Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sci-Fi at the Oscars

Most movies fall into only a handful of major genres. Drama, Comedy, Action/Adventure, Musical, Fantasy and of course… Science Fiction. You might think that since there are only a few basic categories that at one point or another a film from each major genre would have earned Best Picture at the Academy Awards. But not so. No Sci-Fi film has ever won the top prize, and in the entire history of the Oscars only a few have even been nominated for Best Picture.

Before this year, the only Sci-Fi films ever to be nominated for Best Picture were A Clockwork Orange (1971), Star Wars (1977), and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). That’s it. Three films since the annual ceremony began in 1927.

Then, in 2009, two Sci-Fi films were nominated among the expanded field of ten films, nearly matching the entire history of the Oscars in a single year. Those films were District 9 and Avatar.

District 9 was a relatively low budget film, set in South Africa, and it told the story of aliens being forced to live in a prison camp. It was a political film that echoed the real life struggle of the black population under apartheid in South Africa. Avatar was a massive three hour epic that pioneered a new type of motion-capture digital animation in 3D about a soldier who infiltrates an alien tribe using “avatar” technology. A human gets strapped into a machine and their consciousness is linked to a new body genetically engineered to look like those of the aliens. It went on to make more money than any other film in history, proving the box office viability of the Sci-Fi genre.

There were also other great Sci-Fi films in 2009. Star Trek, the re-booted story of the classic original characters, got the famous franchise that began in the ‘60s back into the mainstream. It got back to the roots of the original series, combining drama, humor, and adventure. There was also a very low budget film called Moon, starring Sam Rockwell who turned in perhaps the best performance of the entire year, about an astronaut on a three year solo mission on the surface of the moon. Science Fiction has a unique ability to make political points and comment on our culture by showing us other worlds, species, and time periods. Sometimes in order to learn about ourselves we need to put the story into a context that isn’t quite so familiar. Star Trek shows a future in which humanity has cured disease, stopped wars among countries, and united as a planetary race to explore the universe after it is discovered Earth isn’t the only home for life out there. District 9 exposes the ugliness of prejudice and racism by showing how fear leads people to subjugate those they don’t understand. Both Moon and Avatar make statements about corporate greed and the willingness to sacrifice lives and natural wonders for the sake of making money.

Science Fiction films have always played an important role in our popular culture, but have never quite gotten the respect they often deserve from the critics. They are never taken quite as seriously as they should, perhaps because of their subject matter. The very thing that allows them to be great can also make them appear silly on a surface level. But hopefully, 2009 was the beginning of a resurgence in the Science Fiction genre, and one day soon a Sci-Fi film will actually take home the Oscar for Best Picture.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah AK, here's hoping we have more "Moon"'s one the way. I look forward to that future.