…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.