Ridley Scott: Advertising Alien

201704Ridley scott

For someone who is only months away from his 80th birthday, Ridley Scott certainly isn't taking his foot off the accelerator. Not only is his latest project, Alien: Covenant due for release in May, he appears to be determined to be part of that rare breed – an octogenarian with plans for the future.

Five years on from Prometheus, his last outing with the Alien franchise, Ridley Scott is to direct its sequel. Prometheus was actually a prequel to the action depicted in Scott's original 1979 masterpiece the Alien story, which proved a massive hit with sci-fi and horror movie geeks and has experienced the same kind of traction enjoyed by Star Wars. It seems that the world can't get enough of the grumpy old extra-terrestrial whose main modus operandi seems to be reproducing and if that involves laying its infernal eggs in the stomach of unsuspecting humans, then that's just tough luck.

If you still feel traumatised by the sight of the fast moving baby alien breaking out of John Hurt's chest cavity then this is maybe not for you, but cheer up – there's a Ridley Scott movie for practically every taste. Few directors have covered so many bases in their careers. From 1977's The Duellists, the costume drama that kick-started his career as a director of feature films to The Martian, 2015's most successful sci-fi movie and his highest grossing movie to date, there has been no genre that he hasn't attempted.

Born on November the 30th 1937 in South Shields, County Durham, Ridley studied at the Royal College of Art before embarking on a career in advertising. In 1968, along with his brother Tony, Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson who would all become luminaries of British cinema, he founded RSA (Ridley Scott Associates). The company created some of the most memorable adverts in history, most notably the 1973 Hovis 'Bike Round' commercial, which was set in Yorkshire but was actually filmed in Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset. This proved such a success that it secured RSA's success virtually single-handedly and, in a 2006 poll, was named the UK's all-time favourite advertisement. RSA was also famously responsible for the 1970s and 1980s rebranding of Chanel No. 5, which had fallen out of favour and was considered passé.

Apart from Ridley's younger brother Tony, who would go on to direct a number of Hollywood blockbusters, including True Romance, Crimson Tide and the 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, RSA has since benefited from the talent of three other members of the Scott family, namely Ridley's two sons Jake and Luke and his daughter, Jordan.

Naturally, Scott's skill at imagining and directing were such that it was inevitable that he would eventually try his hand at feature films. The Duellists, released in 1977, won an award at the Cannes Film Festival for Best Debut Film, an auspicious start to his career. A period piece set during the Napoleonic Wars and concerning the bellicose relationship between two French Hussar officers, The Duellists might not have set the box office on fire in the manner of some of his later movies, but it was critically praised and effectively set the scene for a glittering Hollywood future.

As an expert in the world of advertising, Scott must have been delighted by the build up to his next movie. For months before Alien's release, the populations of the USA and UK were bombarded with the image of a strange object, which looked rather like a dinosaur egg, onto which was superimposed the tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream”. This, only his second feature film, turned out to be the world's first glimpse of Ridley Scott, Hollywood director par excellence. His 'iron fist in an iron glove' managerial style paired with a strong cast and a story which seamlessly combined horror with visually arresting sci-fi sets was a massive hit. It also marked the debut of Scott's most popular trademark – a strong, independent woman who was more than capable of extricating herself from the most deadly situation with no reliance on men. He claimed that the inspiration for his female characters came directly from his mother. Later he would say: “My mum brought three boys up: my dad was in the army and so he was frequently away. During the (Second World) war  and post-war, we tended to travel following him around so my mum was the boss. She laid down the law and the law was God. We just said 'Yup, okay' – we didn't argue. I think that's where the respect has come from, because she was tough.”

Some benevolent god of the cinema must have been smiling on Scott, because his next film project involved taking the reins for the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's influential sci-fi novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? With science fiction nerds watching closely to make sure that justice was done to this classic, the pressure was on, but once the project was released under the title, Blade Runner it was clear that Scott had another box office smash on his hands. Despite being premiered in 1982, age has not withered Blade Runner and it is still regularly named as one of the Top 10 films of all time as well as appearing on the favourites list of many celebrities and movie experts.

From this point on, his artistic clout effectively proved, Scott was able to have as much control over his projects as he wanted. His love of strong female characters continued and, many argue, found its apotheosis in 1991's Thelma & Louise, a road movie that told the story of two women who chose death and friendship rather than facing capture by the (male) police officers who were pursuing them. Even the most hardened feminist had grudgingly to admit that here was a male film director who understood them and Thelma & Louise, like Blade Runner, became one of the staples of Top 10 Movies of All Time lists.

Not that every Ridley Scott movie has been an unqualified success: G.I. Jane and Hannibal, for instance, are still considered two of his weaker offerings, but he has built up such a huge wall of artistic goodwill that any minor lapse in judgement is quickly overlooked. In 2003 Ridley Scott became Sir Ridley Scott and claimed that he was “stunned and truly humbled.” After several decades spent making money for the big Hollywood studios it was clear that his roots in the north-east of England were still important, as he said: “As a boy growing up in South Shields, I could never have imagined that I would receive such a special recognition. I am truly humbled to receive this treasured award and believe it also further recognises the excellence of the British film industry.”

Ironically, it says something for Scott's reputation as one of cinema's most respected talents that his knighthood is so often forgotten. The merest rumour that he is scouting for locations (the news that he was sighted in Málaga recently made the papers immediately) is sufficient in itself to create a storm of interest.

It is said that his next directorial job will be on All the Money in the World, an account of the kidnapping, in 1973, of John Paul Getty III. As if this wasn't enough for a man approaching 80, Scott still has a say in the operation of RSA and has been heavily involved in the production of TV series from Numb3rs to Amazon's hit The Man in the High Castle, another Philip K. Dick classic.

If governments want to persuade citizens that it is not only essential but desirable to carry on working into their old age, then they could do worse than point to the example of Ridley Scott. 

The Films of Ridley Scott

1977 – The Duellists

1979 – Alien

1982 – Blade Runner

1985 – Legend

1987 – Someone to Watch Over Me

1989 – Black Rain

1991 – Thelma & Louise

1992 – 1492: Conquest of Paradise

1996 – White Squall

1997 – G.I. Jane

2000 – Gladiator

2001 – Hannibal

2001 – Black Hawk Down

2003 – Matchstick Men

2005 – Kingdom of Heaven

2006 – A Good Year

2007 – American Gangster

2008 – Body of Lies

2010 – Robin Hood

2012 – Prometheus

2013 – The Counselor

2014 – Exodus: Gods and Kings

2015 – The Martian

2017 – Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott Quotes

“I think, at the end of the day, filmmaking is a team, but eventually there's got to be a captain.”

Alien is a C film elevated to an A film, honestly, by it being well done and a great monster. If it hadn't had that great monster, even with a wonderful cast, it wouldn't have been as good, I don't think.”

Blade Runner appears regularly, two or three times a year in various shapes and forms of science fiction. It set the pace for what is essentially urban science fiction, urban future and it's why I've never re-visited that area because I feel I've done it.”

“I don't get attached to anything. I'm like a good antique dealer. I'm prepared to sell my most valuable table.”

“When you're at a certain point in your time - age, that is, when you're older - you start to realize that, actually, what you leave behind you does count, and so you start to become fundamentally aware of your own destiny, which sounds very grand. It's not grand at all, actually.”

“I don't make films for other people; I make films for me.”

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