Sci-Fi Oscar Bias

On Sunday the Academy Awards will be presented and I really don’t care which film wins for best picture because I haven’t seen any of the nominated films. I’ll eventually watch some of the nominees on cable though. But looking at the list, I realize that as usual there isn’t a science fiction film nominated for best picture. Well, The Three Of Life features scenes of the Earth being set afire from our sun going supernova billions of years from now, but that film doesn’t dwell on those described moments. Then there’s Hugo, which has some arguably slight sci-fi elements, namely the dramatization of Georges Melies and his silent film Voyage To The Moon, but Hugo is more of a fantasy film and an ode to early filmmaking.

Some research reveals that in the entire history of the Oscars only six science fiction films have been nominated for best film. They are A Clockwork Orange, the original Star Wars, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Avatar, District 9, and Inception. (On a side note, Inglourious Basterds is considered by some to be science fiction only because its ending establishes the film to be about alternate history.) Sure sci-fi films dominate the technical categories such as special effects and sound, but that’s about it when it comes to recognition from the Oscars.

Films like Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey have made the top 100 list from the prestigious American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies, yet weren’t nominated for best film in the year they were released. Many other sci-fi films have stood the test of time, while some best picture nominees and winners have been forgotten by today’s audiences. For instance, we continue to talk about The Empire Strikes Back and Back To The Future, yet the movies that won for best picture in the years these sci-fi classics came out are largely ignored (1980’s Ordinary People-IMO, for the record, Raging Bull should’ve won that year; and 1985’s Out Of Africa-not even sure what that movie was about). How about the sci-fi films that were nominated? Does anyone actually believe that Annie Hall is a better film than Star Wars? Sure maybe a bunch of elitist snobs do but despite what George Lucas has done with the saga, the original film has stood the test of time and is a popular as ever. In the case of Avatar, there were stories of many Academy members having an axe to grind with James Cameron and had a rapid disdain for Avatar because of all the computer animation. For my money District 9 was a better film than either Avatar or the winning film, The Hurt Locker. With E.T., it was a better film than Gandhi, but by the time the awards came out there was an obvious backlash against Steven Spielberg’s film.  You can thank the marketing departments that plastered E.T.’s mug on everything at that time. Plus Gandhi was considered more respectable, mainstream and IMPORTANT.

It’s vital to realize that the Oscars are really just popularity/political contests and marketing campaigns among Hollywood insiders who award the statues to sentimental favorites and buddies. The Academy Awards are awash with tales of snubs and cronyism and outright dumb selections which goes beyond sci-fi films. Take the pick of Crash in 2005 over the more popular and more controversial Brokeback Mountain. Or the trite comedy Shakespeare In Love over Spielberg’s classic Saving Private Ryan. That oversight was primarily due to a massive marketing campaign by the former’s executive producers.

Oddly this bias doesn’t extend to fantasy movies because those types of films have received best picture nominations since the 1930s (1937’s Lost Horizon and 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz were the first fantasy films nominated for best picture) right up to this year. One even grabbed the Oscar for best picture nine years ago; that was The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, which many fans felt was the weakest in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. It should be noted that the bias against animated films is even worse, but that’s another story.

The hostility against sci-fi films by the Oscars is clearly evident and will continue for the foreseeable future.  It’s a shame really, since so many past sci-fi films are considered classics not just by fans but by mainstream viewers and critics. This prejudice may have begun with science fiction’s B-movie origins. But as anyone can tell you, sci-fi films have become more sophisticated and true pieces of cinematic art. Shockingly if you go to online sci-fi forums there are many members who put down sci-fi films and don’t consider them worthy of being nominated. So the bias even permeates among many so-called fans who just can’t see these films past their settings. The bottom line is that the Academy has to get over this bias and join the rest of the crowd. Until then we can only root for an occasional acting nomination or the reliable special effects category. Either that or wait for the Saturn or Scream Awards.

José Soto

Top 10 Sci-Fi Film Couples

It’s that time of year lovers! In commemoration of Valentine’s Day, here are the silver screen’s most romantic couples in the world of science fiction. The films they appear in aren’t always romances, actually, one of the entries on this list comes from a gritty, action-packed movie. The fact is there aren’t many sci-fi romantic films, so the focus is on the characters in a sci-fi film. Either way, these characters made for memorable couples and romances.

10. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese (The Terminator): OK this is a bit of a stretch. Romance in The Terminator? The one with all the explosions and darkness? Yes, it isn’t apparent when Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) first saves Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from the T-800, but as the movie progresses, the two begin to bond, culminating in a tender and passionate love moment.  Their brief encounter comes as a welcome relief in the midst of all the gore and gunfire and leads to humanity’s savior, their son John Connor.

9. Jake Sully and Neytiri (Avatar): Blue alien love baby! This film presents every sci-fi geek’s wish of having a big blue alien as a girlfriend. The love between Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) builds gradually. Initially she’s disgusted by him but then starts to admiring him until love took hold.  And towards the end, viewers see that her love for him is transcendent even after she sees Jake in his frail human form.

8. Superman and Lois Lane (Superman and Superman II): From the moment that Superman (Christopher Reeve) saved intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) from the helicopter accident and made his world debut, she only had eyes for the big boy scout. The sweeping romance continued in the sequel but ended in one big copout.

7. WALL-E and EVE (WALL-E): This is one unconventional romance, it’s between two robots but that’s science fiction. Ultimately the two exemplify the notion of opposites attract. WALL-E is a curious, Chaplinesque garbage robot, EVE is a suave, tough, and pristine scout robot. Naturally, he falls head over tank treads for EVE but she only comes to love him during the film as they save humanity.

6. Henry  and Claire DeTamble (The Time Traveler’s Wife): Relationships are hard, but how much harder is it when your husband has a genetic abnormality that makes him time travel uncontrollably throughout his lifetime? That’s what viewers see when Henry (Eric Bana) literally pops in and out of the life of Claire (Rachel McAdams), even on their wedding day! Warning: the ending is a tearjerker.

5. H.G. Welles and Amy Robbins (Time After Time): This underappreciated sci-fi film has H.G. Welles (Malcolm McDowell) time traveling to San Francisco in 1979 to track down Jack the Ripper. Along the way, the sweetly naive Welles meets strong-willed, modern  bank teller Amy (Mary Steenburgen) and they soon have an affair. The chemistry the actors shared was obvious (they even got married in real life for a time) and made the film more special.

4. Cornelius and Zira (Planet Of The Apes and Escape From The Planet Of The Apes): Their relationship wasn’t the center of attention in the first film but forms a strong foundation in the third film. Across the first three Apes films viewers see a tender, loving simian couple who strongly respect and cherish one another. Sadly, this makes the end of the third film so heartbreaking when they are brutally killed. It’s still hard to watch Zira’s (Kim Hunter) final moments when she embraces Cornelius’ (Roddy McDowall) body as she dies.

3. Doc Brown and Clara Clayton (Back To The Future, Part III): Marty McFly’s time-traveling partner (Christopher Lloyd) is trapped in the 1880s but finds existence there to be rewarding thanks to a chance encounter with schoolteacher Clara (Mary Steenburgen again). She gets extra bonus points from us since she’s a big science fiction fan! The tortured choices that Doc faces on whether or not to return to the present or stay with his true love really do a number on him. But alas, love conquers all.

2. Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back): Who would’ve thought of it? A scruffy, unpolished smuggler and a headstrong, independent space princess falling for each other. Han (Harrison Ford) and Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) relationship lift the first Star Wars sequel with their romantic tension and squabbling that reaches a climax when they first kiss passionately while fixing the Millennium Falcon. Plus, as every fan knows the film has one of the greatest comeback line to “I love you.”

1. Starman/”Scott Hayden” and Jenny Hayden (Starman): Poor Jenny (Karen Allen) is still mourning the death of her husband when she gets the shock of her life when he is reborn in front of her. Actually the resurrected Scott is a stranded alien (Jeff Bridges) who takes her husband’s form and enlists her help to get back to a rescue spaceship. Like any romantic road trip picture, the two don’t quite connect at first but begin to like then love each other. What helps the romance are the passionate performances by both actors, John Carpenter’s direction and the haunting yet uplifting score by Jack Nitzsche.

Finally, let’s give a shout out to those without a beloved on Valentine’s Day and mention the big screen’s best would-be lovers. In an ode to unrequited love in the realm of science fiction that honor goes to Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) from Serenity.

Annette DeForrester