After one of the biggest sci-fi blockbusters ever endured constant jokes and won few awards on Oscar night, it seems that quite a few blogs and entertainment industry articles are abuzz with one question. Is the Academy avoiding the science fiction genre, imagining sci-fi movies as little more than trivial popcorn flicks devoid of all important or political themes? For example, if someone were to re-imagine Heinlein’s tale of idealistic rebels becoming the very kind of authoritarian rulers they despised, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, would it be a less worthy movie than a historical biopic or an adaptation of another famous book? Does a film set in the future or using laser canons instead of guns immediately designate it as B-level pulp unworthy of critical attention?
Here’s the thing. I’m not saying that Avatar should’ve won an award for Best Picture since, as was said before, the story was an exercise in contrasts, pitting amazing visual effects against a painfully simplistic parable that relentlessly pounded every viewer over the head with an environmental message containing all the depth of a Captain Planet rerun. Sure, some cool transhumanist ideas were left in the final product because there was another chance to stuff something about unity with nature, but it was definitely not a serious contender for the title. It wasn’t the only science fiction movie however, and the far more dramatic and politically charged District 9 was also on the docket. It was thought provoking, inspired by real and brutal events, and had an ending that spoke volumes in just a few minutes of screen time. But of course, it couldn’t win against another politically inspired film based on real and very current events.
Giant shrimp eating cat food in decaying slums vs. bomb squads in Iraq? That’s an easy one for the Academy. The aliens and their shantytown were a metaphor? Yeah, whatever. Nerds. And that’s the problem. It’s hard to believe that in over 80 years of the Oscars being awarded, not a single science fiction movie has ever won an award for Best Picture. Even a fantasy movie managed to barge its way into this category after hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to the delight of fantasy lovers across the world. Are science fiction tales really that sub-par compared to war movies and drama? Considering how the votes have been going so far, I would think it’s safe for any filmmaker who decides to explore themes that aren’t on the Academy’s approved list of award worthy genres and looks into the future for an allegory of today, to abandon hope of ever being rewarded for the effort, no matter how well the movie turns out.
[ illustration by Tomasz Miazga, some images may be a tad NSFW ]