Ridley Scott vs James Cameron

Introduction

Two great directors, two great films. An evaluation of two artists, their craft, and why we shouldn’t pit them against each other.

I’ve been asked to evaluate a recurring notion of why fans tend to pit one director over another in the Alien franchise. This involves, of course, the great Ridley Scott and James Cameron. In my opinion, they are the directors of the most beloved films in the Alien-verse.

Why is there a perceived animosity between the two?

It seems rather obvious (at least to me) that both directors have their own distinct visual style, and differ because they come from entirely different backgrounds.

Early Work and Talents

Ridley Scott’s early career revolved around shooting commercials. He shot a great number before eventually directing his first film, The Duellists (1977). The film was a critical success and people took notice of the director’s visual style before he eventually landed the director’s chair on Alien (1979).

Duellists
The Duellists (1977), taken from The New Yorker

James Cameron began his career working for Roger Corman in various roles at Corman’s studios. Working with visual effects, set design, and as 2nd unit director, he quickly became a staple and go-to guy for Corman before working on his first film Piranha 2 (1981). Soon after he directed a breakthrough success with The Terminator (1984).

Terminator
Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator (1984), taken from Soundtrack Geek

Both directors brought their unique talents to their respective films. For example, Scott’s excellent use of widescreen camera work and use of negative space and Cameron’s amazing use of special effects and writing a suitable character arc for Aliens main protagonist Ellen Ripley display their impact upon the Alien-verse.

Mutual Respect & Scrapped Futures

Over the years, both directors have commented on each other’s films and there is clearly a mutual respect on a professional level for each other’s craft:

“…so what I think James Cameron did was an excellent action picture. It was really amazing what he accomplished. There is no question Cameron made an excellent film with aliens. It really is an achievement.”
– Ridley Scott, excerpt from Aliens: Complete Illustrated Screenplay 

Cameron has always made his love for Alien known. He adored it and following in Scott’s footsteps meant a great deal to him. Cameron has even admitted to liking Scott’s later film in the series, Prometheus (2012).

“Interesting, I thought it was an interesting film, I thought it was thought-provoking , and beautifully, visual mounted. But at the end of the day, it didn’t add up logically. But I enjoyed it and I’m glad it was made. I liked it better than the last two Alien sequels. ”
– James Cameron, excerpt from an IndiWire article in 2014

Before Fox began production on their Alien versus Predator film, both directors contemplated working on a fifth Alien film together. A James Cameron written-and-produced Alien movie directed by Ridley Scott:

” At one point I pitched that I would write and produce it, and Ridley would direct it and we had lunch talking about this and we were in violent agreement then nothing happened ”
– James Cameron

But, alas, AVP (2004) was made and its sequel green-lit and released in 2007. Cameron moved on to other projects and Scott later returned to an idea he had in the back of his mind for some time. Thus, the Alien prequel series began with Prometheus and has continued with Alien: Covenant (2017).

Conclusion

Back to my original point – putting one director over the other is a futile act. While Cameron made a different type of film compared to Ridley, he maintains that he stayed as true as possible to Alien while breaking some new ground with his own. Aliens, like Alien, is an Oscar nominated film and easily regarded as a masterpiece of science fiction (just like Alien). Judging a Cameron film compared to a Scott film is like comparing apples to oranges. Different styles, strengths, appeal… the list goes on. Both directors have proven themselves to be very successful in their own right, independent of one another.

Scott and Cameron respect each other.
Scott and Cameron fans should respect each other too.

Or be like me and absolutely love both.

Scott and Cameron
Masters of their craft, taken from The New York Times