The Ridley Scott Cheat Sheet

Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double feature that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but will bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…

ALIEN (1979) and PROMETHEUS (2012)

There aren’t many filmmakers who have provided us with such perfect before and after shots. Sure, Hitchcock did two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much and Michael Haneke remade his own Funny Games, but these films weren’t quite the career bookends that Ridley’s duelling Alien films are. His second feature, Alien, remains one of cinema’s most ensuring masterclasses in How To Get Everything Perfectly Right. Character, tension, dialogue, horror, pacing… no element has been shortchanged in favour of any other, and it all seems so damn effortless, like an observational documentary gone awry. Even after decades of influence and numerous pretenders, its impact remains remarkably intact. So when Scott returned to the universe for prequel Prometheus, he tried to recreate the feeling of a clean slate. The film was not promoted as an Alien prequel, but rather its own fresh thing, with familiar images slowly cluing the audience in as the film progressed. Prometheus has its defenders and its detractors, but no matter of your feelings for it, there’s no better way to compare the tastes, interests, sensibilities and evolution of a filmmaker than by watching him make essentially the same film at the start of his career and then again at the end.

Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen Alien, seek out Blade Runner (1982). If this film has somehow managed to elude you, then use our show as an excuse to correct that grave error. There are numerous editions, and good arguments for each one, but if you’re after guidance then you can’t go wrong with the 1991 “Director’s Cut”. If you can’t get or have already seen Prometheus, get your hands on All the Money in the World (2017) (and you thought we were going to say Alien: Covenant, right?). If you’ve been disillusioned by some of Ridley’s recent films and think his best work is behind him, then prepare to be shaken by the sheer energy, pace and confidence behind the direction of this brilliant work.

The Hidden Gem: Want to see something off the beaten path, a title rarely mentioned when people talk about the films of Ridley Scott? Then you should track down The Duellists (1977). It’s weird that Scott’s lush, epic debut feature should have fallen into the cracks of semi-obscurity, but when your subsequent films alter pop culture forever, a demotion is understandable. Nevertheless, Scott’s first film is a confident, stunning work of tension, with every shot an oil painting. Do not miss this one.

The 100th episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Greg McLean talking the films of Ridley Scott, will be released on 30 September 2018.

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