Finally, I have a chance to weigh in on a controversy at the very start of it! Okay, a few hours later maybe. I’m old and slow, it’s not my fault. Wait… it IS my fault. Never mind. Here’s my Hot Take on Ridley Scott!
I’ve been a fan of Ridley Scott since I was a kid. Alien came out shortly after Star Wars, and was so completely different and so deeply wonderful in many ways. Of the genre of space horror, which had seen a great many, ah . . . movies of dubious quality shall we say. Mostly 1950’s fare with blathering scientists and terrible creature costumes. Monster movies more than horror movies. Alien gave us hard working space miners in their very lived in, worn out ship; Sigourney Weaver as a competent second in command and protagonist; malfunctioning robots; corporations willing to sacrifice lives to make bio weapons; and one hell of a scary monster. It was fantastic, a stand out even today in the genre. What more could he have done to cement his credentials?
He followed that up with Blade Runner. ‘Nuff said.
At that point, he could have faded from history and we’d have been satisfied. Instead, he went on a tear. Legend, Thelma and Louise, GI Jane, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator. Great films. In more recent years, his productions have been less well received, less likely to receive praise. Prometheus, Alien Covenant? Yeah, I didn’t really care for those. Prometheus had potential, but was so muddled and convoluted that I lost interest. The less said about Covenant, the better. He did get tapped for The Martian, but the source material there elevates the story, he just followed those beats.
So, his latest release, The Last Duel, tanked at the box office. Now, normally directors would happily tell you all the reasons why. Usually “bad marketing,” or “didn’t have the studio’s support.” But no, no, Ridley doesn’t think that. He’s THRILLED by the support he got for the work. He thinks they marketed it well. No, that’s not the problem at all. According to Ridley, it comes down to one very important factor of our modern times.
Millennials with cell phones.
He said that.
His exact quote: “What we’ve got today . . . the audiences who were brought up on these fucking cellphones. The millennian do not ever want to be taught anything unless you’re told it on a cellphone.”
You can read the full article at Hollywood Reporter. He’s hilariously wrong of course. But you knew that if you’re reading my post.
Let’s start with the obvious use of “millennian” (ie, Millennials) as a catch-all phrase for “people who are young.” Old man shakes fist at clouds! He doesn’t seem to realize most Millennials are 25 to 40 years old now. The bulk of them didn’t have cell phones until they were teens or older. The youngest would have been maybe 10 when the iPhone hit the market. So they weren’t raised with cell phones grafted to their grubby little fingers. They are no more wedded to their cells than anyone else, and no one thinks a cell phone is a replacement for a movie screen. There’s zero logic to that comment and is, truly, just an old man saying old, tired shit.
Another fact he seems to have missed: Millennials and Gen Z are the folks keeping AMC – the largest cinema chain – afloat these days. They are buying up stock (stonks!) of AMC like crazy, under the view that movie theaters are a going concern and will be around forever (you can review my previous post, Prognosticating Pandas, for my own view of that; in the short term I think they are correct and if/when we ever move out of this pandemic, will see a brief explosion due to interest in shared, communal experiences, but long-term the industry is in trouble). These are people who greatly value the experience of movies and aren’t watching them on their cell phones. They’re going to the theaters (when they can afford it).
Third and most important: this movie was NOT marketed well. At. All. I pay pretty close attention to the movies that are coming, particularly genre films, super hero stuff, SFF, and anything historic or based in cultural mythology like the recent Green Knight film. I heard jack and shit about this movie. Literally no one I follow on twitter mentioned this film ever. Every response I see to Scott’s interview about it is either surprise it exists, or talk about its use of rape as a crux for plot momentum. My wife only heard about it after it had been released. Plus the casting. Damon? Maybe. Afflec? Okay. Both are older now, so certainly not choices to appeal to a younger crowd, though very decent actors. But Kylo Ren? Dude, I’m not sure you needed emo Vader on your staff for this one (I’m sorry, I hear he’s a tremendously gifted actor, but I’ve only seen him in one role and it colors my view).
The fact is, the marketing of this flew under the radar at best. Green Knight ads were everywhere and everyone was talking about it. Where were the ads for this film? Those who review the market will tell you the following: it was too long (2.5 hours); hard to market for its subject matter (rape central to the plot, resolved through the trope of a duel); appealed to older individuals who are still FAR less likely to go to movies right now; and suffered from competition from other films like the latest Bond movie.
In other words: they released it at the wrong time, AND failed to market it well. Sort of defies the comments he made, doesn’t it. The studio set it up to die. And die it did.
The world has changed, Ridley. This is a pandemic world now, and hundreds of millions of people are adjusting their lives to that reality. It remains to be seen if we’ll ever be post-pandemic given how many people prefer death over masks and vaccines, too. Only the biggest blockbusters matter at the box office these days. You should have asked to can this film for another year or two, and tried again if/when we’ve gotten past the crisis (for real, and not the wishful thinking of conservatives who think we should die to support the wealthy).
There might be much to love about this film. While I’m not thrilled that rape is so central to the plot, I love a good period piece as much as the next person. Many bad films are favorites of mine because they feature historic periods. I even sort of enjoyed your shitty Robin Hood movie with Russel Crow. Many good films, too, and I know the good ones from the bad. I’ll probably watch this once when it hits streaming channels just to see what all the fuss was about.
Heck, maybe you just don’t want to admit you made a really BAD film and your rising star as great director, once as bright as an exploding space tug, has dimmed considerably as you lean into your auteur status and let the worse demons of your nature guide you into producing bloated, overwrought pieces that cost a shit load to make and no one wants to sit in a theater for two and a half hours to watch. There’s a reason the Blade Runner theatrical release had to be trimmed down. Sounds like someone needed to rein you in on this one, too. You can always release a better received “director’s cut” later, and people will adore you for it.
Or, if you don’t want to admit that, just say “the studio did a terrible job marketing this,” and we’ll all move on. But Millennials with cell phones aren’t your problem, Ridley. No more than an alien xenomorph these days. Now get some rest and think hard on why you’ve been failing so much lately. I hear that upcoming Gucci release isn’t all that, either, and I don’t want to hear you complaining about kids with phones again.