neeson barely need to try to deliver outstanding performances, while the ever-astounding Gleeson very nearly steals the show were it not for the authority and efficacy of a man I believe to be one of the most brilliant actors of the generation, Martin Csokas. Norton blew me away as well, and Eva Green was suitably impressive – though the impression of her skill was probably somewhat undermined by the hasty theatrical cut. I sincerely hope her character's purpose is more than that of mere eye-candy in the DC. Note also to the shockingly overlooked Alexander Siddig, one of Britain's finest, and Ghassan Massoud, who truly shines as Saladin.
I don't know what Bloom thought he was doing amongst one of the most impressive ensemble casts of recent years. He is so inferior in comparison it doesn't bear thinking about. I had high hopes, and did not judge until I saw the film, but he failed miserably in altering the almost unanimous critical pre-conceptions of his abilities, or lack thereof. Scott's choice of bloom really surprises me, as he has always been one of the most consistent and effectual directors when it comes to the casting of films – he really knows a brilliant actor when he sees one, and as a result his casts have nearly always been top notch (let's just ignore Sara and Cruise in Legend, okay?).
Still, concerning the rest of KOH, i.e. the miserably unfocused narrative and convoluted/non-existent motives etc, I'm hoping for some measure of improvement in the Director's Cut, though I see not what it could possibly do about expelling the horrendously corny, flag-waving moments. One cannot deny, however, the beauty of the picture. The scene in which the King's Jerusalem army appears to confront Saladin's army takes my breath away even on the small screen, even with the profusion of CGI. Gregson-Williams excelled with the score, even if it is rather Gladiator-esque, and the costume/set-pieces are befitting of Scott's realist high standards. Despite its flaws I'm inclined to believe KOH to be slightly better than Gladiator, which I feel to be fiendishly overrated in most areas of its execution.
When I discuss something that interests me, I usually go on and on, so I fully expect most people to skip past what will probably be an extensive and long-winded text. Sorry in advance.
Ridley Scott: Style Over Substance; a greatly prostituted expression in the examination of Scott's work. I believe it to be an unfounded accusation, but an understandably popular theory. Despite his fidelity to great writing and meaningful story, it is difficult for us to comprehend a director who delivers in both the technical and aesthetic areas of film, at least in modern cinema, and so we come to deny it possible. In the work of notable great directors, the art works in unison with the technical, a good example being Hitchcock. It could be argued that during the golden age of cinema an equilibrium of these two broad facets of filmmaking was more important, whereas now a film often will adhere either to sound storytelling or blazing, awe-inspiring visuals. It's almost not acceptable to fashion overt visuals, and we often assume such beauty must have been crafted at the expense of a credible script. I do it too, and it's often a justified stance to take, especially given current obsession with computer-generated imagery.
However, I believe Scott has constantly delivered films that, while they apply much attention to the imagery and visual beauty, rarely fail to convey evocative, interesting plots of relevance and fascination, with multi-faceted characters of depth, workable arcs and many an implicated theme and/or underlying meaning. Scott hails from an advertising background, something I think works against him and his peers within the critical sphere, but he has always expressed a desire and a need to apply the brilliance of his artistic mind to a script and story worthy of note. Worthy, indeed, of his superior visuals. It's true that not all of his films excel in story, but it cannot be said that his intention is to neglect it. Scott spends weeks and weeks of pre-production developing his scripts with the writer(s), and works with screenwriters of incredible talent – some of the best in the business. If he can be accused of anything it is that sometimes his productions become tortuous as he struggles to align integrity of story with fervent visuals while dealing with studio limitation, interference or artistic misunderstanding (often the cause of production downfalls), but much of his work is superior in plot and script to many other films of little or no artistic aspiration. He is a perfectionist, a disposition that probably creates more nuisance than any other.
His most visually exquisite films usually offer similar satisfaction in script and/or direction. Alien, whilst lacking in dialogue, features directorial sequences of the highest standard within the horror genre, with so much to be said of the twisting of audience expectations and the unexpected shocks. The narrative and characters of Blade Runner may leave some people cold, but this could be seen as largely a desired response – a frosty detachment from the subject matter reflects the explored issues of humanity, what it means to be or not to be, and the characters' own disconnection with life in an utterly despondent distopia lacking in many things that we might consider makes us human. Thelma And Louise is bursting at the seams to contain its meticulous character arcs and truly moving insights into elements of societal attitude and behaviour. Gladiator, while lacking plot direction, is very explicit in its exploration of themes and issues and features fascinating character interactions.
All of Scott's films explore differing stories of completely contrasting individuals, incorporating a huge array of sub-plots and themes. Most of the time the visuals balance with the story, and the elements compliment each other. Scott doesn't choose a script with ease or indifference, and his rigorous reformation of even the best of them implies the import he lays on the writing of his films. To me, it's strange to consider Ridley a director of no substance, even if he's notched up rotters like Hannibal and Black Rain. He doesn't always deliver a good film, but to assert that a suspect storyline and script is attributed to his own deliberate ignorance and pompous focus upon the visual is entirely untrue in my opinion. That accusation might, I think, be more accurately applied to Speilberg upon examination of his own body of work. Certainly to Lucas and his unnatural allegiance to the MacGuffin, to Burton, perhaps even to Mendes and to Bruckheimer – an auteur in his own right. And let's not forget the style-over-substance maestro, Shyamalan.
In the words of Ridley himself:
"What you put on screen has to be fundamentally important, even if only for the moment. It has to say something that moves the audience; it must entertain, enchant and, perhaps above all, involve them. So the most important element of my films is always the screenplay. I must be able to hang my hopes and fears on what's inside the writer's head. Yet the toughest part is always the screenplay every time. Movie-making is really all story, story, story. Everything else follows that.”
Need we more explanation? It sounds like he has a perfect formula if you ask me. But you know what they say about perfect intentions…
Let's go back to Alien. A film that I grew up on. I LOVE that film. The sheer atmosphere throughout, the look of it, the sound of it, especially the sound if it, the performances and verisimilitude throughout. I know that film better than I know most of my relatives. Form the slow pans around the ship at the beginning, to the flashes, exhalations and finally sad peace at the climax.
I would agree entirely with your thoughts on Alien, a film I have debated exhaustively on these forums and so I shall refrain from a long-winded response here. I also share your reverence for it. Alien is largely overlooked as an important science fiction film, despite the accomplishment of the design and elements of futuristic life touched upon. This is because it is foremost a horror film, and one of such virtuosity as to make me dissatisfied by any that has followed it - bar a few. Alien is often underrated for its horror by modern day audiences, as the youth of today has become so jaded by contemporary demand for blood and gore, principally of the computer-generated kind, that the conventional thrills of a well-executed, methodical horror with clear direction are lost on them. It may seem sedate by modern standards, but truly it is the most affecting horror ever committed to the big screen. Scott's ingenious fusion of atmospheric set pieces, excruciatingly slow pacing and perfidious contortion of the viewer's anticipation is truly masterful and makes for the most unexpected frights you could ever witness. Blend this with the horrifying, organic eroticism of the unique set and alien design, the claustrophobic, labyrinthine setting and more twists and turns than Hugh Hefner could shake his stick at, and you have one incredible horror film. Almost every frame is executed to perfection, the cast is truly flawless and the script, for want of a better word, perfect. I could discuss every minute of this film; every shot and scene is relevant to the advancement of the narrative, and there is so much detail and complexity hidden beneath the apparent simplistic surface. I truly believe Alien is a masterpiece, and that is not a title I often bestow, especially given my distaste for and distrust of the erratic horror genre. I don't believe Scott has ever surpassed the triumph his second feature film in terms of direction and conclusive effect. I love it, I love it, I love it!
quote: is one of my favourites of all time and likely to stay there. But how much of that was down to Ridley and how much was down to the script. I wonder this about many movies actually, feeling that the writers always get largely ignored when it comes to film discussion. People tend to forget that good scripts contain more than just dialogue but also detailed action description too. This being the case, and again we can think this for many a film, how would Alien have ended up in the hands of a different director, a late 70s Spielberg or Carpenter?
Perhaps that?s a debate for another time, and slightly digressive here.
Not at all, I think that's a highly relevant and interesting debate, especially pertinent in the discussion of the lack of substance in terms of plot and script of which Ridley is continually accused.
I agree that screenwriters are largely ignored in the industry, at least by the general cinema-going public, despite that their role is the most important of the entire filmmaking process. After all, 'you can make a bad film out of a good script but you can't make a good film out of a bad script'. As you have said, scripts contain directorial information as well as dialogue, so they must be considered when discussing the role of director (what with the writer, editor and cinematographer it is increasingly exasperating to define what exactly the role of the director is, but that's a whole other story).
It is true that the script for Alien is sparse and so much of it must contain visual instructions, but the argument for Scott's own contribution is the utilization of the storyboard. Script directions could never be comprehensive enough to specify all individual frames, and Scott drew on his artistic background to fully storyboard Alien; all by himself, frame by frame. So extensive was his depiction that the studio vastly increased his overall budget off the back of these drawings alone. It seems therefore defensible to accredit the non-scripted scenes of Alien to Scott's own artistic vision, and affirm that ingenious directorial sequences like Brett's death scene are down to his own ability to interpret the objective of the screenplay.
If Blade Runner was released today it would stand up to most criticism. As a detective film, it will never get past comparisons to others in the ouevre, however, as a fully realised sci-fi drama, it will forever be the benchmark for Tech Noir. The fact that it's 21 years old and still inviting -arguably- more debate amongst fans than Star Wars should be testament to it's enduring legacy.
I must clarify that actually Blade Runner (1982) is 25 years old, next year. The film undoubtedly invites much debate, even today, and certainly more than Star Wars (what's there to debate about Star Wars?). Blade Runner has long been one of my favourite films, though one about which it seems fruitless to write as so much discourse already surrounds it.
Blade Runner is fascinating to me; an unequalled and unsurpassed exploration into the meaning and the classification of humanity and all its encumbering components; the impediments not only of being human in an impersonal, technological world but of attempting to classify what makes us so, outside of veritable biology. The irony of the relevance of a futuristic society to modern-day life is a blow to the head and heart, and while this film boasts some of Scott's most celebrated imagery, it is the story of Roy Batty and his desire to be part of the human race, while he ultimately betters it, that coerces me to love, and slightly fear, this film.
Following the iconic scene of Alien, which needs no introduction nor explanation, up in the rafters with the likes of the Psycho shower scene and the choice picks from Casablanca, Scott had to deliver something to rival it. What resulted was my very favourite scene in all of cinema (at least of that I have seen), one of incomparable magnificence and sorrow, and breathtaking imagery. How clichéd it now is to revere Roy Batty's death scene, but I am but a slave to its allure. That the film's villain, a seemingly ruthless murderer with, perhaps in his mind, impunity, should in his last breaths before death choose to allow life, is a moment of such sombre poignancy and moral gravity that I never fail to be moved. In these last moments it is the manmade being, in spite of his bitterness, which now illustrates more of the typically conceived 'humanity' than the human himself. This is why I refuse to believe that Deckard, the main character, is also a replicant, as is a popular theory. I refuse to believe it because it undermines many, if not all, of the messages that make Blade Runner an iconic science fiction film and an affecting experience.
BR's character's are cold, with protagonist Deckard a dislikeable and largely uninteresting individual. This is reflected in the perpetually cold, dark, wet environment of the future distopia, where animals and friends alike must be…created. Here the darker recesses of people still survive, and it is a dismal existence.
Blade Runner is not flawless but it is, in my opinion, very close. Regardless of how loyal he was, Scott brought Philip K. Dick's story to the screen with extraordinary style and sophistication, that nobody can deny, but also with a real deference for the subject matter and an understanding of the intrinsic themes and feelings. Dick was able, just before his death, to view a preliminary cut of the film and was blown away by it. That, perhaps, is the ultimate endorsement.
The problem with Ridley is that whilst he has undeniable talent, for every great film he makes he makes a dreadful one which just sours the taste of his achievements. Whilst I enjoy a lot of his films he can't always be counted on to deliver the goods. Delving from one extreme to the other he's just far too hit and miss!
This is entirely true. While Scott's skills are apparent in those films he does well, he does not apply these skills to everything he does. Who knows why? Scott is an articulate man of great intention, a dream on a DVD commentary, and so explicates well what his aims with his films are and were, what he thinks work well and what doesn't in his films. He certainly doesn't have the consistency of Kubrick or Lean, which is why I don't believe he is worthy of fifth place in the 'greatest directors' poll, but he deserves attention for those films of his that are great.
Thelma & Louise for me is the worst thing in his record (apart from gi jane).The whole empowering women thing taken too far and given a cheesy "that'll get all the girly's crying" ending just turned me off completely.
This is utterly the wrong perception of the film. I don't mean to sound condescending, but Thelma And Louise has so much more to it than some people realise, and wonderfully complex character studies. The ending you speak of was actually a revised version after previews of the film with its original end sequence, showing the car descending into the canyon and crashing at the bottom, was panned by the audience as too depressing. That which replaced it is supposed to be uplifting, and certainly isn't meant to 'make the girlies cry'. I personally don't find the 'empowering women thing' is taken too far – some of the scenes are intentionally comical and bordering on implausibility, such as the scene in which they lock the policeman in the trunk of his car, and the blowing up of the vulgar lorry driver's truck, but the main theme is credible to me. These are two women who have suffered at the hands of men and tolerated, until something tips them over the edge. To me the film is, essentially, heartbreakingly realistic, which is what makes it effective. It is not anti-men as many people say; it is anti the horrible men that Thelma and Louise encounter. In no way is the film saying that all men are shit. That is such a simplistic view of the film it make's me a little irritated when people make that allegation. And believe me, there really are men like that lorry driver. It's not hyperbolic.
Thelma And Louise is not only wonderfully written but excellently directed by Scott. He manipulates scenes against one another for particular effect and, as he so often does, mimics the themes through the visual. In no way can the imagery and visuals of this film be accused of being superfluous; the set pieces, costumes, lighting and above all the landscapes compliment the themes, tone, direction and pace of the film to perfection (not to mention the faultless soundtrack and score by the ingenious Hans Zimmer). I may even go so far as to say it is his most accomplished film, in that it works very well indeed and was unhindered by the sorts of difficulties a Scott production often experiences. It benefits greatly from first-rate performances from every single cast member, not least the utterly astounding Susan Sarandon. The look in her eyes when confronting the would-be rapist Harlan is without comparison, indicative of a consummate artist. It makes me well up every time.
I have a great love for Thelma And Louise. Again, I wouldn't say it is absolutely flawless but it is affecting, moving, stunning and quite unique. It is fair to say that for a male director to tackle issues complex and consequential to the female mind, and with such delicacy, is quite unheard of. Scott has gained a reputation as a director who champions the inclusion of 'strong women' in film, of female empowerment and emancipation from the oppression of our patriarchal society. I personally don't think this was deliberate. I think Scott quite simply chooses scripts with strong, well-written characters. I don't think he ever intended to make a point about women in film, or in general, just that he respects women and their capabilities instinctively and doesn't think twice about making them the hero, or not. But he inadvertently started a new craze, one that survives and continues to evolve today, 27 years after Ellen Ripley. Good on yer Ridley.
This gets to the heart of my original argument. A director must do much more than produce visually stunning pictures. In fact it could be argued that the 'look' of a film is as much to do with the cinematographer as the director - John Mathieson did Kingdom of Heaven, Matchstick Men, Gladiator and Hannibal with Scott. Maybe he should be praised for the visually stunning pictures?
That's a justified query, but not one that can be applied only to Scott. If you are to deliberate the division of roles between director and cinematographer, the same thing goes for all directors. It is difficult to define who does what, but ultimately the director dictates what they want and the cinematographer delivers on a technical level. Of course they will provide artistic input, but the director has the first and last say. Concerning his earlier work at least, there is some significance in the fact that Scott rarely used the same cinematographer. Unlike many directors, he rarely forges allegiances with fellow film technicians of any area, which, given the consistency of the visuals of his films, is testament to a signature style applicable to him. I suspect Mathieson provided great creative contribution in working with Scott over four films, but I believe Scott has a distinct idea of what he wants, elements of which have become signatory – low-key lighting, blue lighting, lighting through props and parts of the sets, gritty realism etc. These elements are apparent in most of, if not all of his films and cannot, I think, be attributed to his director(s) of photography. Other directors of a distinct visual style do not come under such scrutiny – Tim Burton, despite the repeated input of cinematographers Stefan Czapsky and Philippe Rousselot, or Fritz Lang, who partnered may times with Fritz Arno Wagner and Carl Hoffman. It's a shame that Scott bears the brunt of many accusations concerning his visual filmmaking style that could pertain to many other filmmakers, but aren't.
The few times he has got outstanding performances in his movies have been as much due to the cast as they have the director.
I'm not sure I get your meaning. Aren't the performances usually down to the cast? It seems a strange thing to throw at Scott. If anything he should be praised for the casting of actors that are able to deliver outstanding performances, as testament to his proficiency as a director.
ORIGINAL: Axel Foley
I have also noticed a number of comments saying Scott doesn't bother with characters and emotions. I think the truth couldn't be more different. In fact one thing that has come to light in his recent output is his desire to follow the path of a man searching for identity in an alien environment, for fulfillment and a sense of humanity or to reconcile ills that he has suffered. It can be seen in the story arcs of Rick Deckard, Nick Conklin, Maximus Decimus Meridius, Matt Eversman, Balian and even Jack the forest dweller.
Excellent post Axel, and I couldn't agree more. To the strange person who said earlier in the thread that Scott has no style, take note of what Axel details above – one element of Scott's auteur signature (if you go for the auteur theory).
Having recently watched his director's cut of Legend, I also felt it worth saying that his genius was betrayed by the theatrical release. With key scenes restored and the magnificent Jerry Goldsmith score now present, there's a genuine sense of wonder throughout. Cruise's Jack and Mia Sara's Lily ooze warmth and there's an affecting romance.
The best is saved for the scene in which Darkness attempts to seduce Lily in a dance of balletic beauty. Goldsmith's score brings an operatic feel and Scott's style creates an atmosphere which is partly trippy and partly nightmarish fantasy.
As a fan of Scott and a huge fan of Legend, despite its mountainous flaws, I think I'm out on my own when I say I prefer the US theatrical cut of the film. Yes, I really do. To this day I've never found anyone who agrees with me. The reasons for my opinion are these: 1) The look of the film in the US cut is, surprisingly, far more dark and sinister, far more befitting of the story and tone. I once compared the two cuts, one on DVD and one on VHS, with the use of the ingenious AV button on my TV (yes, I'm that sad) and upon inspection the theatrical cut has an eerie, beautiful blue filter over such scenes as those involving the goblins. It looks amazing. However, on the DC the filter is gone and the look is very ordinary, with pretty green grass and sunny weather when it isn't appropriate. This, for me, spoils many of the scenes and a great portion of the foreboding, terrifying tone is ruined; 2) I do not like Goldsmith's score. Like all of his scores, it's lovely as an individual composition, but with the dark quality of Scott's film it just doesn't work. I think the Tangerine Dream score is a big improvement in regards to the overall effect of the film. Film is collaborative, so a score can't just be pretty. It has to fit, and in my opinion Goldsmith was the wrong man for the job. It happened on Alien too, so there you go.
Now for Gladiator. Scott's Roman epic is probably his most popular and most accessible film, and while it is indeed a good watch, I find it to be overrated. One has to try and tolerate historical inconsistencies in film, but the crimes of this particular movie are far too great for me to accept. Visually it is superb, of course, but the narrative is lacking in focus and relevance, and I find Russell Crowe to be quite nondescript in his performance – I could never understand why he is so respected for it. The CGI gets a bit much, although I suppose it is justified. It's an okay movie in general, and a very good action movie, but I've never been a big fan and lament it's fame and success on a broader stage. It's a bit like Pacino getting his Oscar for Scent Of A Woman instead of The Godfather.
I'm a big Ridley Scott fan; I respect him and admire him as a filmmaker and as an individual (from what little I've seen) but I can still accept the flaws within his general body of work. He is by no means one of the greatest directors of all time in the conventional sense, but I believe him to be the crafter of a couple of the greatest films ever made. It is wrong for his critics to label him an overrated director in terms of talent, as he has clearly demonstrated inherent directorial skills through the great films he has produced, if limited in quantity. If anything is to be faulted it is individual films he has made, and the director's lack of consistency in quality. But his natural aptitude cannot be denied.