A couple years back, Ridley Scott was asked to list his favourite science fiction films of all time. Discarding modesty entirely, he mentioned both Alien and Blade Runner among his favourites – in the third and fourth slots, behind 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. As the director of Alien and Blade Runner, you’d think Scott might exclude those choices, and leave us to assume that he’s proud of two of the most seminal science fiction films of all time. If you’ve made films like these two films, you don’t have to call attention to them – you can magnanimously list other favourites and leave us to sing the praises of the two you left off.
Such self regard is usually frowned upon, especially in Australia, where Tall Poppy Syndrome dictates that we knock down anyone who’s getting too big for their britches. But if anything, 2017 is proving how right Scott was, how insistent we are about coming back to templates he created with those two great films. This year, we are validating his own egocentrism.
Not only are there sequels to both the aforementioned films coming out this year – the fifth for Alien (or seventh if you want to include the two Alien vs. Predator films), only the first for Blade Runner – but there have also been two films so highly indebted to those films that they can readily be perceived as copies of them. Replicants, you might say.
Both came out in March, actually.
The first was Daniel Espinosa’s Life, in which an unknown life form is isolated for scientific study aboard a spacecraft, but rapidly grows in size and starts picking off the crew members. Sound familiar? It should. That’s Alien almost to a T. It hit Australian cinemas on the 23rd of March.
It’s one thing to say these things are reminiscent of Scott’s work from the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it’s another to provide proof that they are – well, “proof” if you believe the anecdote I’m about to tell you.
I try to avoid trailers, in part because I don’t want to be sick of a film’s money shots long before I sit down with my popcorn and soda. So when I saw what I thought was the trailer for Alien: Covenant, I averted my eyes so as to go into it as fresh as possible. Of course, that trailer ended up being the trailer for Life, though you could have fooled me. Not remembering exactly which big name actors were cast in Scott’s next Alien movie, I thought it was certainly possible they included the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson. It wasn’t until the end of the trailer that a different title was revealed.
Flash forward one more week. I’m at the movies. Ghost in the Shell is beginning. A different trailer for Alien: Covenant comes on, as does the Blade Runner 2049 trailer. I avert my eyes from both. Ridley Scott must be loving this.
He deserves to. In spite of being a total wanker about his own creative output. It could be argued that Scott has contributed as much to science fiction popular mythology as George Lucas or Gene Rodenberry, Ray Bradbury or Arthur C. Clarke. He’s one of the grandfathers of the way science fiction looks today, and he’s accumulating more and more grandchildren all the time. Heck, at age 79, he’s virile enough that he’s still producing actual children. (Cinematic children, of course. Stick with the metaphor.)
While Scott is indeed directly responsible for the existence of one of his four 2017 offspring – four and counting – he isn’t the director on the other three (he does have a producer credit on Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.) But his fingerprints are all over all of them, even if it’s just in that sincere form of flattery called imitation.
And Scott wants to keep procreating for a while. He recently announced plans to make six more Alien movies, a rather ridiculous ambition for a man who’s nearly an octogenarian. It’s just an indication he thinks he’s the only creative vision who can keep guiding this property through to its narrative endpoint. For anyone who saw Prometheus, that’s debatable.
And hey, Scott still has a couple of open spots to fill in his personal sci-fi top ten. Alien 9: Final Reckoning could certainly be one of them.
Read our Life review here and our Ghost in the Shell review here.