Props To Ridley
What do Alien (1979) Blade Runner (1982) Thelma & Louise (1991) Gladiator (2000) and American Gangster (2007) all have in common?
They were all directed by Ridley Scott. Unlike his late brother Tony Scott, who was famous for doing all sorts of high-octane action films, Ridley has done everything from sci-fi thrillers to historical epics like 1492, Gladiator, Robin Hood, and Kingdom of Heaven.
But even though Scott has directed all sorts of movies, he definitely has a particular style. For one thing, he loves detail. His more historical movies, like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, for example, are saturated with historical detail—elaborate costumes and highly developed cityscapes abound. Also, check out how many different things there are in Marcus Aurelius' tent near the beginning of Gladiator, or in Proximo's room in Africa.
Ridley loves his props.
Scott also loves to use lighting and mist to set the mood. In Gladiator, for example, the film opens amidst a background of sepia-tinged clouds before taking us to a landscape in Germania where fog seems to have just risen. (A similar technique is employed in Blade Runner and Alien.)
The critics were pretty evenly divided on whether or not Ridley Scott's characteristic direction (sepia clouds and all) worked or not when it came to Gladiator. While this movie won a slew of Academy Awards, some of the reviewers were pretty snarky.
Check out a couple of choice quotes:
Gladiator suggests what would happen if someone made a movie of the imminent extreme-football league and shot it as if it were a Chanel commercial. In fact, the movie's director, Ridley Scott, filmed the perfume ad; he made most of Chanel's more memorable spots. Mr. Scott's inhuman, glossy style is fey and terse: postcards from Mount Olympus. (Source)
The film looks muddy, fuzzy and indistinct. Its colors are mud tones at the drab end of the palette, and it seems to have been filmed on grim and overcast days. This darkness and a lack of detail in the long shots helps obscure shabby special effects (the Colosseum in Rome looks like a model from a computer game) […] By the end of this long film, I would have traded any given gladiatorial victory for just one shot of blue skies. (Source)
Oof. Those reviews are almost as brutal as, say, being trapped in the Colosseum with four hangry tigers.
But of course the box office spoke more loudly than the critics—Gladiator was a smash hit. And that couldn't have happened without Scott at the helm: the lighting that the New York Times compares to a Chanel commercial and Roger Ebert calls muddy were beloved by filmgoers.
But Mr. Scott didn't just cast some mood lighting on Gladiator and be done with it. He also got to deal with one of his favorite subjects: daddy issues that would leave Freud breathless.
Many of Scott's characters have issues with their fathers, or witness their father's death. In Gladiator, of course, Maximus loses Marcus Aurelius (who's more or less a surrogate father) and is killed by Aurelius' jealous son Commodus. In Blade Runner, Roy Batty kills his "father," Tyrell. In Kingdom of Heaven, Balian's father, Godfrey, dies, and in…you know what? We'll just summarize all of this by saying you do not want to be a dad in any of Ridley Scott's movies.