The James Clayton Column: Sir Ridley Scott returns

The arrival of The Counsellor in UK cinemas leaves James thinking about director Ridley Scott's career, and what he's up to next...

The Counsellor has arrived, and with it we find Sir Ridley Scott returning to cinemas. He keeps on returning and will make many more future returns. The fact that he turns 76 at the end of this month is irrelevant because the director shows no sign of stopping, and there’s no reason why he should.

At least, that’s my personal view as someone who always looks forward to seeing Scott’s latest feature at the multiplex. It’s good to know that he’s still going strong and making films at a prolific rate, because the movie scene would be slightly sorrier without him. A quick sweep across a filmography that includes such eclectic classics as Alien, Blade Runner, Legend, Gladiator and Kingdom Of Heaven (the Director’s Cut, of course) re-affirms his significance.

What Sir Ridley (and it feels wrong to not call him Sir) consistently brings is an artistic eye and a poetic quality to strikingly visual motion pictures that stoke up thoughts about deeper themes. Both style and substance are on offer in every single Scott production, and it’s to his credit that he’s kept it up over a long career, whether he’s been basking in golden glory or wrestling with obstacles. Over those 35 years, Scott has kept on moving around and searched out challenging projects across an array of genres. As a result, he’s lasted as an auteur who’s well worth following and he’s kept things interesting for both himself, his collaborators and cinemagoers.

I’d raise Ridley as a prime counter to any assumption that directors lose their edge in old age. The idea that elderly filmmakers become either living fossils or pipe-and-slipper bores only able to peddle elegiac fogie flicks is shot down as soon as you recall the recent activity of, say, Martin Scorsese, Terry Gilliam and Sir Scott – all of them septuagenarians with the creative zest, style and active minds of men far younger than pension age.

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Sticking with our man of the moment, a run over Sir Ridley’s output since he hit the big seven-zero shows clear vitality and willing creative verve to produce sophisticated pictures with that personal panache. In the past five-or-so years we’ve seen him produce a period American crime biopic (American Gangster), a contemporary Middle East-set spy thriller (Body Of Lies), a revisionist historical epic rooting British folk legend in realism (Robin Hood) and then a cosmic horror blockbuster prequel (Prometheus, which I’ll come back to in detail later).

Coming up to date, we find Scott directing The Counsellor, which is a dialogue-driven thriller deeply interested in exploring morality. It has a starry ensemble cast – Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt – and was written by novelist Cormac McCarthy (his first screenplay). Altogether, there’s a lot going for The Counsellor, and I’m intrigued as I contemplate the movie as a radically different beast from the special effects-heavy interstellar blockbuster bombast of Scott’s last feature.

These jarring genre jumps and shifts in theme and tone are nothing new for Scott. After all, this is the same man who made Oscar-nominated feminist road-movie Thelma & Louise and overlooked historical epic 1492: Conquest Of Paradise within the space of a year. That proactive diverse dabbling characterises Scott’s career though the ramping up of momentum in recent years has meant that the Knight Bachelor now has more myriad projects on a super-stacked slate than ever before.

Alongside his directing gigs, Scott has been racking up producer credits on a multitude of movies (including Stoker, The Grey and Welcome To The Punch) and TV series (Pillars Of The Earth and its follow-up World Without End to name just two). Somehow he also managed to find time to direct a Lady Gaga perfume commercial and a star-studded religious TV drama in the shape of The Vatican which is currently in post-production.

It’s more exciting to consider Scott’s cinematic slushpile, though, and that minor mountain contains an array of possible projects of great potential. Cormac McCarthy’s dark Western novel Blood Meridian, Joe Haldeman’s sci-fi novel The Forever War, Tom Epperson’s novel The Kind One and the Matt Kindt comic book series MIND MGMT have all talked of as prospective Scott adaptations at some point.

He’s also stated that he’d like to turn the Red Riding television trilogy into a feature film and a report from earlier this week suggests that a sports drama exploring head trauma in American football may be in the pipeline. There’s the ongoing development of Prometheus 2 which will hopefully happen, clear up some unresolved metaphysical mysteries and provide answers to all the questions we’ve been left hanging with. (My top priority question: what becomes of Michael Fassbender’s David 8?)

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All of these things may or may not come to pass, but at least we know that Scott definitely has a film on the go and in production right now to follow The Counsellor. In typical fashion, the director has opted for a total change and decided to craft a biblical epic in the form of Exodus.

Christian Bale is Moses, Joel Edgerton is Pharaoh Ramesses II and Ridley Scott will be parting the Red Sea and undoubtedly topping Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments in the process. This one is definitely a ‘definite’ as it’s currently shooting and scheduled for release in cinemas next December.

Exodus will thus occur, but there are  a couple of other things to look forward to, and those things are even more tantalising than the prospect of Scott rebuilding the ancient Egyptian civilisation and calling God out of a burning bush. The two major ‘maybes’ on his desk, caught in the mysterious ethereal limbo state that is ‘in development’, are the aforementioned Prometheus 2 and – the big one – a sequel/prequel/sidequel spin-off to Blade Runner.

Prometheus marked Sir Ridley’s return to sci-fi and to the world of Alien – a huge franchise he had a crucial hand in establishing way back in the late 70s. After three decades away he took the essence of his self-contained claustrophobic suspense chiller and audaciously amped up the scope in order to create a grandiose cosmic dread opera.

He’s thus already had a go at going back to revisit old concepts and made an attempt at expanding the mythos over 30 years later in a changed filmmaking climate, with advanced technology and different audience expectations. A new Blade Runner movie would be doing the same thing, except Blade Runner is a slightly more precious and peculiar commodity than the extraterrestrial horror iconography handled in Prometheus.

No one else has made a Blade Runner film since the 1982 original. A number of alternate versions and cuts have been released over the years, but there’s never been a direct sequel (or, indeed, series crossover) in the style of Alien‘s progeny. People had high hopes for Prometheus, because it was Ridley Scott reacquainting himself with Xenomorphs, but those hopes were kept partly in check because viewers had already ingested an array of other Alien movies of varying style and quality. There’s nothing to hold a fresh Blade Runner up against except the original.

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Consequently, there’s a huge amount of pressure to get this right if Ridley Scott is going to get this going at all. Blade Runner is a beloved genre classic, quite rightly discussed in reverential tones. It’s science fiction cinema’s holiest of holies and has acted as the aesthetic template for the majority of future-set pop culture works produced since. In addition to the visual wonder, it stands sacred as one of the genre’s most profound and poetic pictures.

Scott’s directorial vision is the key reason behind the movie’s cinematic resonance and that makes me optimistic about a Blade Runner sequel. I do have some slight apprehension, though, and understand fears that an untouchable classic’s legacy will be spoiled. It’s risky business when directors revisit their beloved blockbuster hits of yore and look to forge a fresh sequel aeons later – George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and Scott’s Prometheus all sit as excellent examples.

I actually like all of those movies – controversial, flawed and problematic as they are – and will defend them against all comers. For balance, I’ll flag up Robin Hardy’s recent spiritual sequel to The Wicker ManThe Wicker Tree – as an ill-advised directorial return scenario. Unfortunate cases like that and mental images of devastatingly disappointed fans come to mind every time some word about Martin Scorsese’s vague idea of a Taxi Driver sequel is uttered, or when a fresh update on Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice 2 hits the web.

I err on the side of optimism, though, and out of all the speculative revisitations rolling around the rumour mill, a new Blade Runner movie produced by Ridley Scott strikes me as the most appealing. There’s so much leftover potential in the world of the movie (and its source novel, Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) and I’d love to explore it some more at the cinema, especially if Scott is the one guiding us.

It remains to be seen, and we’ll just have to wait on the ever-busy director, hanging on to see what he wants to tackle after he’s moved on from The Counsellor and led the Exodus out of Egypt. Whatever Sir Ridley Scott decides to do will be worth keeping an eye out for – whether he returns with Tyrell Replicants, Weyland-Yutani androids or something totally different altogether.

James Clayton is excited about Sir Ridley Scott parting the Red Sea, recovering David 8’s head and reviving Roy Batty so we can have more of those moments that got lost in time, like tears in the rain. You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter

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