Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MOVIES- Ridley Scott's War for Forever

The start of the 1980s was an unparalleled time in Science Fiction cinema. STAR WARS had launched a phenomenon and SF movies were being greenlit with wild abandon in Hollywood. Most of them were crap but several classics of the genre were made in those years Two of those classics were among the first films by a young film director named Ridley Scott. But perhaps more interestingly, two classic SF properties that would be started but not finished, to the chagrin of SF fans forever, would also be attempted by Ridley Scott. One of those was THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman and now, after 25 years, we may finally get a chance to see it.

Scott’s first attempt at SF was a film originally titled THE STAR BEAST. It was a high-concept SF/Horror hybrid. But an excellent script by Dan O’Bannon and Scott’s visual talents, with designs by Production Artists Ron Cobb and H. R. Geiger, would take a simple concept and make it a classic. When the movie, now renamed ALIEN, was released in 1979 it was nothing short of a knockout. But Ridley Scott was just getting started.

His next project was be one of those legendary missed opportunities. He took much of his design team from ALIEN and begin work on an adaptation of DUNE. Scott spent over a year doing pre-production work. But the DUNE project had been underway for almost 10 years already and a number of directors had already tried and failed to bring Frank Herbert’s magnum opus to the screen. Ridley Scott also failed, leaving SF fans to forever wonder what a DUNE movie by Scott might have been like.

Leaving Dune, Scott tackled an adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP. Again, a title change was in order and, with an assist from William S. Burroughs, BLADERUNNER was born. Unlike ALIEN, BLADERUNNER was a bit of a box office disappointment. But over the next twenty years it would become one of the most influential SF movies ever made. While filmmakers might mimic STAR WARS or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS or ET for satirical purposes, Scott’s BLADERUNNER would influence the look of literally hundreds of films right up to the present day. And it would make it’s mark in history by being the first movie to ever inspire a genre of written SF- Cyberpunk.

The question in show business is always “what do you do for an encore?” For Ridley Scott the unlikely answer was more SF. But if even-numbered Star Trek movies are better, even-numbered Ridley Scott SF films seemed doomed to limbo. His next project was perhaps to be his most challenging. This would be no horror film in space, or psychological dystopia. It was an adaptation of a “hard” SF novel that didn’t use faster than light drives but instead imagined an interstellar war at sub-light speeds, where six months aboard ship might mean that dozens of years had passed on earth due to Einsteinian time dilation. A novel that was a thinly veiled allegory for the Vietnam War, written by a veteran, that had already been called a classic less than ten years after its publication. An anti-war military SF movie that required the audience to understand Einstein to follow the plot, Joe Haleman’s FOREVER WAR might have been the best true SF movie ever made. At least, it might have been. Except Scott would never be able to obtain the rights to the book.

Eventually Scott would abandon the project and make a fantasy film about elves and unicorns with a rising actor named Tom Cruse. This movie would make BLADERUNNER look like a blockbuster success. After LEGEND Ridley Scott would abandon genre fiction entirely but go on to make groundbreaking movies for the next quarter century.

Twenty-five years is a long time. In spite of decades of Federation starships that move like dirigibles and X-Wing fighters that move like biplanes, movie audiences are far more scientifically literate than they were in the early eighties. We’ll never know what Tim Burton’s Death of Superman or Kubrick’s A.I. would have been. But now that Scott has finally been able to obtain the rights to THE FOREVER WAR perhaps we will finally see that movie. Only time will tell.

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