Ridley Scott

Alien: Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott)

Alien: Covenant is at its best when it’s pedestrian as opposed to anything else. Director Scott botches all of the big action set pieces; the more CGI vehicles involved, the worse it gets. The first false ending action sequence has “protagonist” Katherine Waterston suspended in mid-air from a careening CGI space ship while she fights a CGI alien in front of a CGI backdrop. Scott brings zero energy to it, which is appropriate as Waterston brings zero energy to her performance.

Waterston gets second-billing, even though technically Billy Crudup’s deeply religious captain gets more to do. He actually gets to do something with his character arc. Waterston’s is all in the first act and the film rushes through it. In space, no one has time for character development, especially not when Scott is setting up the film’s premise.

A colony ship experiences a freak accident then discovers a mysterious signal from far away. So they go and investigate. Aliens and another Michael Fassbender (he’s already in the movie on the ship) show up to make things difficult. The Fassbender they find is the one from the previous movie in the franchise–Prometheus, not Alien: Resurrection, though John Logan and Dante Harper’s script is loaded with desperate callbacks to the original series. Even more desperate is when Scott tries to do them. All it does is remind not just of better films but better acted ones.

Fassbender is fine, though a little too restrained for the absurd roles he’s got. Playing opposite himself, his ability results in some good scenes–made pedestrian by Chris Seagers’s worst production design on the film–but everyone else is mediocre at best. Crudup occasionally seems like he might try, but there’s nothing to do with the part it turns out so he gives up. Carmen Ejogo is so wasted as his wife, it’s never clear if she’s religious too (religion is frowned upon in the future, something the disasterous outcomes of the plot confirm as a good). Danny McBride has a big part as one of the ship’s pilots. He’s atrocious and not even comically so, because Scott has absolutely no sense of humor. Not even when he’s desperately trying to remind the viewer they probably liked at least the first two Alien movies.

Besides Fassbender, who’s uneven in one of his roles–he kind of flops with the blandly American accent–Demián Bichir is probably best. He’s got nothing to do, but at least he never embarrasses himself.

The score is either Jed Kurzel’s generic action music or Jerry Goldsmith’s themes from the original Alien; in space, the nostalgia is strong.

The sad part is even when he’s not contending with too much CGI, Scott just doesn’t have the pacing. Not to make it scary, not to make it exciting. Though he’s not the problem. Not even the script is the problem (well, not until the tacked on, way too long third act); it’s Waterston, Crudup, McBride, and the assorted supporting cast members who have no presence and only occasional competence. Scott doesn’t seem to think directing his actors is important. It’s not clear what he thinks is important to direct in Alien: Covenant. He’s not even energetic enough to be desperate.

Dariusz Wolski’s photography is mostly good. Not so much when he’s in Seagers’s dreary catacombs or any of the night scenes. But he’s much better at lighting Covenant than, say, Pietro Scalia is at editing it. Everything, even when it’s genially pedestrian, goes on too long.

Kind of like this franchise, at least with Scott steering it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper, based on a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Jed Kurzel; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by David Giler, Walter Hill, Scott, Mark Huffam, and Michael Schaefer; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Michael Fassbender (David / Walter), Katherine Waterston (Daniels), Billy Crudup (Oram), Danny McBride (Tennessee), Demián Bichir (Lope), Carmen Ejogo (Karine), and Amy Seimetz (Faris).


Alien (1979, Ridley Scott), the director’s cut

Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of Alien feels like vaguely engaged exercise more than any kind of devout restoration. Its less than artistic origins–Scott cut it together a combination, apparently, of fan service and studio marketing needs–actually help it quite a bit in the first act. Scott’s new cut rushes things, though it doesn’t really rush them anywhere. At the beginning, it’s kind of neat to see how he’s able to move things faster (so long as you’re generally familiar with the film and its plot), only once he runs out of story, Scott and the film stumble repeatedly.

This Alien maintains establishing shots and transition shots; Scott and new editor David Crowther hurry the actual scenes, cutting into performances. John Hurt is deemphasized, Ian Holm is more emphasized. Even though there might be more Sigourney Weaver, it takes her even longer to assume the lead role because with an increased presence for Holm, the dynamic changes. And Scott and Crowther don’t really adjust for it later, because they’re not cutting for performances, they’re cutting getting in new footage. In trying not to be sensational, Scott just makes it even worse. He doesn’t account for what his new pace is doing to how the film plays on its own, not as a special feature.

The collision of Holm and Weaver doesn’t pace well, for instance, but once its resolved, Alien: The Director’s Cut finds its footing once again. Sure, it loses it again and never quite recovers, but it loses it in the place where Alien just loses its footing, the third act. There are some “director’s cut” specific problems in the third act, which hurt the pacing and the overall experience because it’s clear when inserted footage is taped in–Crowther’s editing doesn’t match Terry Rawling’s at all, which is another big problem. It’s disjointed. In the first act, it’s kind of charming; after over an hour, it’s just tiresome.

Maybe the greatest disservice of Alien: The Director’s Cut is to the Jerry Goldsmith score. It feels more rushed than anything else. Goldsmith creates this sterile calm, a disappointing tranquility, and Scott and Crowther don’t have any time for it.

Scott should’ve just let the additional footage bloat Alien. The trims he makes elsewhere aggravate quickly before ultimately failing. At least bloated, the film would have some personality. Instead, it feels like Scott trying to turn Alien into more of a crowd-pleaser. But for a limited, familiar audience. He’s not trying to make a better film.

Luckily, the pieces are still strong. Holm, Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, all great. Veronica Cartwright gets more to do and has less of a character as a result. Weaver experiences something similar; Scott hacks at her and Skerritt’s scenes just enough to weaken them both. Weaver’s performance deserves a lot more respect, frankly. It takes her too much for granted.

And somehow Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton lose their mojo in the new cut. Most of the content remains, but none of the personality. Again, Crowther’s using a dull hatchet on Rawling’s delicate scalpel cuts.

Alien, the director’s cut, isn’t so much a missed opportunity as a pointless endeavor. But it could have turned out a lot worse. Scott’s lack of ambition might be the saving grace.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


Loom (2012, Luke Scott)

And the award for feckless pretentiousness goes to… drum roll please… Luke Scott for Loom. Yay!

Loom‘s actually not bad for most of its twenty minute runtime. The first half is about thirty times better than the second, but whatever. Both have Giovanni Ribisi and he’s great, even if the script does fail him the second half.

After Scott “borrows” design and story detail ideas from, in no order, Twelve Monkeys, Gattaca and Hardware, he finishes with some kind of strange giant clone lady–poorly played by Jelly Howie–who Ribisi’s apparently growing in his apartment.

It’s unclear if Scott cast Howie because of her height, her acting ability or her willingness to do pointless nudity.

There are actually good female performances in the film–Jae Jung and Erica Piccininni are both excellent in their scenes–so Scott’s must just like bad lead female performances.

Ribisi’s the whole show.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Luke Scott; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Jason Hellmann; music by Colin Smith and Simon Elms; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by Ridley Scott, Jules Daly, Jim Jannard and Jarred Land.

Starring Giovanni Ribisi (Tommy Galvin), Jelly Howie (Escha), Erica Piccininni (Shelley), Jae Jung (Agent Saville), Patrick Foy (Agent Walton), Anthony Rutowicz (Igor) and Gino Aquino (Tico).


Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott)

Given its $120 million price tag, one might think Prometheus would have a script above Internet fan fiction. It does not. Director Scott is more than happy to run with a dumb script–which often forgets subplots and story threads, not to mention is full of pointless action scenes. Prometheus tries very hard to be smart; it fails miserably. It’s also really boring for a two hour sci-fi action movie.

A lot of its stupidity is forgivable. What isn’t particularly forgivable is how Scott, after distancing the project from Alien in the press, has all sorts of eye roll inducing Alien references in it. He does have quite a few really smart 2001 homages, however. His mishandling of the film is bewildering.

For example, most of his casting is fantastic. Michael Fassbender is amazing as the android; he’s kind of bad (an unoriginal development), but still sympathetic. That sympathy’s partially due to his primary antagonist–one of the film’s protagonists, Logan Marshall-Green–giving a laughably atrocious performance. Marshall-Green is the only weak actor. Top-billed Noomi Rapace barely makes an impression thanks to Scott’s inexplicable emphasis on Marshall-Green.

In major supporting roles, Idris Elba and Charlize Theron are excellent. The rest of the large cast make little impression; Scott can’t handle them.

Dariusz Wolski’s photography is lovely, the special effects are great, Marc Streitenfeld’s music is solid.

Scott decided instead of shooting for a good Alien prequel, Prometheus should be pretentious and stupid. Bully for him.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Marc Streitenfeld; production designer, Arthur Max; produced by David Giler, Walter Hill and Scott; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Noomi Rapace (Elizabeth Shaw), Michael Fassbender (David), Logan Marshall-Green (Charlie Holloway), Charlize Theron (Meredith Vickers), Idris Elba (Janek), Sean Harris (Fifield), Rafe Spall (Millburn), Emun Elliott (Chance), Benedict Wong (Ravel) and Guy Pearce (Peter Weyland).


Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

Can you even watch Alien if you have epilepsy?

After about a hundred minutes of elegant direction, Scott relies on this strobe effect for the remainder of the film’s running time. Yes, it makes a disquieting effect, but it gets old in a few minutes and he uses it for at least fifteen. And, strobe effect or not, it does not disguise the strange inadequacy of the climatic threat resolution shot. The special effects—after two hours of great ones—are all of a sudden pedestrian. It’s like Scott gave up.

Luckily, Jerry Goldsmith saves the day with a lift from Howard Hanson and all is reasonably well.

The first hour of Alien is very different from the second. It’s a group film, with Scott not really concentrating on any one actor more than another (except Veronica Cartwright, who’s clearly at the back of the line). In fact, traditionally speaking, the filmmaking implies John Hurt is going to be the lead from his introduction. But the background activity—what the cast members who aren’t the focus of scenes are doing—is what makes the film so striking. Whether it’s “real” or not, Alien’s supporting cast gives the impression of being deep characters. It’s something of an illusion, but it doesn’t much matter. The unsuccessful finish saves them.

While Sigourney Weaver is really strong, Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm might be stronger. She’s best with the other actors. And Tom Skerritt can’t be discounted.

Alien’s mostly masterful, which counts for something.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings and Peter Weatherley; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash) and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott), the final cut

I’m having trouble working up the enthusiasm for a Blade Runner post. Not because it isn’t a great film, but because I don’t really want to engage in this “Final Cut” business, which I guess I’m going to do anyway. I’ll get it out of the way… Ridley Scott’s “Final Cut” is, so far as I can tell–with the exception of the filmic equivalents of sound bytes–no different from the studio-produced “Director’s Cut.” Or, if he did add or remove anything, it doesn’t change the experience. I kept waiting for something to provide further evidence for his overall thesis on the piece and it isn’t there (having the actor and writers working against you–not to mention the source novel, though I can’t see Ridley reading the source novel–can’t help). It’s cleaner, clearer and the same as the last time I watched it. Or as I recall.

Trying to figure out how Ridley Scott could have turned out such a delicate and subtle film–Blade Runner is, essentially, a film noir set in the future, but down to the subtext of people and their work and their relationship to that work, which figures greatly in to all film noir (and, actually, Ridley’s “truth” behind the film would invalidate). It’s a film noir in the classic, non-neo-noir sense. Sure, the Rutger Hauer scenes break away a little, but it’s really about the detective. And, in the truest film noir sense, it’s about the detective spending a long time figuring something out he could have figured out in a minute had he not been drunk and feeling sorry for himself.

And even though he becomes secondary for a lot of the last act, Blade Runner is one of Harrison Ford’s best performances. He’s the Dick Powell of the future. While Hauer is excellent too, I think Sean Young was the most surprising. She’s perfect in the role. The supporting cast is also excellent, but it’s mostly about those three.

As for Ridley. I really cannot reconcile the excellence he does in this film with anything else he’s done before or since. It suggests a real understanding of the material, though everything he says about the film suggests he doesn’t have one. Though… he relies a lot on Vangelis’s score, which manages to make the future, visibly uninteresting and banal to the film’s characters, magical to the viewer.

Until the second to last scene… when Ford gets the magic too.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Jordan Cronenweth; edited by Marsha Nakashima and Les Healey; music by Vangelis; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Michael Deeley and Charles de Lauzirika; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Harrison Ford (Rick Deckard), Rutger Hauer (Roy Batty), Sean Young (Rachael), Edward James Olmos (Gaff), M. Emmet Walsh (Bryant), Daryl Hannah (Pris), William Sanderson (J.F. Sebastian), Brion James (Leon Kowalski), Joe Turkel (Eldon Tyrell), Joanna Cassidy (Zhora), James Hong (Hannibal Chew) and Morgan Paull (Holden).


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