Filmmaker Ridley Scott receives a lifetime achievement award at the Lido, and his latest film “The Last Duel” is celebrating its world premiere. It closes the circle with the debut film “The Duellists”, with which the steep career began in 1977.
Sir Ridley Scott’s life is divided into two roughly equal halves: one in front of the cinema and one with the cinema. The British director came to his appointment relatively late, his debut film “The Duellists” did not appear until 1977. At the time he was 40 and had a successful career as a graphic artist, set designer, but above all as a television and commercial filmmaker.
But even if he had already created countless images and worlds, there seemed to be a minimum size for his type of cinema: If Scott had not become a filmmaker, he would have built monuments out of marble. Knighted in 2003, the films not only strive towards smooth, flawless perfection, but also towards larger-than-life consistency. They are usually far-reaching and long, as if that alone made them weighty.
At home in every genre
Scott feels at home in every genre, from science fiction and fantasy to crime films and thrillers to tragic comedies and dramas. He has been making major entertainment films for 40 years. Even if there were some financial and critical flops among them, the moviegoers have remained loyal to him.
He doesn’t necessarily shoot typical audience favorites. He lacks the warmth or sentimentality of colleagues like Steven Spielberg, and his films are rarely fast-paced and straightforward, mostly spreading out in different directions.
Scott’s films tend to be cold and aloof. Not entirely humorless, but with a serious tone. You are in control. More technical than human. His first 16mm short film, “Boy and Bicycle” (1965), had water towers and blast furnaces in Northern England tower over his main character.
A certain dominance of furnishings, landscape and architecture over its residents has always remained. You can recognize a Scott film by certain camera movements: the deliberate, mechanically strict exploration and scanning of an unknown place, a slow glide through spaceships, apartments and temples, which are explained solely by their furnishings. Films like “Gladiator” (2000) were technical milestones that raised the representation of ancient cities and monuments to a previously unknown level.
Scott’s films are also considered cold and post-human because they often focus on characters who barely understand human emotions. They are populated by androids who live undetected among humans, such as Ash from “Alien” (1979) or David from “Prometheus” (2012). Rick Deckard from “Blade Runner” (1982) doesn’t even know that he is different, at most he feels it gently at the edge of his perception.
But the human heroes also stand apart from the crowd, are frustrated by societies and conditions. Scott negotiates the conflict between the individual and the masses in many films; the authorities are usually incapable or easily corruptible; they have to fail to make room for heroism. In the mighty battles – from “Kingdom of Heaven” 2005 to “Exodus: Gods and Kings” 2014 – the work of the individual is always decisive.
Often they are romantic heroes, driven by the desire to make the world new through their own strength alone. The Roman general Maximus from “Gladiator” (2000), “Robin Hood” (2010), “Thelma & Louise” (1991), also his version of Hannibal Lecter (“Hannibal”, 2000) or the nameless heroine of his most famous commercial “1984 “- they fight (almost) alone against everyone.
These heroes aspire to be gods. Her attempts to subjugate nature seem almost biblical – for example, the undeveloped America (“1492 – The Conquest of Paradise” 1992) or the inhumane surface of Mars (“Der Martianer” 2015).
People, creation, legacy
Old and new gods often meet in Scott’s late work. The themes that have always been present – the origins of man, creation, legacy – become text from subtext. Films like “Prometheus”, “Exodus: Gods and King” and “Alien: Covenant” are openly spiritual.
According to the Bible, God created man in his own image, with Scott it is the other way around: His god figures look like him, look at the film worlds like a director. Already in “Exodus” there was a dialogue between God and man – only that God appeared there as a child. Since the assassination of the replicant inventor Tyrell in “Blade Runner”, creatures have turned against their creator at Scott.
It is no coincidence that in recent years he has just returned to the universes that had become independent, that were granted a life of their own apart from the powers of their inventor. Ultimately, these films also represent a kind of self-exploration
da: Why have “Alien” and “Blade Runner” become his best known, most popular and certainly also the most important projects?
Indeed: in these colossal, at first glance very impersonal film monuments, one encounters their creator. A good example is the Bible adaptation “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, which one could all too easily mistake for a pure material battle in the tradition of Cecil B. DeMille. Only when you read Scott’s dedication to his brother (who committed suicide) in the credits do you realize what attracted him to the story: the duel of an unequal pair of brothers who have many things in common and even more apart.
Scott’s films always tell of human creation and becoming. The individual creations of a filmmaker are hidden behind impersonal facades. They tell of the power of fiction to animate the inanimate.
It is not for nothing that the most famous scene from “Blade Runner” is probably the most famous from Scott’s films: the desperate last testament of a dying replicant. “I’ve seen things you humans would never believe,” proclaims Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), and showing such things seems to be Scott’s declared aim.
Transformations – from animal or object to human, from human to artist to God, from fictional to true – are the essence of cinema for him. He creates films that let you look for the human in the inhuman. And find.