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Connecting Ridley Scott’s color schemes, from his commercials to his films.

Connecting Ridley Scott’s color schemes, from his commercials to his films. (photo)

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By his own estimation, Sir Ridley Scott has directed over 2,000 commercials — valuable training for his career as a visual stylist and a trail-blazer in the field of commercials directors who transitioned over to the movies. That’s an enormous body of work, but the stylistic transitions from each decade are surprisingly consistent. In the ’70s, Scott did earth-tones, in the ’80s, he did neon, and after that, he pretty much did anything that would stick.

Scott’s biggest commercial from the ’70s is the Hovis bread “Bike” ad, which readers of the Independent voted their favorite commercial of all time in 2006. Viewed without any nostalgia or context, it’s a hokey piece of work — in a far-off time that never was, a young lad pushes a bike up cobblestone streets while the voiceover mutters something about delivering bread to “ol’ Ma Beggarty’s place” while the “New World” symphony plays, conflating magical old Britain with a symphony designed to evoke America. Here it is:

At that point, Ridley Scott was a British director, something driven home by “The Duellists,” his 1977 feature debut that follows similar visual guidelines. At the time, it was noted for conspicuous stylization, but it’s got nothing on what was to follow — the colors of the outside world bear an actual resemblance to what the world actually looks like. Once he left, his work would never be as self-consciously earthy or faux-naturalistic:

1979’s “Alien” elevated Scott to a whole new level, but it wasn’t until he discovered neon that he found his signature look. “Blade Runner” set the standard for what the future looked like circa the ’80s, and it connected the dots between the rising business specter of Japan and a particular aesthetic (which Scott took it even further with 1989’s “Black Rain,” aka “Michael Douglas vs. The Yakuza”).

This was the point when Scott’s work was actually about something, and some of his most prominent commercials from the period are very clear on this. 1985’s famous “Pepsi: Choice of a New Generation” ad practically looks like an outtake, and even more so the cavernous gloom of a 1986 ad that never saw TV about budget deficits. In the future, we will all live in neon-lit colonies of Japan.

After “Thelma and Louise,” Scott’s work became less distinctive — not just in the floptastic period of “White Squall” and “G.I. Jane,” but even in his alleged ’00s comeback. The difference is a visual one as well. In the ’70s and ’80s, Scott’s lighting was, as they say, “motivated” — you could tell where all the colors were coming from within the set. The commercials are similarly random:

After that, it’s all kind of random, dependent more upon whatever allegedly looks the most cool. I have no idea why the opening battle scene of “Gladiator” is so blue; my only guess is that Sir Ridley decided to follow the lead of his brother Tony (“Top Gun,” “Deja Vu”), the king of unmotivated color palettes. In any case, it hasn’t done his work any favors.

[Photo: The “bike” ad, Hovis, 1973]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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