by: Leo Robertson
Many directors would be happy with one or two successful films to their name, at the very least as a jumping-off point. It sure doesn’t hurt, in Ridley Scott’s case, to have around 30 titles under his belt – with at least half of those movies having opened to incredible acclaim and box-office success. How does one man, with a penchant for stand-alone, often challenging films somehow manage to create a long, and still-running place for himself. If we take a look at his track-record, you’ll notice that he’s certainly accumulated his share of critically celebrated releases. Alien and Blade Runner alone can be considered game-changers. These two have also never ceased to be the subject of extreme sequel consideration. What’s interesting, given this, is his own complete lack of involvement with sequels. Now sure, he did direct 2001’s Hannibal, but we can forgive him this. It is treated quite independently of The Silence of the Lambs and is a legitimate work in its own right, originating from a property not created by him in the first place.
In any case, many filmmakers become locked into their reputation as associates of particular franchises, good (Jackson and The Lord of the Rings) or bad (Bay and Transformers). Regardless of whether they fall on one end of the spectrum or the other, they almost always reap profits which, in the long-run, determine the shelf-life of one man. Scott’s achievements with one-off films is, in this context, impressive, though not completely unique (Scorcese doesn’t do so bad for himself). We can perhaps associate these victories with ingenuity on the part of the artist. Alien surely helped usher in the age of contemporary bodily-horror, as well as the modern blockbuster, in the late 70‘s alongside other juggernauts like Halloween. Blade Runner was revolutionary in its depiction of a wet, foreign, and grim industrial Los Angeles. Even later works like Black Hawk Down manage to hold grand sway over a modern audience and critics alike. Interesting then, that in 2010 Ridley Scott announced his first return to a pre-existing property by revisiting his horror staple, Alien. He perhaps subverts the ‘sequel-syndrome’ by having chosen to do not one, but two prequels instead. How this will turn out remains to be seen. Should a director as prolific and compartmentalized as Ridley Scott really return to a world he created? Most fans like the idea, as the original is held in such high-esteem. However, no matter how experienced, the results of a ‘first’ sequel are always unpredictable. Even seasoned director and fan-favorite, Tim Burton, heavily berated his second attempt at theBatman franchise and very willingly passed it on to others.
It is perhaps Ridley Scott’s notoriety as a non-actor’s director which places him in the appropriate position to make a return to a franchise. The integrity of his individual films, whether it be achieved in its theatrical run or his numerous directors cuts, is long-rumored to be credited to his hard-ass approach to filmmaking. Scott is considered, after all, to be the “father” of the director’s cut with its inception in the 80’s as associated with Blade Runner – a production which garnered him nicknames like “Guvnor” and the “Blood Runner”.
Though his upcoming prequels are still a ways off, already we can begin to see from a distance these characteristics seeping out of the production. Scott and his screenwriter, Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, have taken what was originally supposed to be merely another entry in the long-running franchise and reportedly turned it into – surprise, surprise – a one-off stand-alone story! According to Lindelof, the plot has been taken in an “new direction” with characters and a universe in what is now an “original mythology.” Scott concludes that it is “the singular tale I’ve been searching for.” Perhaps this is just what it needed in order to fall in line with “Ridley’s Winners”. Could it be that a director can be so prone to a certain kind of artistry that he finds himself unable to avoid falling into his own trope of un-serialized works? It could be that this is precisely what makes his works fresh, with focus on ingenuity of film production trumping a simple re-treading. Or does he owe greater responsibility to a long-established and beloved series? We’ll know the answer soon enough.