Ridley Scott in conversation with James Cameron - Exclusive: Aliens, AI and Blade Runner

The two Hollywood legends analyse the history of sci-fi in James Cameron's new AMC event series - The Story of Science Fiction.

Ridley Scott was a veteran commercial director who had made just one feature film (1977’s The Duellists) when he revolutionized the science fiction genre with his unforgettable 1979 space horror Alien.

Scott’s painterly eye captured the planes and angles of the workaday space vessel the Nostromo with delicate precision, cultivating a palpable sense of claustrophobia before unleashing a nightmarish predator to stalk the vessel’s unsuspecting crew.  As the gleaming ebony xenomorph claimed new victims, Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley summoned reserves of courage to face down the threat—and survive.

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Ridley Scott and James Cameron

His follow-up—1982’s Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford as futuristic detective Rick Deckard—yet again raised the standard for science fiction on screen, its ideas so far ahead of their time that the film’s genius was only appreciated years later. Nevertheless, Scott went on to become a Hollywood icon—an astonishingly versatile and prolific filmmaker who channeled his immense talent as a visual artist into some of the most beautiful screen images ever created.

The UK premiere of James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction will be on Tuesday, June 19th – exclusive to BT customers.

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Scott has returned to the science fiction genre recently with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, two prequels set in the Alien universe he initiated, and The Martian, an Oscar-nominated adaptation of Andy Weir’s hit science-based novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars.

Here, Scott talks with James Cameron about the dangers of artificial intelligence, his memories of crafting cinema’s greatest and most enduring monster, and the melancholy beauty of one of Blade Runner’s most unforgettable scenes—replicant Roy Batty’s “Tears in Rain” monologue.

[Read more: James Cameron's greatest ever films]

James Cameron with Ridley Scott

JAMES CAMERON: I always said when I grew up, I wanted to be you. Even today, I say when I grow up I want to be you. I want to keep that energy and that passion for movies. You just shoot back to back to back. And you’ve got such incredible taste.

RIDLEY SCOTT: The plan is that there is no plan.

JC: We’re here because we both love science fiction as a genre. I’m sure you were probably somewhat like me and seeing all this stuff in your youth. You started as a designer, right? You went to Royal College, was it?

RS: Royal College [of Art in London]. What we didn’t have in those days was television, which was a big distraction. I didn’t have a TV at the house until 1954 when black and white arrived in England. So I used to read a lot. And science fiction got me. H. G. Wells, he was the first guy to really ring the bell for me. [What I liked to read] tended not to be spacey things. I could never get with [Isaac] Asimov.

JC: [Asimov] did a lot of the primary work on robotics and the Laws of Robotics. The interesting thing is you’ve done Blade Runner and now you’ve done a third film in the Alien franchise [Alien: Covenant] that has synthetic human beings in it. So you’ve done four major films with synthetic humans.

[Read more: Ridley Scott's greatest ever screen projects]

RS: Roy Batty in Blade Runner was an AI in the same way that an [intercontinental ballistic missile] is an AI. People forget that that’s an intelligent bomb. The beauty of a computer [is that] there is no emotion. It just makes decisions.

Negative or positive. In the very first Alien, there’s a great speech with [the android] Ash’s head on the table talking about [feeling] no remorse. Perfect AI. Nothing emotional to bend your decision or choice.

JC: But you did an AI with empathy with Rachael in Blade Runner. For that to have been a love story- and it emerged as a love story by the end—she had to have something there.

RS: She was a perfect Nexus-6, as they were called. The pièce de résistance of Tyrell [the head of the company that makes artificial humans known as replicants]. He was most proud of her to see where she would go.

JC: I got the impression that she was still learning and still taking in what it means to be human. It took Deckard a long time—I think
five times longer than it normally does - to decide that she was synthetic. But I think you’re dancing around the most important issue
around AI. If a machine becomes like us enough and complex enough, at what point can we no longer tell the difference?

RS: If you’re a very smart group of human beings creating an AI, one of the things you’re definitely going to leave out is emotion. You will keep emotion out of the equation. Because if you have emotion, emotion will lead to many facets: deceit, anger, fury, hatred, as well as love.

JC: We like machines because they do things more efficiently. They don’t need vacations. They don’t need sick days. All that sort of thing.

RS: Sounds like us.

RIdley Scott and James Cameron

JC: Exactly. We’re machines. . . . I was at a recent conclave up in Canada of top guys working in deep learning and strong AI and
what they call artificial general intelligence, which is more humanlike. One expert said right out, “We’re trying to make a person.” I said, “So when you say a person, you mean a person in the sense of personhood? They have an ego? They have a sense of identity?” He said, “Yes. All those things.”

RS: That’s really dangerous.

JC: If it’s a person, then does it have freedom? Does it have free will? How do you keep it from doing things? He said, “You give it goals, and you give it constraints.” I said, “So, you’re creating a person that is the equivalent to us in intelligence or possibly greater, but you’re basically chaining it. You’re putting a chain on it. We have a word for that. It’s called slavery. How long do you think they’re going to like that?”

RS: That’s true. It’s already in the wrong hands, you see. They’re doing it for blind passion, I think. Finding the cure for a disease -that’s a very constructive passion to get it right. But AI is another thing. You’ve got to be very careful.

JC: You had Ash [in Alien], then you had Blade Runner with the Nexus-6 replicants, then Prometheus and Alien: Covenant with David, then Walter and David [both played by Michael Fassbender]. David and Walter - did they require air?

RS: As Ash said in Alien, “Well, I’m built like this so you human beings feel comfortable. But I don’t really need to breathe if I don’t want to. Drop me in water, I’ll walk out.” David clearly is influenced by the existence of Ash. It’s an entirely logical process for a massive corporation to have on board a person in disguise that will look after its interests.

JC: Sigourney’s character got it right away. You know she felt so betrayed. The audience felt betrayed or tricked, so they aligned with her.

RS: It was all in the script. That wasn’t me. I was handed the script and went, wow. I was the fifth choice [to direct]. They’d given it to Bob Altman prior.

JC: That would have been a very different film and probably not one I would have enjoyed nearly as much. I was there on opening night. I was living down in Orange County. I was driving a truck for a living. I went to the theater with my wife at the time and her best friend and some date that the friend had that she didn’t know before. And when the chestburster scene takes place, the friend and the date are to my right. I hear the whole audience just erupt in screams, and I hear this piercing shriek to my right. As I’m coming out of the theater, I said, “Hey, Nancy, I thought you were pretty tough. What was with the big scream?” And she said, “It wasn’t me. It was him.” So, that didn’t work out. I was blown away by the film. I thought it was fantastic. In my life, there have been less than a handful of moments that are so lucid that I remember them even now. What theater I was in. What seat I was sitting in in the theater. 2001: A Space Odyssey and that scene in Alien were two of those moments. That leads us to a whole different topic from AI, which is aliens. Extraterrestrial life.

It’s interesting how what used to be - in medieval times or even through Renaissance times - angels and demons have become dark aliens and light aliens. You’ve got the angel aliens that come down in the big mothership and bathe us in rays of light, take us to some state of enlightenment, in [a film like] Close Encounters [of the Third Kind]. On the other hand, there’s the dark version of it, which you’ve been exploring with Prometheus and with Alien: Covenant especially. Taken it to a whole other level.

The UK premiere of James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction will be on Tuesday, June 19th – exclusive to BT customers.

AMC is available free of charge in the UK to BT TV customers on channel number 332 and to BT Sport Pack subscribers on Sky channel 192.

AMC is also available in HD on both BT TV and Satellite with an HD subscription.

AMC is the exclusive home of critically acclaimed shows such as The Terror, Fear the Walking Dead and Snatch.

New to BT? Get BT TV today >
Got BT Broadband? Add BT TV >
Got BT TV? Watch AMC now on channel 332 and catch up on the BT Player >

Excerpt provided by Insight Editions from James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. © 2018 AMC Network Entertainment LLC. All rights reserved.

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