It always hurts to see someone die. It hurts twice as much when said person has directly impacted your view on art, and it hurts even more to know that they passed on due to terrible circumstances. Such is the case for Tony Scott, one of the greatest, most stylistic and unique mainstream Hollywood directors ever to grace the screen with his inimitable presence, who sadly passed away on the 19th of August 2012 after jumping off of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in the midst of “fighting a lengthy battle with cancer.” (As said by his brother, Ridley Scott). Despite this, Tony Scott left behind a legacy that is still unmatched as one of the best, most visually ambitious of all Hollywood directors who has without a doubt had a huge impact on many of the mainstream directors working today (most evidently, Michael Bay), and a man who consistently entertained millions, to the point that film will never forget his work… even if their prioritising Top Gun above all else seems like a mistake to me…
Anyway, without too much more of an introduction, we’re going to look into the work of Tony Scott here, excluding short films and running in chronological order just for ease. In this article, we’re going to look exclusively at the films Scott released in the 1980s.
The Hunger (1983)
Somehow (likely due to his connection to his brother, Ridley Scott, who was already well entrenched in the film scene due to a little film called Alien releasing a few years before…), Tony Scott managed to start his feature film career with a film starring no other than the Starman, David Bowie, alongside Catherine Deneuve (who needs no introduction) and Susan Sarandon, in this extremely stylistic vampire drama about John, the vampire who suddenly finds himself ageing at a rapid rate. Scott’s beautiful style is surprisingly well suited to the darker and more dingy gothic textures that cover this, and even though his visuals feel quite influenced by Nic Roeg (especially The Man Who Fell To Earth, which is striking as both star Bowie as something not quite human), the film clearly shows Scott’s visual potential and, for a debut feature, it is just astounding. The direction is so self-assured and confident whilst never striking as obnoxious or pretentious, managing to toe the line and glide along that oh-so wonderful sweet spot that is impossible to take your eyes off of. It’s a beautiful meeting point between deep melancholy and impossible, freeing ecstasy, and one hell of a first film for any director.
Top Gun (1986)
As if The Hunger wasn’t impressive as a debut, three years later Tony Scott somehow made his second feature film outing one of the most iconic and well known films of all time, with the beautiful Top Gun. Of course, the film isn’t perfect – it’s often really quite silly, but Scott has never been tempted by focusing on reality, it seems he is a director drawn to making films due to the opposite – he chases the kind of fantasy that is achievable through film, and so Top Gun just becomes a beautiful celebration of technology and of cinema. It’s a film that simply feels triumphant throughout, as you can feel Scott’s wandering eye has latched onto his subject and the sheer joy of everybody there. It has that tangible feeling of a group of people so proud to be working on something, with the notable hunger of being new to the game – this feeling is smothered over Top Gun so much that you could probably scrape it off of your screen and bottle it at any given point. With its deep oranges and distinct military greens, it just looks beautiful, and in a way the cheesiness of the plot also adds to this inimitable charm and makes Top Gun one of those films that, in an ironic way, deserves its reputation among casual filmgoers as one of the go-to all time classics.
And in all honesty, even the remake feels right, with new cameras being built specifically for the film. From the trailers, it looks like the producers understand the charm that came with the over-the-top insanity of the first, with it stating just grounded enough to function as a kind of entrancing hyper-reality… I, for one, am really quite excited to see how it turns out. If it can manage to even hold a candle to the original’s beautiful visuals, we’re in for a treat. With such a focus on technological developments since the last one, I think it’s bound to at least look fantastic… but only time will tell!
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
Taking a slight detour here to look at a film that I’m still often surprised to see Scott’s name attached to (until I remind myself of how the film looks and then it becomes transparently clear), let’s look at the second Beverly Hills Cop film. Of course, the first is as much of a classic as Top Gun is, and even if I personally don’t think all too much of the first it’s really not difficult to look at what it does and see why it is so enjoyable to so many. It does an excellent job of riding the line between action, thriller and comedy, managing to actually mix all three to the point that the audience is constantly expecting something new to happen and still is consistently surprised, and what I said earlier about Scott’s ability to toe cinematic genre lines when talking about The Hunger most definitely also applies to his work on Beverly Hills Cop II. Infusing his one of a kind visual style into what is otherwise just a really, really fun and off the wall blockbuster of pretty epic proportions that definitely has the unique feeling that comes with the cop action/comedy hybrids of the time (see also Lethal Weapon 1-4 and the Dirty Harry sequels – the first is quite serious but after that they become more self aware and let loose for the most part, aside from the fourth film, Sudden Impact).
It seems that Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley and Scott were just a matching too good to be true, as both seem to bounce off of each other seamlessly despite the fact that Scott doesn’t appear once in front of the camera. He is all over the film, in its slick lighting, the quick editing and the pacing that seems to only have time for chaos and laughter. It’s like a blueprint to a Michael Bay film if it were picked up by someone else… and it’s beautiful…
And this film concludes Scott’s work from the 1980s! I know that this has been quite short, but Scott didn’t do too many films in the 1980s, so the 90s is where this will really take off! Certainly making his presence known in the first four years of his career, Scott would only go on to greater things, too…
In the next part to the retrospective, we’ll look at all of his 1990s work, so be sure to stay tuned if you care to read about those, too! Thanks for reading!