Everyone has probably already heard the news of Tony Scott over the past few days, and read the many recaps of his life and accomplishments. There’s not a lot more that can be said that hasn’t been reported by hundreds of news outlets around the globe, though the impersonal style of reports that are mainly just releasing developments don’t convey the emotion of a fan; and hopefully that’s where this article will differ. Hopefully it will convey the work he’s done through someone that is maybe a little too obsessed with movies, who was greatly affected by the vivid, action-packed worlds that Tony Scott created in order to tell some of the most poignant and entertaining stories of the past three decades.
I think everyone’s first introduction to Tony Scott was Top Gun in 1986, which helped launch the careers of Scott, Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, and a handful of other actors. It was also Tony’s first collaboration with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who he would work with on a handful of acclaimed movies like Days of Thunder, Enemy of the State, and Beverly Hills Cop II. As in those movies, Scott was able to deftly take the audience through a variety of emotions that added incredible realism to the story. As many guys know, Top Gun was the quintessential metaphor for becoming a man: stepping out of your father’s shadow, finding brotherhood, and learning that sometimes your pride must be sacrificed for the greater good. Moreover, it was a tremendously ambitious first project for Scott, who had to coordinate shots of planes that whizz by at breakneck speed and fly high above the level where conventional movie cameras can travel. There’s even a story about how Scott was trying to get a shots of jets taking off and landing, backlit by an enormous setting sun, when the ship’s commanding officer turned the ship and ruined the shot. When Scott asked him to go back, and was told that the ship cost $25,000 to turn, Scott whipped out his wallet and wrote a check for $25,000, which he promptly handed to the officer. I still remember that shot too — with the silhouette of the jet piercing the crimson sun that was made even more surreal by the heat haze coming off the deck. Here’s the trailer for the 3D re-release that may or may not still be released following the director’s untimely death:
In addition to Bruckheimer, Scott also worked with some of the most talented writers in Hollywood today, including Shane Black (The Last Boy Scout) and Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino wrote much of the dialogue for 1995’s Crimson Tide, but went largely uncredited for years due to extensive rewrites to the original script. However, Scott and Tarantino’s greatest collaboration was the 1993 cult classic, True Romance. It remains one of my favorite movies of all time, due largely to Tarantino’s undeniable story telling abilities and Scott’s excellent scene interpretations. Scott always knew how to use a little bit of light in just the right way to give the scene an added edge. Take the scene where Dennis Hopper is giving his fateful speech to Christopher Walken in his trailer: there’s just a tiny bit of light from an overhead lamp that shines on both men, with their cigarette smoke filling the air with obscurity and tension. Or when Christian Slater goes to meet Gary Oldman, and the room is fairly dark except for that one lamp hanging over head, which Oldman tosses around just before a brutal fight made (more dramatic by the chaotic lighting). And even though the movie was filled with terrific action, it was the characters that audiences became so invested in that made the movie what it was. Scott made us care so much about them, made us root for them, because they embodied the same sliver of innocence and hope that we all have. When Alabama was nearly killed in the bathroom, I found myself on the edge of my seat with a lump in my throat, seriously concerned. When a bullet grazed Clarence’s head and he fell behind the couch, I almost found myself shouting along with Alabama for Clarence to wake up, worried that everything I had believed in for the previous hour and forty-five minutes had been shattered. The trailer doesn’t really convey that, but here it is:
And Tony Scott got even better about creating characters that audiences really cared about as his career progressed. Scott created such tension in The Fan (thanks in part to a disturbing portrayal by Robert De Niro) that audiences sat in intense anticipation as De Niro stood on the mound, with a knife in his hand, waiting to see if the deranged fan could kill his idol. Few people were able to keep from getting choked during the end of Man on Fire, when Denzel Washington walked past Dakota Fanning during the hostage swap knowing that neither of them would ever see their best friend ever again. Towards the end of Unstoppable, people held their breath as Chris Pine moved along the train, attempting to couple the engine to the rear car and almost getting sucked under the train in the process. And I don’t even want to talk about when Goose hit that canopy. Here’s that final scene from Man on Fire, with extra special Spanish subtitles! (sorry, it was the best I could do)
Tony Scott helped create characters that audiences could truly care about (if only for a couple of hours) and put them in such realistically dire situations that we hoped with every fiber of our bodies that they would have a happy ending. In doing so, he became a larger than life character himself, and fans of his films were crushed to discover that he couldn’t give himself the happy ending he so richly deserved. However, as with many unhappy endings, audiences need only go back to the start and relive all of Scott’s achievements and the joy he brought to so many to realize that the journey was far more important than end, and the characters that took part made all the difference.
Rest in Peace, Tony Scott