There was a time when you could simply stick the names of Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott on an empty poster and audiences would still flock to cinemas to see their respective films. Having both established their names in the world of high concept filmmaking with the likes of Jaws, Alien, Jurassic Park and Blade Runner, both Spielberg and Scott find themselves in a unique position in the modern landscape of cinema, finding it hard to find their footing in an industry that has changed so much since their heyday.
Filmmaking was an altogether different beast back in the late 20th century, with directors allowed far greater freedom to create their wildest creative visions, with little consideration towards box office returns and potential for a ‘wider universe’. Nurtured and grown like a director’s own child, the industry allowed filmmakers the time and space to collaborate with whomever they pleased to bring wild, imaginative stories to life without the interference of studios.
For Ridley Scott, this meant years of planning for the likes of his science fiction classic, Alien, working with the likes of Swiss artist H.R Giger to create comprehensive storyboards, character designs and sets to bring his cosmic horror to life. Meanwhile, for Steven Spielberg, the ‘90s allowed him the freedom of adapting Michael Crichton’s novel, Jurassic Park into one of the greatest blockbusters of all time, with the director too working on detailed storyboards, artwork and animatronics before any cameras were even turned on.
Modern cinema is far different, offering filmmakers little leeway in terms of creative freedom, with studios often interfering in order to ensure that their vision on the project is also considered. This has led to multiple disputes in various corners of the industry, from the moment when Edgar Wright departed from Ant-Man to when David Ayer’s creativity was restricted on the set of the original Suicide Squad.
Such may be a contributing factor to the ongoing degradation of the careers of both Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg, releasing films that pale in comparison to their earlier classics, lacking the creative vision or genuine thought. Whilst the likes of Gladiator and Thelma and Louise feel like long term projects, Scott’s latest 2021 efforts, The Last Duel and House of Gucci feel like regurgitated produce that could’ve been made by pretty much anyone else from the Hollywood fodder.
The very same can be said for Spielberg, who arguably hasn’t made a great film since Catch Me If You Can in 2002, tapping into pop culture with consistently bad efforts such as Ready Player One, War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. It is likely in these efforts to keep up with the fast pace of modern cinema that has allowed the likes of such directors to fall through the cracks, unable to match the frenetic intensity of the modern industry.
Though such directors, of course, have the capabilities to make iconic films, there can be no denying that their recent form has been nothing short of dismal, with Ridley Scott blaming audiences for such a crisis.
Speaking with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast, Scott commented on the recent box office failure of The Last Duel, noting: “Disney did a fantastic promotion job. The bosses loved the movie because I was concerned it was not for them”.
Continuing, he aims his sights at modern audiences, adding: “I think what it boils down to — what we’ve got today [are] the audiences who were brought up on these fucking cell phones. The millennian, [who] do not ever want to be taught anything unless you told it on the cell phone”.
Such comments merely come across a little bitter and twisted, illustrating the echoing shouts of a director lost in the maze of modern moviemaking. Spielberg and Scott don’t need to stop creating films altogether, but they do need to learn to adapt to the functioning of the contemporary craft.