Five Great Ridley Scott Audio Commentaries

Legend photo

Legend (Featuring Ridley Scott)

Why Listen: Scott, whose fantasy film was influenced by Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Fantasia, plants the listener right into Legend‘s beautiful sets, as he covers their influences, how they were constructed, and the effect he wanted them to achieve. He’s still pleased with the movie, and while listening to him, it’s impossible not to be just as impressed as he is and engrossed by its beauty. Each gorgeous image here tells us a story – which was originally bigger and a little more action-heavy. Legend is one of Scott’s more tech-heavy conversations. He discusses the limitations, obstacles, and more when it comes to creating this stunning world without stars or the biggest budget.

What’s Said: During the Thelma & Louise commentary, Scott mentions how many reviews he’s read asking (and criticizing), “Why so much steam?” He doesn’t care about those criticisms as much as he used to. For him, it helps create energy:

When you’re shooting a film, I’ll cover the wides, but the wides, I rarely use. You need them occasionally. Scenes really tend to be built over medium shots and close-up shots. The real meat and potatoes of a scene usually end up being close-ups. It’s always a constant battle on what you’ve built and what you want to see. For the most part, the story is told in medium and close-up. The trick is not to lose your visual narrative for the sake of a close-up all the time. I always try to get everything I can. I think that’s what led me down a route, certainly on films like this and science-fiction…I use elements a lot. In Blade Runner, it was raining. In Alien, it was steam or extraneous sounds. I find sounds are like energy. Things in the air and filling the space on the screen is energy. That would be a way I could supplement the energy you’ve built up in the wider shots. When you come into the close-up, of course, hopefully, one is getting a wonderful performance and the energy is coming from the actor, but you still gotta sustain your visual narrative.

Day on Set: Scott believes CGI can not only sometimes undermine drama, but can also be a ridiculous waste of money:

Here we are back on the Bond stage for the fairy dance. The fairy dance used to go on much longer. What’s interesting here is you see this thing here [the light], which should’ve been CGI, which doesn’t exist [then]. This is a guy with a fishing rod with a light, dancing it away. Know what that would cost today? About $200,000. Know what it cost me? It cost me a fishing fight with a bit of fine hairline and a little lightbulb. Hello. So all you’re doing every now and again in a while is screaming at the prop man for what a jerk he is for not making it look like tinker bell.

Trivia: Tim Curry would take Darkness’ cloak home for the weekends.

Sam Rockwell

Matchstick Men (Featuring Ridley Scott and screenwriters Nicholas Griffin and Ted Griffin)

Why Listen: This is easily the funniest commentary on the list. Scott has a sharp and subtle wit, but the screenwriters are hilarious. From their first encounter with Ridley to their on-set experiences, they have some great stories about meeting and collaborating with a filmmaker whose work they find awe-inspiring. Some of the memories they share are a reminder that Scott’s visual storytelling wouldn’t be as impactful if it wasn’t for his sense of character.

What’s Said: Scott calls bull on anyone who says they see Matchstick Men‘s twist coming. He heard those criticisms from test screenings, and he wishes he was there to question them. His “elegant comedy” might’ve benefited from the experience in one regard, though:

I put in 12 clues. Unfortunately, by mentioning it, it was fatal. Half of these clues are just beats, so you get this funny feeling. What I didn’t want to do is fool the audience, therefore make them furious they’ve been fooled so close to the end about characters they really love, like her (Alison Lohman) and Frank (Sam Rockwell). You think, ‘God, he’s a bad guy and taking from his friend,’ so that is all the danger in being dangerously unsympathetic. I thought it’d be better to have the clues, so you can reflect on them at the end. ‘Of course, of course, I missed all that.’ Hopefully, as an audience member, you can laugh at yourself. When I was first testing this, one of the tricky things about the tests was I got a sense of irritation from the audience, mainly because they’d been conned. I thought it was better to remove all the clues.

A Day on the Job: One of the toughest scenes for the Griffin brothers to write was the final encounter between Roy Walter (Nicholas Cage) and Angela. What’s the tone? How angry should Roy be? In the end, to Scott, he’s more unhappy she really wasn’t his daughter, which was an idea driving the scene. The Griffin brothers wanted them to “express something they cannot say explicitly,” which they might not have gotten right the first time around, so the final scene was reshot:

We re-shot about two minutes of the scene with some of the dialogue adjusted and some new elements brought in. As a testament to Ridley, knowing exactly what he wanted and needed, we reshot for exactly 23 minutes. We had two cameras rolling, didn’t even call cut, and just ran through the scene twice. Both actors were right on the money with a really delicate scene.

Scott usually shoots with, at the very least, three cameras at a time. On Black Hawk Down, he was using 11. The director added:

I added to it because people felt there wasn’t enough closure. “I really miss you. We had a good time, didn’t we? Didn’t you enjoy it?” “Yes, I did.” Then, “What’s your name?” “I know your name.” “Bye, dad.” That’s great closure. This is new from now on, after “thanks for not saying anything.”

Trivia: Robert Zemeckis, who was originally going to direct the movie before choosing to adapt The Polar Express, was the one who suggested sticking with the book’s big twist.

Thelma and Louise pic

Thelma & Louise (Featuring Ridley Scott)

Why Listen: Scott knows his characters inside and out. Similar to the commentary for Matchstick Men, he can tell you about a character’s life outside of the movie, why they dress the way they dress or talk the way they talk, and what the characters all mean to one another. A small part of his interest in Thelma and Louise was to prove he wasn’t some worldbuilder – a belief he quickly put to rest with Thelma & Louise. As much as Scott loves his often steamy and rainy worlds, he also has a deep fondness for his characters, especially Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon). It sounds like he’s never had more fun making a movie, which worried him when it was time to edit the classic.

What’s Said: Thelma & Louise is a thrilling and moving ride. There was discussion whether it should be more serious in tone, though:

Thelma, as a script, could’ve been handled two ways. You could’ve gone the direction of…Let’s say, choose a good movie that’s serious, Silkwood. You could’ve gone down the route of Silkwood, albeit about a totally different subject, but tonally you could’ve gone down that route, and I think it would’ve become too serious and too documentary. At one stage, [screenwriter] Callie [Khouri] was angling in that direction, like, ‘Why not?’ I’m saying it can also be really fun, and if it’s fun, it can reach a much bigger audience. After all, that’s what movies are about. Movies are not a cheap medium. They are an expensive medium, so a part of my target is to put enough butts in seats as possible. This business is also about commerce, and people forget that. A part of a director’s job, from my point-of-view, is giving the studio their cake and eating it, but me also getting my cake and eating it.

A Day on the Job: The iconic finale of Thelma & Louise was shot with a very limited amount of time, but Scott, who likes to work fast and go with his gut, made it work:

This was all shot in a desperately short time, in 45 minutes. I was against the gun here, on the edge. We were right on the money here as well. If I went on one more day, it would’ve meant a four-day weekend, which cranked the budget up probably another $600,000 or $700,00. I knew I had to get it here. It was better to go for it, look at it afterward, and if really get stuck, re-do the close-ups somewhere else. I had to get out of here. This is what’s technical about filming: you have to get out now.

Trivia: Badlands was an influence on Scott’s road movie. He followed far more sympathetic characters, but he wanted to create a similar “sense of legend.”

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