Ridley Scott says 'Sci-fi films are as dead as Westerns'
You may know him as the guy who brought us Maximus in Gladiator, or maybe as the guy who made Black Hawk Down, but his first two science fiction films are heralded as some of the greatest in cinematic history - Alien and Blade Runner. Since Blade Runner debuted in 1982, Ridley Scott has never returned to science fiction, and in a recent article over at TimesOnline, he was quoted as saying "sci-fi films are as dead as westerns." Can that really be? Are both of those great genres, sci-fi and westerns, dead forever?
When asked to elaborate as to why they're dead, Ridley responded with the answer that sums up most of Hollywood.
"There's nothing original. We've seen it all before. Been there. Done it," he said. Asked to pick out examples, he said: "All of them. Yes, all of them."
"There is an overreliance on special effects as well as weak storylines," he said of modern sci-fi films.
Ridley made the case that Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was the "the best of the best" and that every sci-fi film since 1968 has borrowed from Kubrick's brilliance. Of course the arguments will never die when it comes to ranking sci-fi, and in my own personal opinion, 2001 isn't my favorite. It may be one of the greatest sci-fi films technically ever made, along with Blade Runner, but my appreciation goes towards a selection of other sci-fi gems and maybe even some guilty pleasures.
If you haven't had a chance and are a fan of sci-fi at all, then you need to see Sunshine, Danny Boyle's latest adventure in filmmaking. If anything, that's a prime example that sci-fi isn't dead, it's just waiting to be taken advantage of by the right people. I would even be hard pressed to say that mainstream filmmakers should stray away from sci-fi, only because they're likely to butcher what could be a good story and simply repeat what we've seen before, as Ridley said.
In terms of the future of sci-fi, there's at least two strong contenders for a possible return. There's the upcoming Rendezvous with Rama from author Arthur C. Clarke, which if still in the hands of David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) could yet again prove that sci-fi has a chance to survive. And there's also James Cameron's Avatar, which is poised to change the way we watch movies forever, a testament to showing that technological change in cinema comes through sci-fi.
Even looking at westerns, they're attempting to make a comeback as well and I've been encouraging interest. Both 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford are making their debuts in the coming months. It's been 15 years since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and I won't go as far to say these two will bring about the return of westerns, but they will make a formidable attempt.
What is undeniable is that interest has died off and there just isn't an abundance of these genre films. That's not to say it's totally dead, but it is to say that when a film like Sunshine or Rendezvous with Rama comes out, it will be in limited theaters and not playing everywhere. It's a tough equation because on one hand you can make the argument that by showing it everywhere the interest will then increase, but on the other hand it would be a risk to show it everywhere if it's not going to fill the theaters.
As long as every so often a brilliant filmmaker comes along and makes a fantastic sci-fi or western film, I'll at least be satisfied. It will keep the flame burning, and maybe if it hits on the right note, turn that flame back into a bonfire. I'm hoping that Cameron's Avatar may be the big push to bring sci-fi back into the limelight, but if anything it will only open the door for more half-as-good sci-fi tentpoles and nothing original. Ridley Scott may make his convictions and claims, but it's up to the new filmmakers (like Danny Boyle) and new visionaries in Hollywood and beyond to be the ones to prove that a genre isn't entirely dead.