are the oscars allergic to science fiction?

March 10, 2010

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 ]

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  • Darlene

    I stopped caring about meaningless awards a long time ago.

    If everyone else did, the Oscars could go away and stop wasting time.

    Maybe Hugos and Nebulas should incorporate movies into their awards, and let local experts pick winners from the stuff they know.

    It is as ridiculous as thinking an AKC judge actually has enough knowledge about every single breed of dog that that can actually make a reasonable decision. They pick what they like and what they know. Same as Oscar committees and all the other pointless competitions that don’t actually prove value, just give a push for future sales.

  • jimijr

    So what’s your favorite candidate film? 2001: A Space Odyssey? Dr Strangelove? Dark Star?

  • marlB

    Blade runner and or Alien

  • Not that I was a big Avatar fan anyways, but I do see your point Greg.

    Face it, sci-fi caters to a narrow audience, even if mainstream concepts are utilized as topics.

    The ‘Oscars’ are just mainstream media background noise for the drones IMHO.

  • Greg Fish

    sci-fi caters to a narrow audience, even if mainstream concepts are utilized as topics.

    True, but so does fantasy. How come elves and orcs are Oscar worthy but robots, lasers and spacecraft aren’t? Speaking of which, even historical movies about space don’t win in the Best Picture category. Remember a little flick with Tom Hanks called Apollo 13? It was nominated for nine awards and won just two: editing and sound. Again, elves and orcs win over a true story of a crew of astronauts fighting for their lives in space…

  • Jorg

    Has any science fiction novel ever won a major “mainstream” literary prize? I don’t think so. This is a classic example of the worst kind of ignorant snobbery: I am sure most of the judges have never read one in their life. Or, at least, not since the Golden Age. They simply do not realize how far science ficiton–as a distinct, complex and visionary literary genre–has come in the last, um, 50 years. But I am used to that by now. I proudly announce to everyone and sundry that the only fiction I read is of the “science/speculative” variety (since it subsumes every other literary genre, after all, the statement is absolutely true, even though I prefer “hard science” subgenre) and emit withering laughter when anyone dares to question my taste, before skewering them with examples both intelligent and beautiful. :)

    Kin-dza-dza, Solaris (original version) and Stalker; Strangelove and 2001; Bladerunner. District 9, certainly. Several others come close.

    And dad2059: I do not agree. At all. There are many subvarieties of speculative fiction–anything from “high baroque space opera” to steampunk and ribofunk :) and even romance–so most bases are covered. Of course, science fiction–outside the narrow “lowest-common-denominator” field a la Avatar–does assume some knowledge of the issues involved and some degree of education and–dare I say it!–intelligence. But not that much…:)

  • ben

    To all you snottheads in the academy-
    The only movie which has ever deserved that best picture prize was Lord of the rings.The people at the academy hate the future. They hate math and science and technology because they all failed their academic subjects. They hate the idea of discovery, or any imagination. The only reason why this trevesty is happening is because these guys don’t no their multiplecation facts. If you are in the academy, go back to school. I am a huge science fiction and fantasy fan, and i’m proud! Us nerds are tommorow’s scientists and mathmeticians! Up your face academy snob heads!!!! :p and by the way, apollo 13 is an amazing, true story! Its a great movie, but are to dumb to realize it!!

  • ben

    oops!! Eating noodles while commenting made me use awful grammar!