#340. Ridley Scott

While some directors have found success in a single genre, others have perfected their craft so well that they can find success in multiple genres. Ridley Scott has directed many successful and memorable films over the years, which is practically a testament to his prolific repertoire as much as it is his artistic vision. It can be challenging to nail down what his most significant successes are to pigeonhole him into a genre. His science fiction films have been iconic, but he’s also received critical acclaim for historical pieces. From dark fantasies (Legend (1985)) to modern heist comedies (Thelma & Louise (1991) and Matchstick Men (2003)), Ridley Scott has done them all. This week’s two films highlight some of the early successes in Ridley Scott’s directing career.

AlienAlien
Year: 1979
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

After his directorial debut with The Duellists (1977), Scott transitioned from historical drama to sci-fi/horror. It is significant to note that, while Scott did not direct the direct sequels of Alien (1979) (a task given to James Cameron and David Fincher), he did retake the helm when it came time to reboot the series via the prequel films that started with Prometheus (2014). With the original director back in control, Alien: Covenant (2017) helped to continue the revitalization of the Alien franchise. Of course, with this much experience in directing plots set on alien worlds, it’s no wonder that his adaptation of The Martian (2015) also gained him a nomination for Best Picture. Sure, his historical epic, Gladiator (2000), actually won Best Picture, but since he didn’t also produce it, he only received a nomination for Best Director for his efforts.

On the distant planet of LV-426, the crew of the Nostromo finds themselves the unwitting victims of the greed of their corporate benefactors. They soon learn the distress signal from the planet was a trap, and now one of their crew has been incapacitated by a face-hugging alien. After the alien falls off of its own accord, the alien bursts out of the crew member’s chest and runs away to hide in the ship. Picking off each member of the squad, one-by-one, the rapidly-matured alien is now on course to return to Earth, thanks to the android who was following the orders of the company that employs the Nostromo. As the only survivor, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) arms herself to confront the indestructible beast loose on her ship. Few options remain for Ripley as she tries to escape while at the same time destroying the horrific alien.

Blade RunnerBlade Runner
Year: 1982
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

A mere three years after Alien was released, Scott knocked it out of the park again with Blade Runner (1982). Many hold his “Director’s Cut” of the film to be the best version, clearly showing his vision for the movie was better than the one Warner Brothers wanted to sell. Much like Alien, he left the sequel to Blade Runner in another director’s (eventually) capable hands. Even so, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is incredible, but still misses the spark of the Ridley Scott original. After all, Blade Runner was groundbreaking for its set design, a trend seen throughout Scott’s other films. Whether it’s Biblical Egypt in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) or the streets of Somalia in Black Hawk Down (2001), Ridley Scott takes us to these locations and immerses us in the settings, even if they’re in a future not yet arrived, like in Blade Runner.

In the year 2019, android technology has become so advanced that it is near impossible to tell the difference between them and normal humans. Because these androids often act up, Blade Runners are employed to “retire” the robots and keep humanity safe. While many androids have a short lifespan, some of them are looking to extend their life. One such android is Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), who has assembled a team of androids and returned to Earth to “meet their maker,” so to speak. Consequently, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is put to the task of being the Blade Runner to take out these androids. He soon learns the standard emotional tests to distinguish androids aren’t sufficient, and he must use his skills as a former police officer to track down these androids and prevent them from killing any more people.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 superb Ridley Scott movies

Bacon #: 2 (Prometheus (directed) / Michael Fassbender -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)

#161. Philip K. Dick

If there were one author who could spawn some of the greatest stories ever written, it would be Philip K. Dick. This prolific writer wrote almost 50 novels and nearly three times as many short stories in his 30-year career. Even though his life was cut short at 53 due to a stroke, his influence and stories have taken on a new life on the silver screen. In fact, only a few months after his death, the most celebrated of all film adaptations of his works was released: Blade Runner (1982). This first adaptation of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? paved the way for many other adaptations, even if some of them weren’t as critically acclaimed as Blade Runner. This week, we will examine two films adapted from the prolific works of Philip K. Dick, extending his legacy out decades past his untimely death.

PaycheckPaycheck
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

One of the many themes we see through Dick’s writings is that of the mind. Even though we often consider our memories to be “truth,” we can usually be mistaken based on many factors including our perception of a situation in hindsight. If our memories can be adjusted due to a mere suggestion, what’s to say that memories can’t be removed or implanted? For instance, in We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Dick writes about implanting memories of a lifestyle different from your own, dreary existence. This was adapted in Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Similarly, what if we can “remember” the future? What if knowing what will happen in the next two minutes could save your life? This is the plot of Next (2007), an adaptation loosely based on the short story, The Golden Man. Finally, the short story, Paycheck (2003), seeks to regain erased memories.

The erased memories of Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) aren’t helping him out in the slightest. After a three-year job that was supposed to net him an obscenely large paycheck, he instead receives a smattering of random items with a total value under $5. To add insult to injury, the payroll office tells him that he signed away his fortune to replace it with those items a few weeks ago. Furthermore, the government wants to know what he was working on, which starts a game of cat-and-mouse as Michael evades the FBI and tries to retrace his steps to regain his memories. Along the way, the items he received as payment come in handy during crucial events, allowing him to continue to elude the federal agents and infiltrate the company where he worked for three years. Once he finds the machine he helped build, suddenly the items he gave himself make a lot more sense.

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

A few more themes often seen in the works of Philip K. Dick involve the government controlling our lives, as well as the effects of drugs on society. The adaptation of Minority Report (2002), which was a short story of the same name, shows how criminals can be controlled by a triad of psychics who can predict when and where crimes will happen, thereby allowing law enforcement to intercept the criminals before they commit the crimes. Another short story, The Adjustment Team, was adapted as The Adjustment Bureau (2011). In this story, the government is in control of our lives and will do whatever it takes to make sure we live out our destinies according to their plans. However, perhaps the most harrowing example of governmental control is that of A Scanner Darkly (2006), based on the novel of the same name.

I say that A Scanner Darkly is harrowing because it involves constant government surveillance of American citizens. Sound familiar? Not only is this another take on the surveillance society imagined in George Orwell’s 1984, but the revelations of the NSA spying on Americans makes it almost a prophetic story. Of course, the reasons for the increased surveillance are due to the prevalent spread and use of a hallucinogenic drug known as “Substance D.” Even undercover agents, like “Fred” (Keanu Reeves), have trouble keeping clean from the drug as they try to figure out where it’s coming from. In a bit of irony, “Fred” is tasked to watch the surveillance tapes of a suspected drug lord, Bob Arctor. The irony is that “Fred” and Bob are the same person, even if the drugs have caused him to think otherwise.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous science fiction stories