MovieBob - Intermission
What Happened to Ridley Scott?

Bob Chipman | 12 Dec 2014 12:00
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Ridley Scott gave us Alien and Blade Runner... so how did we get to the cinematic disasters of Prometheus and Exodus?

Once upon a time, the name Ridley Scott was one of the most reliable, nigh-universal signifiers of a good movie you could get in Hollywood: If Sir Ridley was directing, you were virtually guaranteed to get a movie that was A.) Entertaining as hell but also B.) Smart, well-plotted and intellectually-satisfying. He redefined scifi/horror with Alien, set a visual/tonal template for decades of futurism with Blade Runner, deconstructed action tropes through a surprising feminist lens in Thelma & Louise and G.I. Jane and even singlehandedly revived the Swords n' Sandals genre with Gladiator.

Even his box office misfires were worthwhile more often than not: The fantastical fairytale Legend was decades ahead of its time in bringing high-fantasy visuals to life, and while Kingdom of Heaven was a bit unwieldy in theaters, Scott's drastically-expanded director's cut of the film on DVD stands as one of the all-time great historical epics -- as thrilling yet laudably evenhanded treatment of The Crusades as any filmmaker has ever attempted. And in the interim, he was ever capable of putting out solid middlebrow fare like the spirited Matchstick Men or the trendsetting Black Hawk Down.

Then... something seemed to change. Over what seemed like a fairly short period of time, Scott seemed to shift creative gears from films that pushed creative and artistic boundaries to journeyman-esque efforts that would've felt utterly disposable if not for the filmmaker's still potent command of visual flourish.

In short, he started making very pretty but very bad movies -- culminating (for now) with Exodus: Gods & Kings not only one of the most disappointing films of 2014 but very plausibly the worst film of Scott's storied career. But before that came the bizarre, roundly-despised The Counselor, the dreadful Alien-prequel Prometheus, the dreary Robin Hood and the solid but oddly-forgettable Body of Lies. Sure, everyone goes through fallow periods creatively, but Scott seems to be in the midst of an artistic tail-spin that's wholly uncharacteristic.

So what happened?

I'm hardly the only person writing about movies to ask this -- "What's up with Ridley?" is practically a way for film critics to identity eachother on the street at this point. Scott was, at one point, a "thinking man's" blockbuster specialist a la Christopher Nolan, but his recent output has largely taken the form of ill-plotted filler marking time between visual setpieces that clearly held more directorial interest. Sure, some critics have opted to view this as having its own merits -- so exciting to see an Elder Statesman filmmaker like Scott bordering on the impressionistic! -- but I can't necessarily go there most of the time. The Counselor certainly makes up for its incomprehensibility with its lurid baroque weirdness (in the film's most famous sequence, Cameron Diaz's femme fatale seduces Javier Bardem by having sex with the windshield of his car) ...but it doesn't make it any good.

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