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I’m Ready for Ridley Scott’s Apology Now

…and it’s not for what you think it might be.

Director Ridley Scott is widely regarded as a talented film maker. Though most of the world’s movie-going population knows him for his mainstream films like Thelma & Louise (1991), G.I. Jane (1997), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and American Gangster (2007), genre fans will recognize him for his earlier science fiction and fantasy films: Alien (1979), Legend (1985), and most notably, Blade Runner (1982). Blade Runner, in fact, can often be found on any given “Best SciFi Films” list, sitting comfortably amongst other popular favorites like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Full disclosure: Hate me now, for I am one of only two people I know who disliked Blade Runner.)

The careful observer will note that Ridley Scott’s genre films are decades old. So what has Sir Ridley done for science fiction lately?

Not much. This would normally mean nothing, but in August of 2007 he expressed some scathing critique when he said that Scifi films are as dead as Westerns:

“There’s nothing original. We’ve seen it all before. Been there. Done it,” he said. Asked to pick out examples, he said: “All of them. Yes, all of them.”

A few months later, he was at it again. Besides implying that he created the look of wet streets in film (Huh? Singing in the Rain, anyone?) Scott was quoted as saying:

Everyone and their mother are making science-fiction movies, and for the most part they all really lack story. The tail is wagging the dog – the special effects, instead of being the means to an end, are the end in itself.

Certainly, there’s something to be said for a film’s heavy reliance on special effects — I’m looking at you, George “Green Screen” Lucas! – but does Ridley Scott seriously believe that all SciFi films lack story? That’s not only a slap in the face to fans who enjoy watching science fiction films, it’s also a slap in the face to the makers of great, thought-provoking science fiction films like Primer and Gattaca. Misinformed generalizations that all SciFi films lack story are not only untrue, they hurt the genre by confirming the largely held mainstream misperception that SciFi is trash.

Perhaps this anti-sf attitude would explain Scott’s absence from science fiction for the last twenty-six years. Maybe he was waiting for the right material to come along…something like Joe Haldeman’s Forever War perhaps. Last month, it was announced that Sir Ridley would be adapting Haldeman’s 1974 allegory to the Vietnam War. So, science fiction can be original, then? Or is he just doing it for the money? But how can it make money if it’s a dead genre? His actions do not coincide with his words. This begs the question: Is Ridley Scott compromising his artistic integrity by returning the science fiction, or was he flat-out wrong when he slammed the genre and, if so, does he owe the fans and film makers an apology?

Perhaps the best thing he could do to rescue his reputation is by example – by making films that are indeed original. Oh wait, it’s too late for that. It was announced just this month that Scott is attached to a movie version of the Hasbro’s board game Monopoly as a producer and possibly a director. Call me biased, but that sounds decidedly unoriginal. Let me guess what’s next: Parchesi: The Movie! Seriously, if anyone can pull off a cinematic project that conveys the heart-wrenching drama that only a game of Checkers can provide, it’s Ridley Scott. This is the artistic visionary that is lauded by the critics and fans? Please.

I’m ready for my apology, Mr. Scott.

About John DeNardo (13014 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

8 Comments on I’m Ready for Ridley Scott’s Apology Now

  1. People get old… people get senile… people say stupid things. Remember the good, forget the bad. 🙂

    Let’s hope he’s got one more good genre classic in him somewhere, and that he’s not a complete sellout.

  2. I found Scott’s assertion about special effects as “the tail wagging the dog” to be deeply amusing, as that’s essentially my argument with his own work. The problem isn’t that he’d consider working on Monopoly; the problem is that he’s entirely capable of directing a slick, visually arresting film version of a board game, and it would likely be of a piece with the rest of his oeuvre.

    Scott’s great talent is essentially production design. He has a painter’s eye and a gift for the telling visual detail, and tends to choose projects that allow him to “create a world.” (Including, yes, wet streets, and also his trademark blue light filtered through smoke). The problem is, many of his films are less than meets the eye. (Blade Runner in particular, which is overrated by genre fans the way that Vertigo is worshipped by Hitchcock fetishists.)

    When he has a great script — a Thelma and Louise or an Alien — the results can be compelling. When he doesn’t — as with Black Hawk Down and the recent Body of Lies — the disparity between the potential film and the actual film makes the result feel hollow. (This in contrast with his brother Tony, whose films aim lower, but usually hit their mark.)

  3. Citing Gattaca as a “recent” example of good sci-fi filmmaking doesn’t really help make your point 🙂

  4. James said “Blade Runner in particular, which is overrated by genre fans…”

    Victory is mine!  🙂

    @euphrosyne: Those were the two that popped into my head that were relased between Blade Runner and the director’s comments.  I don’t think I implied “recent”.  Other examples might be Children of Men, The Matrix, Twelve Monkeys…  But you raise a good point…What recent films do you think are worth mentioning?

  5. Now this is a post with “teeth” John. Well spoken and you have an actual opinion. I am so sick of everyone having to be politically correct lately with posts or anything for that matter.

    Well done sir!

    On topic: There has to be both stunning visuals and a good story for my tastes. If I have to pick just one (because the Hollywood fat cats seem to only be able to pick one of those options as of late) it’s obviously “story” over visuals.

    Lets take “2001: A Space Odyssey” for an example. The story was very compelling but the kaliedescope effects stuff near the end was just silly, yet somehow the message and impact of the movie survives? Good story wins out.

    “Speed Racer” had stunning visuals….. WAS there a story? Epic fail.

    “Planet of the Apes” (the original one) had rediculous special effects worthy of a “Land of the Lost” or “Xena Warrior Princess” yet the story was so compelling that you didn’t care.

    So I think Mr. Scott has either been a victim of paraphrasing or he is just in fact forgetting what got him his noteriety. But in my opinion its all about good stories that just happen to have a Sci-Fi setting that win the day.

  6. euphrosyne // November 17, 2008 at 2:32 pm //

    Well, it’s not that I agree with Scott’s surliness, but it is hard for me to think of many really great sci-fi movies in recent history. If we’re talking specifically about movies that were really good without a lot of special effects flash, then the Matrix is out. Twelve Monkeys was great, but that’s even older than Gattaca. I am Legend would be in the right category, but I wouldn’t call that one great.

    Lately, the mass market for “what-if”/speculative films (I call them that here because most people in the theaters wouldn’t call themselves science fiction fans) has shifted almost exclusively to superhero and graphic novel adaptations. While there is room for originality and fantastic filmmaking there (I’m looking at you, Batman), like all Hollywood trends it has been overdone, and often badly done.

    These trends in film seem to follow several years behind tends in print, so before long maybe we’ll see a resurgence in space opera on the big screen. Until then, we’ve got Battlestar Galactica…


  7. Well, Primer is a great example at any rate.  And, you know, I really think Iron Man is up there, too.  A lot of people think it was fun, but just a super-hero movie.  But it was a very well done speculative work dealing with contemporary political issues and the possibility of privately funded anti-terrorist technology/vigilanteism (a la Batman).  If they can keep that up for the sequels, I will be very pleased.


    As for the Forever War, am I the only one who thinks that is over-rated?

  8. euphrosyne wrote ‘Well, it’s not that I agree with Scott’s surliness, but it is hard for me to think of many really great sci-fi movies in recent history.”

    That just means that Scott simply is another lazy Hollywood voice. There’s decades’ worth of terrific fiction that could be repurposed for the screen, and little will to do it justice there.

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