The film barely registered at the box office, but it received enough critical notice to get him through the studio gates and win him a directing gig on a B-grade monster movie. Applying the visual sense and economical storytelling techniques he had honed in his ad career, he turned the movie into Alien (1979).
Despite that film’s overwhelming success, navigating the studio system remained an uphill battle for Scott. On his next movie, Blade Runner (1982), studio marketers panicked when test audiences seemed confused; they demanded that Scott add hokey voice-overs and tack on a happy ending to the bleak script. In the years since, various recuts closer to Scott’s original vision have surfaced, but, busy with other projects and hindered by a now resolved legal dispute over who owns the film, he felt like he never had the chance to release the movie he had intended to make. Last year Warner Bros. secured rights to the film and 25 years after its premiere will release Blade Runner: The Final Cut on DVD in December.
Again, on the 2005 film The Kingdom of Heaven, studio meddling transformed Scott’s three-hour epic about the clash of Muslim and Christian cultures during the Crusades into a two-hour action-adventure romp with a romantic subplot. The film was panned when it was released and tanked at the box office. Again, Scott turned to a director’s cut DVD, released last year and warmly received by critics. “Does it drive me mad? Yes it drives me f---ing crazy,” Scott says of such frustrating experiences. “I was beaten up, and I knew I’d done something fairly significant in the movie world.”
On American Gangster, however, Scott says there’s no chance he’ll be looking for a DVD do-over. This time around, Scott’s directing contract gave him final cut on Gangster. He compares making a movie to painting—a pursuit he’s taken up again in the past few years. “You just don’t know when you get all the paint across the canvas how it will turn out,” he says. “When you step back after you’ve finished, you say, ‘This one is not so good. This one is good.’ And this one comes up as pretty damn good.”