How BAFTA is paying tribute to the Ridley Scott effect
From Alien to The Aftermath, BAFTA honours the prolific director and producer who has changed the face of cinema
Sir Ridley Scott is set to be honoured with a BAFTA Fellowship at the EE British Academy Film Awards on 18 February. It is the highest accolade that the Academy can bestow on a filmmaker, and so the prolific director and producer will join recipients including Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Olivier, Dame Judi Dench and Martin Scorsese when he attends the awards at the Royal Albert Hall.
The honour marks 40 years since the visionary director made his feature film debut, The Duellists (1977), which received a BAFTA nomination before winning the Best Debut Film award at Cannes Film Festival. His next film, Alien (1979), would prove an enduring classic, one that upended the horror genre as surely as his 1982 film Blade Runner changed the face of cinematic science fiction, taking both genres from niche interest to blockbuster movies that are still pulling audiences in.
"Ridley Scott is a visionary director, one of the great British filmmakers whose work has made an indelible mark on the history of cinema," said BAFTA chief executive Amanda Berry. "His passion and unrelenting pursuit of excellence have provided cinema goers with a tantalising range of films, including Alien, Gladiator, Thelma and Louise and Blade Runner. 40 years since his directorial debut, his films continue to cross the boundaries of style and genre, engaging audiences and inspiring the next generation of film talent."
The Oscar and BAFTA nominated director is known for making bold, business-led decisions and having a visual cinematic style – which he attributes to his studies at the Royal Collage of Art – and over the years more than most of those risks have paid off whatever genre he's working within. Casting the then-unknown actress Sigourney Weaver as the lead Ripley in Alien was one such stroke of genius, taking the promise of Star Wars' 1977 heroine Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and creating a tough, female action star for a generation of fans. >>
"The idea that [Alien] has had such legs is quite extraordinary to me, but it doesn't surprise me because I think Ridley is such an amazing director," Weaver said recently. "The way he shot it, all those camera moves that he came up with on the spur of the moment, the way he shot the planet, the way he threw us all at each other, improvised a lot of it, it still feels like it's just happened."
Bolder still was the decision to collaborate with artist H.R. Giger for the design of the Xenomorph aliens, creating a sexual horror far deeper than the gore and terror of the action. Similarly, 1982's Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? changed the very image cinema held of the future. The industrial, cyber-punk sets blended neon-lit sci-fi tech with nostalgic views of today's Los Angeles.
That texture and atmosphere has inspired filmmakers including Oscar-nominated filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, whose film The Shape of Water is leading this year's pack with 12 BAFTA nominations. He said: "Blade Runner is simply one of those cinematic drugs, that when I first saw it, I never saw the world the same way again."
Recently Scott, 80, received praise for his quick turnaround of All the Money in the World (2017), a drama based on the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and subsequent refusal of his billionaire grandfather to pay ransom. As well as an Oscar nomination, the film has received a BAFTA nomination for Supporting Actor for Christopher Plummer (John Paul Getty Snr), who replaced disgraced star Kevin Spacey after the latter was hit by sexual abuse allegations last year - just as the film was gearing up for release. >>
Scott made the decision to totally cut and recast Spacey, calling in stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg to reshoot scenes with Plummer in order to get the film out on schedule. The decision was, he said, all about business. "The movie was all but in the can," he said earlier this year. "[Spacey's presence] would infect the movie to the extent that we'd eventually decide not to sell it. Don't spend good money after bad. It's always a business decision."
"My decision was almost immediate. I said: 'We need to re-do this.' I phoned Christopher [Plummer] and asked if he'd meet me in New York. Met him that night," Scott added. "I didn't agonise. I never dwell on a problem, only the solution. You learn to do that, doing what I do."
In other genres, Scott saw awards success with Thelma & Louise in 1992, the film which introduced Brad Pitt to the world, and 2000 Roman epic Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe, which won five Oscars and four BAFTAs including the award for Best Film. He also served as executive producer on last year's Blade Runner 2049, which is up for eight BAFTA nominations and five Oscar nominations. >>
As a producer, Scott and his younger brother Tony were prolific filmmakers, founded Ridley Scott Associates (RSA) in 1968 to specialise in commercials – including the famous British Hovis 'Bike Round' advert – and short films before Hollywood came calling. Business-minded Scott was conscious of the importance of having a British film industry, and in 1995 he and Tony headed the consortium which now owns and continues to expanded Shepperton Studios.
The family faced personal tragedy in 2012, when Tony – director of Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun and Enemy of the State, starring Will Smith – committed suicide while battling cancer, leading Scott to dedicate two of his films to his brother, as well as his 2015 star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He said: "I dedicate this star to my brother Tony Scott, always my buddy and my partner. I share this star with him because I know he's watching."
He continues his brother's legacy, however, in their production company Scott Free Productions, which in addition to multi-award winning film has produced TV shows such as Numb3rs, The Good Wife and Amazon series The Man in the High Castle. Scott's children – sons Jake and Luke and daughter Jordan – have all followed in his footsteps as directors.