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No easing off for great Scott

The epitome of self-made success, Ridley Scott is talking about his career. And, as you might expect from the 72-year-old director, he's not one to hold back.

"Alien is a landmark," he says of the film that launched his Hollywood career. "One of the really good science-fiction films. Then Blade Runner's pretty good, too!" He reaches the 1985, Tom Cruise-starring Legend, a monumental flop at the time. "That I thought was [a landmark] but I jumped the gun and simply started doing fantasy 25 years too soon. But it's a pretty good movie."

He continues, forgetting Black Rain, Thelma & Louise and 1492 as he rattles through his CV. Someone to Watch Over Me and White Squall "are both really nice little movies", he adds, before understandably skipping GI Jane to get to his most recent phase.

Alighting on the Oscar-winning Gladiator, American Gangster and "the best war film of the last few years", Black Hawk Down, he allows himself a wry smile. "I'm doing pretty good, if you think about it."

In the last decade he's made nine films, from Gladiator to this year's Robin Hood, which took a chunky $300m globally. Of those, only the con-artist tale Matchstick Men and the Provence-set A Good Year could be considered small-scale.

Trimmed

Even when he has fallen foul of the system, he has often won out in the end. While 20th Century Fox trimmed his 2005 Crusades drama Kingdom of Heaven by more than an hour, only to see it flop, an extended Director's Cut of the film was later released on DVD to much acclaim. It wasn't the first time. Scott famously re-edited Blade Runner (initially for a 1992 Director's Cut) after poor test screenings of the 1982 original saw him forced to add an explanatory voiceover and a "silly ending". Scott gives the same treatment to Robin Hood. The DVD and Blu-ray release will see a Director's Cut, featuring 17 minutes of unseen footage, sit alongside the theatrical edition.

Partly, no doubt, this is to counter the mixed reviews the film met with; Variety, for example, said it played like "a joyless corrective to Robin Hood's prior screen adventures".

As is typical of the bullish Scott, he's rather dismissive of these "prior screen adventures", in which the likes of Errol Flynn, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner played the Nottingham outlaw. "There have been 80 [Robin Hood films] made over the years. It's the kind of thing I used to enjoy as a kid, but when I revisit them, they're not very good. I'm trying to think of the last good one." He pauses before selecting a surprising choice. "Mel Brooks's Men in Tights! I thought that was the best one."

By casting Russell Crowe as a straight-arrow Robin Longstride, Scott was clearly hoping to repeat some of the magic they conjured on Gladiator. Robin Hood is now the fifth film they've made together, making the Australian Scott's preferred leading man.

Scott takes some credit for his offspring becoming directors. "They see me sitting in my study at 5.45am, working over a script. So they see it's a passion, not a job."

Scott Free Productions, the film and television production outfit he formed with his brother Tony in 1995, has branched out lately to make films outside the family circle. This year alone, aside from Robin Hood and Tony's upcoming thriller Unstoppable, it has backed The A-Team and the wry comedy-drama Cyrus. Written and directed by another sibling team, Mark and Jay Duplass, Cyrus is about a divorced man (John C Reilly) who must contend with his new girlfriend's grown-up son (Jonah Hill).

The anticipation for his next project is building to fever pitch: it will be a two-part prequel to Alien, shot in 3D. Scott was never asked to make a sequel to Alien; that honour went to James Cameron. But with the Lost co-creator Damon Lindoff polishing the first prequel's script, you can sense the competitor in Scott, desperate to put his stamp back on the film series that launched him. "Jim's raised the bar and I've got to jump to it," he says, in a friendly jibe at Cameron. "He's not going to get away with it."

Set 30 years before the 1979 original, so with no room for Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, the prequels will explore the origins of the deadly aliens. "The film will be really tough, really nasty," he notes. "It's the dark side of the moon. We are talking about gods and engineers. Engineers of space. And were the aliens designed as a form of biological warfare? Or biology that would go in and clean up a planet?"

It's a bold move, one that could taint Scott's earlier contribution to the series if it goes wrong. But Scott loves a gamble, whether it's taking on the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, or resurrecting an unfashionable genre with Gladiator. "Everyone sniggered because they thought I was going to do a sandals and toga movie," he remembers. Given the success he's had since, Scott has had the last laugh.

Cyrus opens on Friday. Robin Hood: Director's Cut is out on DVD and Blu-ray on September 20


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