Ridley Scott: A Critical Filmography

Author: William Parnell

A must for fans of any of Ridley Scott’s films, this book presents facts and opinions on all his films in an easy reading style. Although advertised as a critical filmography, I wouldn’t call it as serious as that. It’s written in a style that makes me think a fan wrote it for other fans; not one critic to another.

Parnell starts with a comprehensive chronology of Scott’s early advertising work, his style and working methods. There’s also an interesting piece comparing Scott to Fritz Lang. All are communicated simply with a smattering of interesting facts and figures. The book then splits all Scott’s films into a digestible set of pages, never more than six or seven pages long. Each includes facts not just about Scott and his work on the film, but also that of the writers, actors and production crew. In that way, the book becomes less focused on Scott alone and more on the films themselves.

The book provides a very neat, brief look into some of the most iconic films of the last two decades, including Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner, Alien and Gladiator. Fans of certain films can dip into each chapter as they want to as it’s by no means laid out in a way that would make you read it cover to cover. I found myself jumping to those films I loved best and came away with several interesting facts.

As I’ve said, this is a book for film fans, particularly those who watch the director’s commentary and DVD extras. Indeed, Parnell has got the vast amount of his material from here, the IMDB and other accessible sources. This makes the book familiar to those accustomed to seeking out information on their favourite films. Parnell has gone the extra mile than most film fans would though and there are some fascinating insights into each film. For example, Jodie Foster’s refusal to work on Hannibal, Gladiator’s astounding commercial success ($457,650,427) and how Alien was turned down by six directors before it was sent to Scott.

Parnell’s often very personal in his comments and I had trouble accepting some of his opinions. He has some particularly negative views about Thelma and Louise, but some positive ones for G.I. Jane that I did agree with. But far from detracting from its enjoyment, it makes the book almost like a debate between Parnell and the reader.

I’m not sure that diehard Ridley Scott fans will get anything more from this than they do from the director’s commentary or DVD extras though. Although it does provide insights into Ridley Scott’s films and contains a critical essay on his filmography, I’m not sure that it fully succeeds.

Having said that, this book has taken all of the hard work out of finding out a little bit more about Ridley Scott’s films and presented them in a way that’s accessible. It could do with more images from each film though as it came across a little wordy before I delved into it. Apart from that, it’s an easy book to read.

Despite not being an ostentatious Ridley Scott fan, I was surprised at how many of his films I’d seen. I’m sure this book would be of interest to other film fans if they realised it’s not as heavy as it appears to be. In that way it’s very successful but a glossier book would have attracted more people to it. It’s a great coffee table book, one in which people can look up a film they’ve just seen and quote from easily and convincingly to impress other filmgoers.

Maliha Basak

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