Scott grew up in an Army family, meaning that for most of his early life his father — an officer in the Royal Engineers — was absent. Ridley's older brother, Frank, joined the Merchant Navy when he was still young and the pair had little contact. During this time the family moved around living in, amongst other areas, Cumbria, Wales and Germany. After the Second World War the Scott family moved back to their native north-east England, eventually settling in Teesside (whose industrial landscape would later inspire similar scenes in Blade Runner). Scott studied there, from 1954 to 1958, at the West Hartlepool College of Art, graduating with a Diploma in Design. He was to progress to an M.A. in graphic design at London's Royal College of Art from 1960 to 1962. There, he was to contribute to the college magazine, ARK, and help to establish its film department. For his final show he made a black and white short film, Boy and Bicycle, starring his younger brother, Tony Scott, and his father. The film's main visual elements would become features of Scott's later work. After graduation in 1963 he secured a traineeship as a set designer with the BBC, leading him to work on the popular television police series Z-Cars and the science fiction series Out of the Unknown. He was also assigned to design the second Doctor Who serial, The Daleks, which would have entailed realising the famous alien creatures. However, shortly before he was due to start work a schedule conflict meant that he was replaced on the serial by Raymond Cusick. At the BBC, Scott was placed into a directing training programme and before he left the corporation had directed episodes of Z-Cars, its spin-off, Softly, Softly and adventure series Adam Adamant Lives!.
Scott quit the BBC in 1968 and established a production company, Ridley Scott Associates, working with Sir Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson, Hugh Johnson and employing his younger brother, Tony. Having cut his teeth on UK television commercials in the 1970s — most notably the 1974 Hovis advert, "Bike Round" (New World Symphony), which was filmed in Shaftesbury, Dorset — he graduated to Hollywood, where he produced and directed a number of top box office films. His first feature, The Duellists, was produced in Europe and won a jury medal at the Cannes Film Festival but made limited impact in the US.
Scott's disappointment with The Duellists was compounded by the success being enjoyed by Alan Parker with American-backed films — Scott admitted he was "ill for a week" with envy. Scott had originally planned to next adapt an opera, Tristan und Isolde, but after seeing Star Wars, he became convinced of the potential of large scale, effects-driven films. He therefore accepted the job of directing Alien, the ground-breaking 1979 horror/science fiction film that would give him international recognition. It has become widely accepted that the latter, along with his great sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner, are two of the finest movies ever made in the genre. While Ridley Scott would not direct the three Alien sequels, the female action hero Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), introduced in the first film, would become a cinematic icon. Scott was involved in the 2003 restoration and re-release of the film including media interviews for its promotion. At this time Scott indicated that he had been in discussions to make the fifth and final film in the Alien franchise. However, in a 2006 interview, the director remarked that he'd been unhappy about Alien: The Director's Cut, feeling that the original was "pretty flawless" and that the additions were merely a marketing tool.
After a year working on the film adaptation of Dune, Scott signed to direct the film version of Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, (which would be retitled as Blade Runner), following the sudden death of his brother Frank. Starring Harrison Ford and featuring an acclaimed soundtrack by Vangelis, Blade Runner was a flop when released to theatres in 1982, and was pulled shortly thereafter. However, it would eventually achieve cult status through re-issue on television and through home video. Scott's notes were used by Warner Brothers to create a rushed director's cut in 1991 which removed the voiceovers and modified the ending. Today Blade Runner is considered one of the most important science fiction films of the 20th century and is usually discussed along with William Gibson's novel Neuromancer as initiating the cyberpunk genre. Scott personally supervised a digitally restored Blade Runner and approved the Final Cut, which is to be finally released in 2007, following the resolution of a number of rights issues between Warner Bros and the film's guarantors. Scott regards Blade Runner as his "most complete and personal film."
In 1985, Scott directed Legend, a fantasy film produced by Arnon Milchan. Having not tackled the fairy tale genre, Scott decided to create a "once upon a time" film set in a world of fairies, princesses, and goblins. Scott cast Tom Cruise as the film's hero, Jack, Mia Sara as Princess Lily, and Tim Curry as the Satan-like Lord of Darkness. But a series of problems with both principal photography and post-production (including heavy editing and substitution of Jerry Goldsmith's original score) hampered the film's release and as a result Legend received scathing reviews. It has since become a cult classic thanks to a DVD release that restores Scott's original, intended vision.
Thelma & Louise
Thelma & Louise was released in 1991 and stars Geena Davis as Thelma, Susan Sarandon as Louise, and Harvey Keitel as a sympathetic detective trying to solve crimes that the two women find easier and easier to commit. The movie proved to be a success and revived Scott's reputation as a film maker, earning his first Oscar nomination. Scott's next project was the independent movie 1492: Conquest of Paradise, a visually striking take on the story of Christopher Columbus, yet usually considered to be his most slowly paced movie.
In 1995 Scott, together with his brother Tony, formed the film and television production company Scott Free Productions in Los Angeles. All of his subsequent feature films, starting with White Squall, have been produced under the Scott Free banner. Also in 1995, the two brothers purchased a controlling interest in Shepperton Studios that was later merged with Pinewood Studios. Scott and his brother are currently producing (since 2005) the CBS series Numb3rs. It is a crime drama focused on a mathematician who helps the FBI solve crimes using his genius ability in mathematics.
Gladiator and beyond
The huge success of Scott's film Gladiator (2000) has been credited with the revival of the nearly defunct genre of the "sword and sandal" historical epic. Scott then turned to "Hannibal", the sequel to Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs. 2001 also saw the release of Scott's war pic, Black Hawk Down (2001), further establishing Scott's position as both a critically and financially successful film maker and went on to earn two Oscars.
Following these three large budget films, in 2003 Scott turned to smaller fare choosing to direct Matchstick Men, starring Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman, and Sam Rockwell. The film was received with very strong critical reviews but failed to attract a large audience at the box office.
In 2005, the director made the internationally successful Kingdom of Heaven, a movie about the Crusades that consciously sought to connect history to current events. While on location in Morocco during filming, Scott reportedly received threats from extremists. The Moroccan government also sent the Moroccan cavalry as extras in the epic battle-scenes.
Unhappy with the theatrical version of the film (which he blamed on paying too much attention to the opinions of preview audiences), Scott supervised a director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven, which was released on DVD in 2006 . In a recent interview, when asked if he was against previewing in general, Scott had this to say on the subject:
"It depends who's in the driving seat. If you've got a lunatic doing my job, then you need to preview. But a good director should be experienced enough to judge what he thinks is the correct version to go out into the cinema."
Currently five members of the Scott family are directors, all working for RSA. Brother Tony has been a successful film director for more than two decades; sons, Jake (40) and Luke (37), are both acclaimed commercials directors as is his daughter, Jordan (27). Jake and Jordan both work from Los Angeles and Luke is based in London.
His striking visual style, incorporating a detailed approach to production design and innovative, atmospheric lighting, has been tremendously influential on an entire subsequent generation of filmmakers — many of whom have simply imitated him outright. Scott commonly uses very slow pacing until an action sequence, which is characterised by many rapid edits. Prime examples of this technique are Alien and Blade Runner. The critic Sheila Benson went so far as to call the latter "Blade Crawler" in the LA Times, "because it's so damn slow." Another trademark is his use of sound or music to build tension, as seen in Alien with hissing steam, beeping computers and the noise of the machinery in the space ship.
Although some of his films have been highly praised, others have been less successful with audiences and critics. White Squall and Hannibal are the two major works most often attacked by critics, while 1492: Conquest of Paradise was a major commercial failure. Legend (1985) was, like Blade Runner three years before, an initial box-office disaster, but it too has since found cult status thanks to Jerry Goldsmith's critically acclaimed (but rarely heard) score, featured on a 2002 director's cut that is closer to Scott's original vision.
Actors who have worked with Scott often consider that he puts more emphasis on the sets or lining up shots than on them. Such criticisms have come from Harrison Ford, who complained that his relationship with Scott left a lot to be desired. Paul M. Sammon, in his book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, commented about this in an interview with Brmovie.com, stating that Scott's relationship with his actors has improved considerably over the years.
Although Scott is often known for his painterly directorial style, other trademarks include:
- Strong female characters. Some speculate that his being raised by a single parent, his mother, could be the cause.
- Military and officer classes as characters reflecting his father's career, such as in G.I. Jane and Black Hawk Down.
- Extensive use of the two camera "V" set-up, allowing actors to perform more fluidly.
- Casts Giannina Facio, his partner in life, in all his movies since White Squall.
- Gets involved personally in the casting and prefers a more streamlined approach (just him and the casting director).
- Likes to work with actors who have a strong theatre background and/or drama school graduates.
- An admirer of Stanley Kubrick from early in his development. For his entry for the BBC traineeship Scott remade Paths of Glory as a short film.
- Like Stanley Kubrick, Scott is known for repeating the takes by the double digits. This was more evident on Blade Runner: the crew nicknamed the movie "Blood Runner" because of this.
- Often makes notable use of classical music (the Hovis advertisements, Someone to Watch Over Me). Worked intermittently on the project of a film adaptation of the opera Tristan und Isolde beginning in 1976.
- Extensive use of fans and fanlike objects (in Blade Runner and Black Rain). Fans are also used in Hannibal, but for the purposes of symbolism.
- Extensive use of smoke (in Alien, Blade Runner and Black Rain), for visual aesthetic purposes: Scott sometimes takes hours to set up one scene.
- Consistency in his choice of composers, using Jerry Goldsmith (Alien and Legend), Vangelis (Blade Runner and 1492: Conquest of Paradise) or Hans Zimmer (Black Rain, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down and Matchstick Men). Scott has also twice used songs by Sting during the film credits ("Valparaiso" for White Squall and "Someone to Watch Over Me" for the movie of the same title).
- He is usually considered the "father" of the director's cut. Scott was one of the first to use the description for the 1992 re-release of Blade Runner (other such films existed, but were either small fan-oriented versions that carried the name "Special Edition" or were forcefully edited by the studio). The positive result of the Blade Runner DC has encouraged Scott to re-cut several of his movies that were flops at the time of their release (such as Legend and Kingdom of Heaven) with the same positive results. Today the practice is commonplace within the movie industry.
- In some of his movies there is a strong conflict between father and son that usually ends with the latter killing the former intentionally (Blade Runner, Gladiator) or accidentally (Black Hawk Down), or witnessing the event (Kingdom of Heaven).
* Boy and Bicycle (1965)
* The Duellists (1977)
* Alien (1979)
* Blade Runner (1982)
* Legend (1985)
* Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
* Black Rain (1989)
* Thelma & Louise (1991)
* 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
* White Squall (1996)
* G.I. Jane (1997)
* Gladiator (2000)
* Hannibal (2001)
* Black Hawk Down (2001)
* Matchstick Men (2003)
* Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
* All the Invisible Children, a.k.a. Take 7 (short Jonathan, with Jordan Scott) (2006)
* A Good Year (2006)