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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Ridley Scott

'Prometheus': Should Ridley Scott return to sci-fi full time?

June 11, 2012 |  8:30 am

Director Ridley Scott's "Prometheus"Since making us cover our eyes and drop our jaws with 1979's "Alien," Ridley Scott has had a remarkably diverse career, even by the standards of established directors with broad appetites.

He's taken us into a world of political intrigue and bloody jousting ("Gladiator"). He's gone militaristic ("Black Hawk Down"), medieval ("Robin Hood" and "Kingdom of Heaven"), Japanese ("Black Rain") and undercover ("American Gangster"). He even tried the reborn wine guy in France ("A Good Year," even if it wasn't that for him).

Some of these adventuresome meanderings have been compelling ("Thelma & Louise"). Some have been less so ("G.I. Jane").

But the success of "Prometheus" this past weekend suggests something many Scott fans have suspected all along. Maybe all we really want from the director is to watch him do what he announced himself as good at from the start: explore a mysterious and troubled spacecraft far above the Earth, deep into the future.

"Prometheus" scored $50 million in its opening weekend, good enough for a strong second-place finish to "Madagascar 3" (and, it should be noted, garnering a better per-screen average). As my colleague Amy Kaufman pointed out, the Fox release was Scott's second-best opening ever (after 2001's "Hannibal"). The results hark back to "Alien," which is not only a similarly effects-driven movie with spiritual and scientific themes, but Scott's highest-grossing movie ever when adjusted for inflation.

More than just ticket sales, "Prometheus" earned Scott some of his best (if also polarized) reviews in a long time — and certainly some of his sharpest fan interest. Love or hate the movie, it's a conversation piece in a way a Scott film hasn't been in years.

The irony in the debate about whether the plot details the Michael Fassbender- and Noomi Rapace-starring "Prometheus" amounted to an "Alien" prequel — a battle waged with gusto by fans (and denied with gusto by Scott and the studio) — is that in the most important way, the movie did connect to the 1979 classic. Scott wasn't just revisiting science-fiction territory, he was using special-effects tools and the mysteries about the future to pose questions about the present.

From a box-office standpoint, the answer to the headline question is a resounding yes — few directors have done so many different things only to find success disproportionately in one realm.

From the perspective of Scott's — and our — interests, the answer is less evident, but, I'd argue, still clear. Yeah, we can hear all the comments already. Filmmakers should follow their heart and their story, challenging themselves with the new. Scott's done the sci-fi thing again now; he should move on.

Sure, some of the best directors — Danny Boyle, Ang Lee — never come close to repeating themselves. But even the most libertarian, let-directors-do-their-thing type might sing a different tune with Scott. The Brit has a particular gift for looking far off and seeing something that resides within ("Blade Runner," though set on this Earth, operates on this principle too.) Why doesn't he use it more often?

A filmmaker who keeps making the same movie or tries to reclaim past glories with endless spins on the same genre (see under: latter-day Tim Burton) is indeed boring.  But staying within a genre doesn't mean you can't also reinvent that genre or yourself (see under: Guillermo del Toro). The world's most successful auteur, in fact, sees the one-genre approach not as a prison but the culmination of a lifetime's search (see under: James Cameron evacuating all other projects to concentrate on "Avatar" sequels).

Scott may well listen to the voices that tell him to go period Rome or rural France. He's already preparing to direct "The Counselor," a legal drama with a drug-trafficking twist, and may make a sojourn to biblical Egypt afterward. But it's becoming harder to argue that he shouldn't just concentrate on booking return trips to outer space.

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— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus." Credit: 20th Century Fox


'Prometheus' comes up short of 'Alien' aspirations, critics say

June 8, 2012 |  3:56 pm

Prometheus
"Prometheus" director Ridley Scott has said, using an aptly biological metaphor, that his latest film shares DNA with his groundbreaking 1979 sci-fi horror show "Alien." The plot involves a group of scientists in space exploring the origins of life on Earth, and the big question surrounding the film is whether it can match "Alien" — or perhaps Scott's other sci-fi landmark, "Blade Runner" (1982). For critics, the answer seems to be: not quite.

The Times' Kenneth Turan writes that although "Prometheus" is "more involving than much of this year's summer blockbuster competition, by the standards set by its wizardly director it's something of a disappointment." While Scott succeeds as a technician — his first-ever use of 3-D is "expert," and he "remains a master creator of alternate worlds" — the director also "pushes too hard for significance" in a film with run-of-the-mill plotting. As far as acting, Charlize Theron is "strong" as an ice-cold corporate bigwig, Noomi Rapace is "hit and miss" as the lead scientist, and Michael Fassbender "excels" as the android David.

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'Dragon Tattoo' girl is at heart of Ridley Scott's ‘Prometheus’

June 7, 2012 |  5:00 am

Noomi rapace prometheus
In Noomi Rapace’s screen test for the lead role in “Prometheus,” the actress had to portray a young scientist trying to persuade a giant corporation to invest billions of dollars to take her on a journey to another planet in hopes of unraveling the origins and meaning of human life. The company has little more than her passion and intensity as its guide in determining whether to fund the venture.

The situation was strikingly similar to what director Ridley Scott was asking 20th Century Fox to do with Rapace: take a flier on an unknown.

The 32-year-old Swedish actress had achieved fame beyond her national borders thanks to her portrayal of the punk, damaged cyber-sleuth Lisbeth Salander in the three original “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” films. Still, her English was shaky and her first studio film, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” was not set to hit theaters for another year, so she was still largely unfamiliar to mainstream American audiences. Casting her as the lead character Elizabeth Shaw alongside Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron in a big-budget potential summer blockbuster wasn’t a slam-dunk.

Except to Scott, who was smitten with the actress from the first time he met her and worked closely with her on mastering the test. “Ridley worked with me as if it was a real scene,” Rapace said. “He kept saying to me, ‘You don’t have to prove anything, this is not a test for me. You’re my girl. We’re just doing this together so they can see that you can act in English.’”

The duo’s collaboration quickly convinced the studio she was the right choice.

“The film itself is about a lot of big, compelling ideas, so you can be a little risky in terms of the casting and take some chances,” said Emma Watts, Fox’s president of production. “The character of Shaw is an interesting mix. She’s a powerful character and she has a real inner strength, but she also has a vulnerability. I think it’s a hard role to fill, but Ridley was confident in Noomi from the get-go and he has a pretty good track record with casting.”

Continue reading »

'Prometheus' offers oozing sci-fi spectacle, early reviews say

May 31, 2012 |  5:30 am

Noomi Rapace in Prometheus

Stateside sci-fi fans will have to wait till June 8 to see "Prometheus," Ridley's Scott's long-awaited oblique prequel to the "Alien" franchise, but some early and international reviews are already in. The story, which involves a space mission investigating the origins of human life going predictably awry, has met with mixed reviews, but critics agree that Scott's film is visually stunning and that Michael Fassbender delivers a scene-stealing performance.

In the Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy writes that "Prometheus" "won't become a genre benchmark" like classics "Alien" and "Blade Runner" "despite its equivalent seriousness and ambition, but it does supply enough visual spectacle, tense action and sticky, slithery monster attacks to hit the spot with thrill-seeking audiences worldwide." Stars Noomi Rapace (of the Swedish version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and Charlize Theron perform admirably, and Fassbender, playing a genteel android, "excels as he's allowed to begin injecting droll comedy into his performance."

Variety's Justin Chang says the film "remains earthbound in narrative terms, forever hinting at the existence of a higher intelligence without evincing much of its own." Chang also takes exception to the "stock wise-guy types who spout tired one-liners" and the "orchestral surge of a score," which undermines the film's tension. On the other hand, "Scott and his production crew compensate to some degree with an intricate, immersive visual design that doesn't skimp on futuristic eye-candy or prosthetic splatter."

Like McCarthy, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw also invokes "Alien" and calls "Prometheus" "something more grandiose, more elaborate — but less interesting." It's also, he suggests, less frightening. On the bright side, it does have Fassbender, who turns in a "terrifically creepy performance" and "steals the film." Ultimately, Bradshaw says, "Prometheus" is "a muddled, intricate, spectacular film, but more or less in control of all its craziness and is very watchable."

The Telegraph's Tim Robey writes that "thanks to richly-designed planetary environments with plenty of H.R. Giger's original art in their DNA, the build-up to inevitable horrors is the most smoothly compelling part of Scott's movie." The movie isn't free of cliches, but Fassbender is "amusingly creepy and constantly interesting," and Rapace "gets better as she goes along."

Total Film's Jonathan Crocker also praises Fassbender's character as "brilliantly constructed" (pun presumably intended). Scott once again proves to have an impeccable eye for sci-fi surfaces ("the movie is "flawlessly designed"), although he's more adept "with Big Spectacle than Big Ideas." All told, "Prometheus" is "exciting, tense and fully impregnated for sequels."

As a touchstone for the "Alien" mythos and a potential new film franchise all its own, it looks as though "Prometheus" could be just the beginning.

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R rating for 'Prometheus': Will it hurt the film commercially?

Meet David the android from Ridley Scott's upcoming 'Prometheus'

— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus." Credit: Kerry Brown / 20th Century Fox


R rating for 'Prometheus': Will it hurt the film commercially?

May 7, 2012 |  4:47 pm

Promethe
Fox confirmed Monday that “Prometheus,” the much-anticipated sci-fi thriller from Ridley Scott, would be released as an R-rated film when it hits U.S. theaters June 8. (The official Motion Picture Assn. of America explanation for its rating: “sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language,” though it’s not exactly clear how sci-fi violence differs from the non-sci-fi kind).

The news has been welcomed by fan sites, which don’t want a diluted version of the Scott epic. The director has the clout to push through with an R even for a movie of significant budget, something not all filmmakers have been able to pull off (See under: Guillermo del Toro and his stalled “At the Mountains of Madness").

But will “Prometheus’ ” rating -- which of course means that no one under age 17 can (officially) buy a ticket without an adult -- hurt the Noomi Rapace-Michael Fassbender film at the box office?

Most big summer movies studiously avoid an R rating; in fact, it’s rare these days for a summer release that isn't a comedy to end up with one. The more prominent examples, such as Harrison Ford’s “Air Force One” or the Wachowskis' sequel “The Matrix Reloaded," came out nearly a decade ago or longer, before summer action movies were the gargantuan business they are today.

Most other tent poles take an “Avengers” tack -- tossing in enough violence to satisfy the action-hungry but stopping short of scenes that would land an R rating and keep teens out -- as I and my colleagues John Horn and Nicole Sperling explore in this front-page Times piece about the emergence of the PG-13 rating.

The closest analogy to “Prometheus” may be “300,” which is the highest-grossing R-rated action movie of the last five years. The swords-and-sandals epic grossed more than $200 million domestically -- but  that was a March release that blossomed into something bigger.

The trailers and buzz for Scott's film have been extremely strong--which means it could be the best test yet for Hollywood's avoid-the-R summer rule.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Noomi Rapace in Ridley Scott's "Prometheus." Credit: 20th Century Fox.


2012: From 'Hobbit' to 'Hunger Games,' seven stories to watch

January 3, 2012 |  7:00 am

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games."

The year that past was full of unexpected turns, from the ill-advised remarks of one Lars von Trier to an R-rated marital comedy, "Bridesmaids," that swept the nation. The year ahead promises even more juicy story lines. Here are seven to watch:

'Dark Knight' Rising.There was already anticipation galore for "The Dark Knight Rises," Christopher Nolan's final film in his Batman trilogy that hits theaters July 20. But the Christian Bale-starrer became an even greater object of fascination when Nolan was revealed to be filming near Occupy Wall Street — and a trailer showed that the film had the income gap and other hot-button economic issues on its mind.

Land of Lincolns. Considering how prominent a role he played in American history, it's hard to believe how few depictions there have been of Abraham Lincoln in recent years. (A Gore Vidal-derived TV movie comes to mind — a movie that aired in 1988.) That changes in 2012: June brings the release of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," in which Benjamin Walker plays a leader intent on rooting out the bloodsuckers. Next December, Daniel Day-Lewis gets his turn: The Oscar-winner plays the 16th president in Steven Spielberg's reconstruction of the final, critical months of Lincoln's life.

'Prometheus' ' fire.It was an "Alien" prequel, then it wasn't. Either way, Ridley Scott's new futuristic film, due June 8, about extraterrestrials seeking life on Earth, is one of the director's most anticipated in years. The presence of Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace doesn't hurt either.

'Hobbit' habit. The backstory to Peter Jackson's two "Hobbit" films may be more compelling than many films' actual story lines, what with all sorts of financing drama and Jackson stepping in to direct the film after Guillermo del Toro spent years developing it. We get the first of Jackson’s new pair of Tolkien adaptations — subtitled, fittingly, "An Unexpected Journey" — on Dec. 14.

Floating 'Battleship'? Maybe the only film whose pre-production news coverage rivaled "The Hobbit" was "Battleship," the Peter Berg-directed film based on the classic children's game. Aliens, spaceships and big effects will be in the offing when the movie comes out May 18. So will a reported $200-million budget, as the Hollywood and its toy- and game-obsession gets a key test.

'Hunger' pangs."The Twilight Saga" will come to an end in 2012. But another popular genre-based young-adult series begins its march to the big screen on March 23, with Jennifer Lawrence inhabiting Suzanne Collins' Katniss Everdeen. Fans will be watching the Gary Ross film carefully. So will the studio Lionsgate, which is eager to fill the void that Summit’s “Twilight” is leaving behind.

Christmas cheer.It seems like we're barely through this past holiday season. But next Dec. 25 is already looking like an auspicious date, particularly for those interested in U.S. period tales: it marks the release of Quentin Tarantino's slave story "Django Unchained" and Baz Luhrmann's 3-D reintepretation of "The Great Gatsby."

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— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Lionsgate


Is Steve Jobs' '1984' Apple spot an underrated film influence?

August 25, 2011 |  8:21 am

Steve Jobs, as news reports have been reminding us for the last 18 hours, has been a titan of technology and design. He also is a key figure behind Pixar, acquiring the platinum-caliber animation company 25 years ago.

But the recently resigned Apple CEO also may have had a subtle hand in shaping a different part of pop culture: live-action movies.

During the 1984 Super Bowl, it was Jobs' Apple that commissioned and ran the now-famous George Orwell-inspired spot for the newly created MacIntosh.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the dystopian commercial features a room populated by baldheaded  drones who sit transfixed as a propagandist leader brainwashes them from a giant screen. Into their room runs a woman, some jackbooted guards hot on her heels, who hurls a javelin at the screen, while a voiceover suggests that the Mac can help turn 1984 into something other than Orwell's (read: IBM's) dark vision.

Created by ad agency Chiat/Day, the spot became a sensation, helping to put Apple on the cultural map and launching the modern Super Bowl ad. (You can watch the commercial above; below, check out Jobs introducing the spot at a technology conference, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with  "Was George Orwell right about 1984?")

The spot's cinematic influences were vast -- the drones were a clear nod to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and the ad came as part of a larger culture of cinematic dystopia that had already produced movies such as "Blade Runner," which was, of course, also directed by Scott.

But the commercial also would go on to influence a number of movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Ben Richards in "The Running Man" would contain shades of the javelin thrower, and it's hard not to think of the ad when watching Alex Proyas' 1998 cult hit "Dark City."

Over the last decade, Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" and James McTeigue's "V for Vendetta" would take cues from the spot. Perhaps not concidentally, all three of these directors were in their impressionable late teens or early 20s when the Apple commercial hit.

The spot, which lasts only one minute, cost nearly a million dollars, an extremely large amount of money for a commercial at the time and a kind of precursor to the $100-million (and then the $200-million and $250-million) movie.

Jobs continued to reinvent personal computing and mobile devices in the decades that followed, and many current tech executives say they were inspired to join the digital revolution by that commercial. But a few film directors might have been watching too.

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How Ridley Scott came to direct the new Blade Runner

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT


How Ridley Scott came to direct the new 'Blade Runner'

August 18, 2011 | 12:56 pm

Blade
Alcon Entertainment producer Andrew Kosove knew how badly he wanted  Ridley Scott to return for a new "Blade Runner." He just had no idea if  he could land him.

"We had a few Plan Bs. But we were really focusing on Plan A, which was Ridley," Kosove said Thursday morning, shortly after his company announced that Scott had agreed to take the reins on a follow-up to his 1982 cult classic.

Here's how it went down. As Kosove and his partners were locking down rights to the movie about replicants in 2019 Los Angeles along with the Philip K. Dick novel on which it was based, they called an executive at Scott Free, Ridley and Tony Scott's production company. The Alcon people simply wanted to see if Ridley would sit down with them.

The filmmaker agreed, and shortly after the rights deal closed in March, Kosove and his partner Broderick Johnson flew to London to meet with the director.

Over the course of one meeting, they hashed out how a new film would look, how it could avoid seeming too similar to the many movies that have since paid homage to the original, and how different the new film should be from the original itself. They eventually decided it should stand as separately as possible.

"Everything Ridley does as a filmmaker is fresh," Kosove said. "I believe he sees an opportunity to create something that’s wholly original from the first 'Blade Runner.' "

Scott, Kosove and Johnson left that meeting with a handshake deal, and then the lawyers and agents jumped in to work out the details.

The next step now is for Scott to meet with writers, and for he and the producers to agree on which scribe they should hire. Kosove intimated that hire could happen in a matter of months if not weeks.

And how quickly can we expect a film?

The new movie will sit on a timetable that's fast by big-budget Hollywood standards but perhaps slow for a hungry film fan. The soonest Kosove could see the movie beginning shooting is early 2013 -- it would take at least 18 months to hire a writer, get a script in working order under Scott's guidance, cast the film and move into production.

Scott, who recently finished editing his new movie "Prometheus," could, in that 18-month period, direct one of several other movies he has in development and then return to shoot the new "Blade Runner," or he could make "Blade Runner" his next movie.

Either way, that means a new "Blade Runner" wouldn't be in theaters until 2014 at the earliest.

What shape that film will take remains a question:  It could be either a sequel, a prequel, or even an inspired-by type of picture a la "Prometheus," which is related to but not closely affiliated with Scott's 1979 science-fiction hit "Alien."

One element that likely won't be in the new "Blade Runner" is Harrison Ford, who in the original played the lead, retired LAPD officer Rick Deckard.

"In no way do I speak for Ridley Scott," Kosove said. "But if you're asking me will this movie have anything to do with Harrison Ford, the answer is no. This is a total reinvention, and in my mind that means doing everything fresh, including casting."

Kosove said that he realizes that working on a title that's so beloved is a double-edged sword; it means he's fighting to win over fans loyal to the original. That's one reason, he says, he's happy to have landed Scott.

"When we made the first announcement there was a lot of skepticism, understandably. And now with Ridley coming back there's a greater level of comfort," Kosove said. "And once we have the writer, I think fans will feel even more comfortable."

He added, "We want people to know that we're very serious about doing this in an artistic way. This isn't just commercial fodder."

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Photo. "Blade Runner." Credit: Warner Bros.


With Ridley Scott, new 'Blade Runner' gets a credibility stamp

August 18, 2011 | 10:09 am

  Blader

When the Hollywood production company Alcon Entertainment acquired rights to the "Blade Runner" property back in March, its partners told 24 Frames that they'd love to have original director Ridley Scott pick up where he left off. The idea of the original director helming either a prequel or a sequel, Alcon principal Andrew Kosove said, "is something we think would be wonderful."

Now Alcon appears to have landed its man.

Reports surfaced this morning on the trade website Deadline, later confirmed by Alcon, that Scott will indeed develop the project as a director.  A finished film is still a long way from coming to the multiplex; no screenwriters have even been hired. But the Scott news means that the movie will have a continuity and a credibility it wouldn't have had with pretty much anyone else.

 The move does runs counter to a Hollywood mini-trend in which a young director who grew up with a 1980s movie puts his own spin on it — witness Joseph Kosinski and "Tron: Legacy" last year. But Scott, for his part, has been rummaging through his own august canon, recently directing the "Alien"-related follow-up, "Prometheus," which comes to theaters in June.

As part of its March deal for “Blade Runner,” Alcon can make either a prequel or a sequel — it definitively won't be a remake — to the 1982 cult classic, also acquiring the right to build off scenes in the original film as well as passages from Philip K. Dick's source novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

In the original film, "replicants" (robots that are virtually indistinguishable from humans) return illegally to a dystopian Los Angeles, with Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard chasing down said replicants. The move was a box-office underperformer but found a second life on television and home video, particularly as a dystopian aesthetic became more cultural prominent.

Alcon principals believe that the three intervening decades have only made the property more ripe for a revisit.

"The 'Blade Runner' lore is kind of irresistible," Kosove told 24 Frames in March. "And the extraordinary pace of technological advancement since the movie came out means that there are a lot of opportunities to do something fresh."

More shortly.

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— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo. Harrison Ford in "Blade Runner." Credit: Warner Bros.


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