Ridley Scott: Pioneer

        Film is an ever-changing piece of art. Every day, someone does something new that has never been done in the world of film. It can be a simple short story that was written today could be turned into a film tomorrow. It could be an encounter that happened in the person's past. It could be just a simple spark of creative genius that gives a plot line. These small things help build film, but it also takes a creative person behind the camera to make a clear-cut visual representation of the basic idea. One of these men is Ridley Scott.

        Ridley Scott has long been a pioneer for the film world. Not only has advanced simple ideas into complex plots, but also has changed cinematography and special effects likewise. We will examine his passion for film making through four films that changed cinema or at least affected American movie-goers. The first we will analyze is Scott's first major film 1979's Alien. Second, we will take a look at 1983's Blade Runner. Third will be 2000's Gladiator and fourth 2001's Black Hawk Down. All these movies are personal favorites of mine and also exalted as some of America's top films, therefore making them necessary to mention when discussing Ridley Scott.

        Let us first look at the 1979 science fiction film Alien. Now this was obviously not the first film about alien adversaries as we have watched one in this class Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Yet Alien had the same effect as Invasion as it became a further progression in the genre of science fiction as well as the typical alien movie. In Alien, Scott leaves no store unturned as he leaves the audience asking, "What is out there in the coldness of space?" and since no one knows the complete answer, Scott capitalizes by making one of the most revered monster movies of all time. The plot was simple--a crew of men and women on a spaceship in the twentieth century must fight to stay alive against an alien threat. However, Scott did wonders with special effects on the adversary as well as the confines of the ship. The ship itself was a testament to Scott's genius as much of it was built by hand. I especially enjoyed the setup of shots and camera angles, including the shot when Sigourney Weaver and the creature come face to face only separated by Weaver's helmet as well as the birth of the creature as it breaks the rib cage and abdomen of its host. (This shot is probably the most recognizable shot of the film.) Alien was a box-office smash and changed the face of the modern movie, from a King Kong-esque monster to more futuristic unknown ones.

        His third film, Blade Runner, was no exception to be included into AFI's Top 100 Films in 1998. It had all the makings of the classic: dazzling special effects, film noir, and a young Harrison Ford straight off the success of the Star Wars Trilogy. Scott did an amazing adaptation of Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but did another amazing job of changing the science fiction genre. This may be one of the first films with CGI effects as many of the locations in Blade Runner are computer generated. It was also one of the first android films as well. It changed film noir as a new mystery became unfolded in Blade Runner's plot. Once again, Scott's apparent skill for cinematography was shown as one can watch certain shots and tell exactly what he was going for.

        After several films that bombed (1992, White Squall, G.I. Jane), Scott finally made another box-office smash as Gladiator was released in 2000. This film began a string of big-budget looks at the ancient world including Oliver Stone's Alexander, Wolfgang Peterson's Troy, and HBO's mini-series Empire Falls, yet none came close to Scott's stylish vision. All the locations of Ancient Rome (as far as the city anyway) was computer generated which, according to the David A. Cook's A History of Narrative Film, put Scott in the vanguard of directors like Steven Spielberg (1982 E.T., 1975 Jaws) and Paul Verhoevan (1987 Robocop,1990 Total Recall). Every shot was beautifully made and the special effects well done. It could be compared to Arthur Penn's 1967 Bonnie and Clyde and D. W. Griffith's 1915 Birth of a Nation as Gladiator, too, tried to show a historical time period and the effects it had on the people and government. Gladiator went on to win four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director and Scott's vision will continue to be left a timeless classic.

        Finally, shortly after Gladiator and 2001's Hannibal, Scott decided to make a war movie. This movie was Black Hawk Down, an attempt at recounting an American recovery mission gone wrong in Somalia during the U.N.'s intervention in 1993 during its bloody civil war. Not only did Scott do an amazing job telling this story as he focused entirely on the soldiers who were killed in the operation as well as the ones who were saved. In this film, Scott also makes a social commentary on the involvement of the U.S. in international affairs and the situations that unfold in these nations. Scott, however, made a change in location as this film was shot on location in Northern Africa rather than the majority of his blockbuster films which were CGI. Nevertheless, his focus on scenery, shot selection, and plot did not lack; and Black Hawk Down became one of the highest grossing movies of 2001, ironically just before September 11th.

        In short, there are too many words to describe Ridley Scott. He has been ever-changing--never staying within just one genre like many directors choose. He has made the King Kong monster movie Alien. He created the film noir Alfred Hitchcock type science fiction film Blade Runner. He directed Thelma and Louise, a social commentary about the role of women in society--a classic buddy movie which used a lot of the same vigor that Bonnie and Clyde had. Gladiator was a brilliant look at the Classic Roman Empire; and Black Hawk Down was, much like Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 Battleship Potemkin, made to explore a controversial social and war experience.

        Throughout his films, Scott never lacked brilliant cinematography, plot development, special effects, or simply, creativity (even if some of them were bombs.) These films changed American audiences and film makers as well as many in the world, including his native Great Britain. This is why Ridley Scott is a major contribution to the history of the cinema and therefore, because of him, film cannot be the same.

Jonathan Holzapfel

Table of Contents