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Friday, 26 April 2019 01:39 am

Do sci-fi geeks dream of statuettes?

ON THE CARPET: Oscar Statues at Kodiak Theatre, Los Angeles

ON THE CARPET: Oscar Statues at Kodiak Theatre, Los Angeles

The 82nd Academy Awards ended with a lot less bang than this year’s Best Picture, Iraqi bomb disposal drama, Hurt Locker.

No suprises there then.

But for a brief moment in cinematic history it was entirely possible the American Academy of Arts and Sciences would finally give us the golden statuette of approval we sci-fi nerds so desperately craved.

A sci-fi Best Picture.

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BIG BLUE: James Cameron's Avatar's pickled people not picked

For the first time in the history of film two sci-fi movies made it into the coveted Best Picture gang: District 9 and Avatar.

It was always a long shot.  No science fiction movie has ever won Best Picture.

In the history of the Oscars, genre films generally don’t stand a chance unless there’s some extraneous hype and excitement attached to them.

For Avatar, it was the 3D and the budget ($500 million) that got it there.  It sure as Pandora wasn’t the trite storyline or hammy acting.

For District 9, it was less clear what contributed to its nomination. Was it just the Peter Jackson effect?  Or could it have been the Academy recognising passionate story telling neatly combined with state of the art special effects?

District 9 is genre, no doubt, but it’s also true science-fiction.

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PRAWN POWER: District 9 worthy and weird

That means it’s not about the whizz-bang machines (although the stuff that makes heads explode is pretty awesome), it’s not about the space ships.

It is about the people and, in the case of District 9, bug-things and how they cope with their strange new world.

This was so not the case in the first sci-fi ever nominated for an Oscar.

2001: A Space Odyssey, nominated in 1968 for Best Director, Special Effects, Screenplay and Art Direction, is part sci-fi drama, part pre-Woodstock psychedelic freak out.

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TRIPPY: Kubricks 2001, not your average space-opera

But 2001, monkeys and all, was directed by Stanley Kubrick – a man who managed to convince the film world that being a weird little Englishman with a penchant for mind games was actually the definition of pure genius – and therefore real film despite all the wacky space junk.

It won Best Effects, because, really, that was pretty much all it had going for it.

But Stanley, the giant freakshow, is responsible for another classic sci-fi which was overlooked by Oscar.

Dr Strangelove: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, while not your average space opera, was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture.  It won none.

Sci-fi returned to the Oscars in full force in the 70s thanks to two of that decade’s genre heroes: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

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HOME PHONED: Spielberg's ET - ignored by Oscar

Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET all received nominations.  But again, they didn’t actually win anything.

The debate about whether this was because they up against the really worthy stuff like Annie Hall and Ghandi, or because the Academy continued to see them as nothing more than big dumb light shows for overgrown kids is still going.

It’s sad because no one does dysfunctional families and pathos better than Spielberg.

His hero in Close Encounters is a man who abandons the family he’s traumatised with his Devils Mountain fixation to chase aliens, in ET, Spielberg has Dee Stone play the solo mother of kid’s whose father forgets to call them on their birthdays with frantic, compensatory, over exuberance.

But still, there are aliens in it, right?  So…no Oscars.

But then the Academy saw the light.  In 1985 an Oscar did go to Don Ameche for his role in that classic of the sci-fi genre…Cocoon.

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OLD GUYS: Cocoon won Ameche an Oscar for being...old.

Cocoon, the story of some old people who get to go to space instead of a rest home in Florida, is so bad that Steve Guttenberg is in it.  And yet, somehow, the Academy felt Ameche’s wizened old, tea-dance lurking grandpa was worth Best Supporting Actor nod.

Dan Ameche was approximately 7000 years old when he made this film, so perhaps the Oscar was more for his outstanding work in making it from the trailer to the set in one piece each day?  Who knows.

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BRAVE NEW WORLD: Blade Runner is a cult favourite

The late 80s and 90s were a good time for Sci-fi all round.

Seminal cult film Blade Runner was released, ignored and released again. Men In Black combined 90s cynicism with zeitgeist-hugging conspiracy theory.

Jurassic Park, The Truman Show, Fifth Element, were all released.

And all pretty much ignored by Oscar.

And then there were the franchises: Alien and its buddy Terminator – dark, dystopian visions in which the good guys were far more likely to be eaten/gunned down by the alien/psychotic time-travelling robot as they were to make friends with it.

Sci-fi film was all grown up.

The Academy, however, could not have cared less.  Neither film was nominated for Best Picture or Best Director despite the massive changes to the genre they heralded.

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HORROR: Aliens won Cameron two Oscars

Aliens did win two Oscars though.  One for the now CGI friendly Best Special Effects category, and one for sound editing, which as everyone knows is the Oscarly equivalent of pat on the back for being such a good sport and having a go.

Those films bring us neatly back to Mr Cameron – director of Aliens, and The Terminator – and the point of this whole thing:  the first sci-fi Best Picture.

And so to the Academy.

Is anyone surprised the celluloid mafia defaulted to the idea sci-fi is just a bunch of pretty lights that keep the computer nerds happy?

Not really.

But for a moment there it was a pretty close call.  Avatar, District 9 or, same old same old, Hurt Locker, Oscar?  That’s what it came down to.

I’m disappointed the Academy hit reset.  It meant the fact that District 9, a movie about giant bugs living in a ghetto, was nominated for Best Picture will become just another foot-note on IMDB.

On the plus side, now Avatar can finally be assigned its proper place in cinematic history: the $2 bin at Civic video.

(My fear was that the first sci-fi Best Picture would go to Avatar and confirm forever the idea that sci-fi is about ridiculous people in ridiculous situations doing dumb stuff.  And I’m not just talking about James ‘King of the World’ Cameron.)

My worry is that District 9 will be the forgotten one, treasured only by geeks who understand sci-fi, the best sci-fi, is never about the science, or the fiction.

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PHOTO: New York Times

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is is a former Whitireia Journalism student.
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  1. Bloody good article, exactly my interests. I like your take on the Awards, best thing written/filmed about the bloody over-hyped spectacle.

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