The anticipation that has been building ever since Ridley Scott announced that he was planning some sort of ‘prequel’ to his much-loved space-thriller Alien is testament to the respect in which the British directing knight is held (he refuses to be addressed by Sir), and the grip the simple extra-galactic tale still has on the imagination.
But we’ve been here before – with George Lucas and Star Wars, remember, and that didn’t work out so well, so probably best to contain excitement until the final credit has rolled on the release of Prometheus this week.
Prometheus is no longer the prequel originally promised, but more a story “from the same universe”, whatever that means. And stars including Charlize Theron have promised that both Alien fans and non-Alien fans (that’s everybody in the same universe then, according to my Venn diagram) “will not be disappointed”.
It all comes down to whether Ridley Scott, in his 76th year, still has the energy and vision that have made him such a pair of safe hands with big budgets and strong stories. Here’s a quick timeline of a career that has a lot more good than bad – what’s your favourite?
The 5 films that made Ridley Scott an icon…
1979 – Alien
Not the original space blockbuster – that epithet belongs to the Star Wars three years before – but one of the best and most enduring, with a very simple tale of a mining ship landing on a distant planet, and finding some strange eggs. It made a global star of ball-buster Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, and the much-spoofed, imitated but never bettered vision of John Hurt having his dinner interrupted is one of cinema’s most strikingly awful images.
1982 – Blade Runner
Ridley Scott managed to make a haunting romance out of a futuristic, dystopian tale, when the Blade Runner of the title Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford at the height of his powers) is deployed to track down and terminate replicants who have returned to earth. Everything works here – Rutger Hauer’s ominous pale eyes, Sean Young’s despair, Vangelis’ smoky theme. And yes, it seems it’s one of Ridley Scott’s faves too as, 30 years later, there’s a sequel in the works.
1991 – Thelma and Louise
Only someone with Ridley Scott’s appreciation for women could have made this film, a tribute to female self-determination, even though the adventure of the two fugitive ladies is eventually what some might call doomed. Brad Pitt provided some eye candy early in his career, but the director gave the film over to his two leading ladies Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon who were both so good, they were both nominated for Oscars, and both lost, in what was no doubt a split vote situation, and a fitting metaphor for their on-screen teamwork.
2000 – Gladiator
A star is born, and he has Ridley Scott to thank. Despite his ease with the size of the arenas and long dusty landscapes, Ridley Scott didn’t forget to get heartrending performances out of his lead players. Russell Crowe stormed the box office and the Oscars as the grieving Maximus, and Joaquin Phoenix surprised new fans with his glowering villain Commodus. A massive tale of betrayal and vengeance, best seen a screen a bit bigger than that in an aeroplane seat.
2001 – Black Hawk Down
Only a director this respected could really be trusted not to betray many people’s memories with this real-life story of US soldiers landing in Somalia and becoming disastrously embroiled in local battle. In the wrong hands, this could have been horribly jingoistic fare, instead it brought a tiny corner of war to the big screen and showed the true cost of battle.
And a few more questionable ones…
Legend – A fantasy fable that often turns up on Christmas afternoons, and memorable, mostly, for Tim Curry’s campness, Mia Sara’s nonsensical damsel-in-distres turn, and Tom Cruise’s pre-Top Gun nashers. No hint of the more subtle talents Ridley Scott had in his armoury.
GI Jane – Demi Moore was more than an a wronged wife when this was made in 1997, she was one of the world’s top box office draws. And she threw herself into the role – head shaved, body buffed – of a female Navy Seal. Unfortunately, her lack of skill in the acting department was only shone up by the superior skills of Viggo Mortensen and Anne Bancroft around her.
A Good Year – Peter Mayle’s best-selling book brought to the big screen by one of the world’s most popular directors – what could go wrong? The aforementioned director not being able to say no to Russell Crowe, that’s what – with the lead role of a middle-aged Brit, unfathomably being given to an Australian star, still living out his hunk days. Soft focus and grapes don’t save this plodding tale, although the vineyards look fabulous.
Robin Hood – With Russell Crowe in full gladiatorial mode and Cate Blanchett giving it her imperious best, this should have been a no-brainer. Unfortunately, there were some jump-the-shark moments to behold – a very D-Day landing on a beach in 13th century England? – and Crowe reportedly almost ‘telephoned’ another reporter who dared ask him what accent he was doing. All in all, a big-budget excuse for two pals to hang out together in chainmail.
So a lot more good than bad – Will Prometheus add to the treasure chest of Ridley Scott glory, or go down with Robin Hood as an over-reach? At least there’s no Russell Crowe to distract us with an extra-galactic accent of his own choosing, and any spaceships we see will appear to fit this particular universe.
Prometheus will be released in cinemas 1 June in 3D nationwide.
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