Ridley Scott says cinema is “mainly bad,” but has he looked at his run of movies from 2001 to 2015?
As popular as superhero movies have become, dominating pop culture and much of the current blockbuster movie landscape, many fans, critics and filmmakers have lamented how much Marvel and DC Comics tentpoles have taken over modern cinema. Add director Ridley Scott to the list of detractors.
Scott is currently making the promotional rounds as an executive producer for Taboo, a British miniseries that will premiere on FX on Jan. 10. He’s also working on the latest prequel to his legendary Alien film, Alien: Covenant, the trailer for which debuted over the Christmas holiday. With a brilliant career that dates back more than 40 years, Scott is also something of an elder statesman who has definite thoughts on current trends in filmmaking and cinema. And he doesn’t like what he sees out there these days.
“Cinema mainly is pretty bad,” Scott told Digital Spy. Given how disappointing last summer was at the movies, it’s pretty easy to agree with Scott. However, as often happens, the fall and winter redeemed the year with plenty of award-worthy offerings, such as La La Land, Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea. With Arrival, we even got a helping of the smart science fiction that Scott helped bring back with last year’s The Martian.
While Scott’s remark painted with a rather broad brush, he did narrow his focus on what he sees as the primary culprit in the decline of modern cinema: superhero movies. As you might expect for someone who has made iconic sci-fi films and several big-budget productions, Scott says he’s been asked to direct superhero films as they’ve grown in popularity.
“Superhero movies are not my kind of thing – that’s why I’ve never really done one,” he said.”[I’ve been asked] several times, but I can’t believe in the thin, gossamer tight-rope of the non-reality of the situation of the superhero.
Ridley Scott taking on a Batman or Superman film would instantly draw attention. Maybe he would be the sort of filmmaker that Marvel should pursue if the studio ever gets rolling on making an Inhumans project. Scott could also be just the boost that the X-Men franchise needs. However, he’s made it clear that he’s not interested. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But does he have to knock those types of films down to build his own movies up?
Scott is one of my all-time favorite directors. Alien and Blade Runner made me a movie lover and because of that, I’ve always had Scott on a pedestal. The Martian was one of the best movies of 2015. But since he made a Best Picture winner with Gladiator in 2000, he had a rather bad 15-year run of filmmaking. Personally, I like Black Hawk Down (2001) and I know many advocate the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven (2005). I’ll even give him a pass for 2006’s A Good Year, because it introduced American audiences to Marion Cotillard, who I’d consider a kingdom of heaven.
Yet that 15-year run also includes the forgettable American Gangster and Body of Lies, yet another version of Robin Hood that no one was asking for (nor really remembers), and the utterly disappointing Alien prequel Prometheus, which made no sense whatsoever. Oh, and he followed that up with the nonsensical The Counselor and the whitewashed Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings. Hey, they can’t all be gems. Not everything a great director touches will be spectacular.
I think Scott deserves to make whatever movie he wants. Basically, that’s exactly what he’s done. But he’s heaving rocks from a glass house when talking about the current state of film.
Superhero movies certainly aren’t the pinnacle of cinema. I doubt anyone would argue that. But they’re fun and entertaining. With Marvel movies, especially, the product has generally lived up to the hype. Last year’s Captain America: Civil War was arguably one of the best examples yet. Fox also made the surprising Deadpool. (The studio shouldn’t get too high and mighty about that, however. We were also subjected to X-Men: Apocalypse.) Yet Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were two of the most disappointing films of last year, leading to justifiable doubt that Warner Brothers might not know what it’s doing with its superhero properties.
Part of the problem might be something Scott pointed to: These movies don’t necessarily have great stories.
“I’ve done that kind of movie – Blade Runner really is a comic strip when you think about it, it’s a dark story told in an unreal world. You could almost put Batman or Superman in that world, that atmosphere, except I’d have a f**king good story, as opposed to no story!”
A big reason for that is that very few of the Marvel and DC movies are standalone stories. They’re made with the intention of being part of a larger story, of building a cinematic universe. Despite the spectacle they provide, many of these films feel unsatisfying because they don’t tell a complete story. Several of them just feel like set-up for the next blockbuster. But since we constantly want more, it doesn’t feel like a problem.
For a filmmaker like Scott, making part of a story would understandably be a problem. He’d essentially be a cog in a bigger machine, and his career warrants far more than that at this point. Directors definitely matter, as DC Films is finding out the hard way in struggling to find filmmakers for its slate of projects. As amazing as it might be for Scott to take on one of these properties, he’s kind of above that.
But early in his career, in the late 1970s, Scott likely would have been eager to jump on one of these projects. Has a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan — who could be considered something of a modern-day Ridley Scott and was influenced by Blade Runner with Batman Begins — contributed to the decline of cinema? Perhaps Scott wouldn’t include Nolan in his wider criticism, and Nolan refused to be part of a DC cinematic universe with his Batman films. However, it’s not like these movies haven’t been without merit.
In the meantime, we’ll find out if Scott exhuming the films he’s best known for to direct or produce sequels and prequels turns out well. Studios and fans wanted more Alien and Blade Runner from him, so that’s what he’s making. How different is that from studios and fans wanting more Avengers, Spider-Man and Batman movies, really?