Recently, I watched "Black Hawk Down" on DVD, and found the movie so compelling that I watched the movie again, this time while listening to commentary with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Ridley Scott. While Bruckheimer's comments were interesting, they were few and far between. For most of the movie, Ridley Scott spoke about his approach to each scene, the characters, the story, and his desire to remain faithful to the battle in Mogadishu between United States military and Mohamed Farrah Aidid's guerrilla forces. This meant boiling crucial narrative in journalist Mark Bowden's book down to essential details and events, and cutting the cast list significantly. Yet he felt it important to communicate the importance of what U.S. commanders (and the United Nations) were attempting to achieve, and strived to treat each of the soldiers with dignity.
At the time, most of us in the United States didn't understand what our brave men and women were doing in Somalia. After TV news programs filled our screens with images of dead enlisted personnel being dragged through dirty, rubble-choked streets, President Clinton recalled our troops. This left us further confused. What had we stirred up a hornet's nest? Why had our sons and daughters fought and died? Ridley Scott made his movie, in part, to help us understand that our participation in that international effort was important to prevent genocide, even if it failed to halt a war that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. His film replaced confusion with purpose, and proved a balm to those who had lost loved ones in a conflict half-a-world away. He also made the movie to remind us that intervention, while painful and costly, is often necessary to prevent evil from sweeping unchecked through our world.
Ridley Scott is a thoughtful, painstaking director. He doesn't do things just for effect, nor does he alter his approach to please audiences. His best films leave you wanting to know more about the fictional world he created, or the historical milieu in which they are set. Five of my favorite Ridley Scott films, which exemplify these attributes, are listed below.
3. Blade Runner
5. Kingdom of Heaven
While the first three are Science Fiction visions of the future, the latter two take us into the past. "Gladiator" had me reading more about the Roman Emperor Commodus, and "Kingdom of Heaven" about the Crusades. All are visually striking, eminently entertaining, and thought-provoking. Ridley Scott attempts to treat his subjects with the seriousness they deserve, and refuses to water them down for children and teens, or those who demand happy endings. This costs him at the box office, as far more children and teens attend cinemas these days than adults, or at least adults wanting to see films made for adults. But when you watch a Ridley Scott film, you know the movie was made to do more than make you feel good and sell a little popcorn. I appreciate that tremendously, as well as the fact that subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases often include lots of interesting and informative bonus material, including passionate, informative commentaries by the esteemed Ridley Scott.
His next movie to hit the box office will be December's Biblical narrative "Exodus." Beyond that, films he's working on include sequels to "Prometheus" and "Blade Runner," and an adaptation to Joe Haldeman's classic Science Fiction novel The Forever War. As this year marks the 35th anniversary of his first big screen hit "Alien," I feel especially grateful that his passion and capabilities remain undiminished. Realizing that he's 77 years old today, and still willing to put up with all the rigors, demands, and complications of helming blockbuster productions, makes me respect him all the more. So here's a shout out to one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.
Happy Birthday, Ridley Scott!!!
May you continue making fascinating
and thought-provoking films,
well into your 100s!