The news that Ridley Scott is to direct another movie in the Alien series that he kicked off in 1979 is bound to be interesting to true fans of the movie series in general, and the luminous original in particular. From the early 1980s I can remember articles, rumours and conversations speculating on this subject. Scott, Sigourney Weaver and so many others have put forward their own flights of fancy about a new Ridley Scott Alien movie, that it can scarcely be imagined that the new film live up to the weight of expectation.
As some observers have mentioned, it's guaranteed at the very least that the movie is going to look fantastic; Scott's visual stylings have influenced a generation of film-makers. Blade Runner alone remains a continuing source of inspiration for science-fiction movies and SF production design.
Some have argued that Scott is not the man he was as a creative force; the syndrome of ‘beginner's luck' can certainly carve out a name for a director who's unable to maintain it (as a look at the output of William Friedkin after The Exorcist and The French Connection will attest).
What's easy to forget about Ridley Scott is that he was nearly forty years old when he made Alien, and one of the biggest directorial names in TV advertising; he wasn't a film school graduate looking to break into movies via ads and music videos, but a genuine established commercial entity committed to commercial interests. At heart, Scott is a craftsman occasionally beguiled by serendipity and inspiration, rather than a committed artist who has added technical skills to his repertoire. Scott is a journeyman extraordinaire.
What he isn't is Paul Schrader; Scott will not be found shining a curious flashlight into the more obscure corners of the human mind and asking a major studio to fund an expedition there. The gloss is guaranteed, but the ‘magic' is an optional extra. He likes to be genuinely excited about a movie he's making - but if that doesn't work out, it's going to get made anyway, and he won't be losing any sleep over it.
For Scott, 'hack' isn't a dirty word - he's a pragmatist dealing with available resources; he wants to make movies that are both commercial and have some sort of hook that interests him, in that order.
Perhaps he has been away from science-fiction too long - it seemed to engage him as no other genre did in a prolific career. But the now-legendary pain of making Blade Runner must have combined with its initial commercial failure to deal a body-blow to the director; it seems to have taken decades of the world admitting that Scott was right about Blade Runner to bring him back to screen sci-fi. The CGI revolution and increased scope for such projects in Hollywood wasn't enough in itself to bring him back to the future, until now.
Scott has always followed the money: The Duellists was a cinematic gem in the wake of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon; 1492: Conquest of Paradise an anniversary tie-in; Hannibal a clamoured-for sequel; and even G.I. Jane a second stab at the feminist theme of the considerably more interesting Thelma And Louise.
The luminosity of Scott was beginning to wane even by his fourth movie, Legend - a visual feast, but under-written, and a second box-office failure after Blade Runner to convince the director that the sci-fi and fantasy boom kicked off by Star Wars was played out. Scott started over in the safer and cheaper genre of film-noir, with the gorgeous but vacuous Someone to Watch Over Me in 1987.
He then embraced the ultra-violence of the late 1980s with the controversial but ultimately dull Black Rain, before capturing the public imagination again with Thelma And Louise. The 'heart' was back again...if only briefly.