If it is a vision of the world that you are seeking which is personal, dream-provoking, memory-embracing, turn to Ridley Scott. As he often says, he creates worlds. He stands alone as a master visual artist in film—he evokes imagery in the art form, the medium as it is meant to be used in its richest purity. There is no one else today—not the Hollywood paint-by-numbers directors like Scorsese or Spielberg, nor the magnificent Carlos Saura nor the wonderful Vicente Aranda. Scott stands alone, tied to the master visualists of the 20th century, the brilliant photographic lighting of Stanley Kubrick, the exotic coloration of David Lean, the breathtaking montage of Akira Kurosawa, the sublime editing of Ingmar Bergman. He is a reliquary of their influences as a derivative master filmmaker.
Yet, unlike those visual artists, Scott has been unable or unwilling to focus himself on the unique artistry of his filmmaking. He drifts into the morass of high-profile "Dallywood" as an entrepreneur, a communal producer, a brotherly production executive, myriad other dalliances. As the creative clock ticks, he neglects the only world he owns—Ridley Scott.
He has created one great masterwork: Alien. It is fast becoming a "classic" in the over-indulged literal sense of the word. As with his predecessors, in this film Scott does not waste one frame as he paints a stunning montage of images that form and blend from a central canvas with repetitive subtleties that drive the razor-edged script. Like Kubrick, Scott enslaves the actors to the total audio-visual experience. It becomes an explosive emotional experience for the viewer within an unforgettable story. Despite the subsequent garbage of sequels and copycat movies, Alien remains untouched and singular. It is his first and only masterpiece.
Since then, he has created a mass of work—films, commercials, videos, documentaries. He has an inquisitive, adventurous mind and he's now a knight: Sir Ridley. Among his films, a few stand out. Blade Runner, with an uncertain script and miscast leads (except for the best performance of Rutger Hauer's career), offers Scott at his art-director's best. The story told in the photographic imagery, independent of the dialogue, is brilliantly conceived and powerfully delivered, not the story that's told, the story that's shown. Unfortunately, Blade Runner is an "ilk" film—like many others, better than most, worse then some.
Blackhawk Down is another, though not as pictorially rich as some of Scott's other work. It is beautifully shot, cut, and it carries the rhythmic touch that Scott displayed in Alien, but it too suffers from a turgid script and uncharacteristic direction. When the "committee" finished with it, it became another ilk film.
However, Scott's last film, Kingdom of Heaven, is a work to be reckoned with. Look around the landscape at other recent epics such as Alexander and Troy (two of the worst over-indulgences ever made) and Scott's work, as big and expensive as those two travesties, is a return to his 'world-making' with his arms completely around it. He understands Kubrick's Barry Lyndon and Kurosawa's Ran. His imagery and use of light are as magnificent as anything he has ever done. His control of the montage, of the flow of both large and small action is a director's handbook in the face of modern technology. Needless to say, the editing is superb. And this time, a long time in coming, he has a marvelous script. William Monahan gave him the story, the character development, the words as O'Bannon had done with Alien. How much of his writing is on the screen, how much of it is Scott, is unknown. It makes no difference, this is Scott's film. To be sure there are thin areas. We need to know what churns and drives the character of Sibylla but she doesn't have the words and the actress, Eva Green, doesn't have the depth to show us without telling us. The same for the pivotal character of Saladin; Ghassan Massoud looks and moves well, but he cannot take us behind the mask, where we truly need to be. The film is 2-1/2 hours long, the director's cut over 3 hours. For all of the pressures, Scott made his constructive decisions.
Most importantly, Scott uses this luscious, highly-crafted canvas as a panorama, almost a background to explore not the great historical issues, not the epic itself, but rather the people and particularly the changing, growing life-views of the "innocent stranger", the main character, Balian. It is a quiet, reflective approach threaded through an immense storm of sounds and sights. And it is brilliant!
Kingdom of Heaven may well prove to be Scott's second masterpiece. The clock is ticking. If only he would shuck all of the diversions, the distractions, his persona in the industry... we may get a third.