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Is Ridley Scott still relevant to modern cinema?

There can be no denying that Ridley Scott is one of the most important filmmakers of the modern era. A master of the big-budget blockbuster, in many ways, Scott can be regarded as something of the British answer to Steven Spielberg, just without the more childish elements to his filmography that Spielberg’s filmography boasts.

The go-to auteur for a historical romp, Scott is certainly not a one-dimensional filmmaker. He has cast his net wide over his lengthy career, with movies such as The DuellistsAlienBlade RunnerLegendThelma & LouiseGladiatorBlack Hawk DownKingdom of Heaven and American Gangster all hailed as his definitive pictures. 

Not afraid of tackling a complex subject, Scott’s highlighted films present a wide arrange of thematic discussions, and in his 1980s era, the director was well ahead of the curve stylistically. Famed for his depictions of urban environments ranging from Golden Age Rome to the 12th Century Holy Land and a dystopian Los Angeles, without Scott’s best works, popular culture would look very different.

His legacy is something that should never be ignored, as it feels Scott is often overlooked due to the number of box office flops he has released over the past couple of decades. Whether it be the visually spectacular but rather hollow PrometheusExodus: Gods and Kings or the Russell Crowe starring 2010 film Robin Hood, Scott’s output is not as consistent as it once was, but let’s not forget that he is now into his 80s. However, Scott has shown that he is still apt at putting a visual delight together when push comes to shove, as 2015’s The Martian showed. 

With a career bouncing high and low with critical success and subsequent commercial failure, 2021 was meant to be the year that Ridley Scott reasserted his dominance at the box office amongst all the Marvel piffle and terrible children’s movies – but thus far things have not gone to plan. This year Scott has released not one, but two blockbusters, all within the space of five weeks. On paper, and in the run-up to release, The Last Duel and House of Gucci were set to be two of the biggest films of the year, wrestling for the share festival season awards with DuneNo Time to Die and the new Venom entry. 

So far, however, The Last Duel has been considered an economic flop. The film deals with the true 14th Century story of Jean de Carrouges, who challenges his friend and squire Jacques Le Gris to a duel after Carrouges’ wife accuses Le Gris of rape. Split into three parts from different perspectives, The Last Duel was set to be the most refreshing of this year’s blockbusters — and, in many ways, it still is.

The screenplay was written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and based on Eric Jager’s 2004 book, The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France. Written by a woman, and discussing the implications of rape and something of a metaphor in today’s cultural climate of the Me Too movement, The Last Duel has tanked at the box office. This is owing to its 18+ rating, tough themes, and the fact that many people just aren’t ready to venture out to the cinema yet due to the pandemic still being in full swing, with a third wave ominously looming around the corner.

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The film hasn’t tanked critically, though, and surely this is where it matters. Scott has created a picture of worth, and it says a lot more than many of his previous outings have done. Seemingly, however, credibility doesn’t matter. It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the veteran filmmaker was most displeased with how The Last Duel has performed at the box office, and he hasn’t been shy about expressing it. Appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast last week, Scott offered some insight into why he thinks his film has bombed financially. He said: “What we’ve got today, (are) the audiences who were brought up on these fucking cellphones. The millennian do not ever want to be taught anything unless you’re told it on a cellphone”.

While perhaps speaking emotionally and out of passion for his work, Scott needs to rethink his assertions. It is Millenials, whom he seems to be confusing with Gen Y, that are currently propping up The Last Duel, noting its storytelling, even if it is slightly overcooked. Whilst Scott’s point about phones certainly has some credence, it is a misfire. Scott is directing his rage at the wrong demographic. The director has every right to be angry, but it’s the confluence of factors outlined prior that have culminated in The Last Duel tanking in the financial sphere.

Scott also tacitly inferred another critical point, as it appears as though he places more emphasis on money than credibility. Ridley Scott has made a film of note, that will no doubt age well, and in a couple of years, will be more widely appreciated. It’s safe to say that now was not the right time for The Last Duel to be released, and, if he’d have held off a few months, it might have been a different story. 

Then we come to House of Gucci, although it has more explicit appeal to younger Millenials and Gen Yers through its casting of Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, fusing a crime thriller with the fashion world, it has tanked critically in comparison to The Last Duel. By all accounts, it is a flop and not eligible for the awards that many touted it for — but where are Scott’s comments on this? If House of Gucci proves to be a total bomb, questions will be levelled at Scott’s future within the film industry. It’s hard not to consider that his most recent work arrived at what could well be his final chance to sit atop of the mountain of Hollywood, and through ill-timed releases and misguided statements, Scott may have just proved that cinema has changed too much and that his corner of the blockbuster sphere is no longer relevant.

But for now, only time will tell. We’ll see how well this has aged next year.

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