When I was little, like most little kids, I would look up into the night sky and see the stars, beautiful and bright, and have no idea what I was looking at. Now, at 24, I have a slightly better grip on the cosmos (BTW check out Cosmos, airing on Fox on Sundays!), but I feel like the Academy is still a child when watching a science fiction film. They see it. They love it. But ultimately, they have no idea what they are really looking at. It is foreign to them and seemingly unrelateable, since science fiction occurs in places and times unknown to man. And here I sit, wondering, when, if, a science fiction movie will ever win Best Picture.
See, I know this sounds crazy, but a science fiction film really has never won the Oscar for Best Picture. Not Star Wars, not E.T. Nope, not Close Encounters of the Third Kind (not even nominated actually). And get this, 2001: A Space Odyssey was not nominated either. I know, right? And numerous other significant science fiction films you can think of did not win either, or probably weren’t even nominated.
So, if Gravity can’t take home the award, then what will? Don’t get me wrong, 12 Years a Slave was a worthy winner and a remarkable achievement in filmmaking, but it simply isn’t Gravity. The difference between the two films, and why one won, is the subject matter. 12 Years a Slave has an unbeatable premise and it is supremely executed. Hats off to everyone involved in the making of that film. Honestly. It is one of the best movies of the century. Early, only 15 years in, but still a remarkable film.
Anyway, back to Gravity, the movie that looked like it was shot is outer space. An achievement that was not really overlooked, since it won every technical award at the Oscars, but in the big picture, it was surely overlooked, or at least dismissed, due to its simple story structure. But seriously, Alfonso Cuarón created technology that previously did not exist to make this movie. Let me repeat that. Alfonso Cuarón made up technology to make this movie. It is technically one of the most genius and innovative films ever to be made, but that, unfortunately, is not how the Oscars work.
Some of the most ground-breaking films happen to be science fiction films, but due to their unfamiliar location or feel, like Star Wars and Blade Runner, take place in locations either not of earth, or a version of earth that is uncomfortable to watch. And it is this uncomfortableness with the setting that makes it hard to vote for science fiction films for Best Picture at the Oscars. So much of the voting process is feel, and that is not a strength of the science fiction film, even though many science fiction films are allegories or parallels to life on earth. Let’s look back at the opening sequence of Gravity, the ominous and unsettling shots of earth from space. It is unsettling because of how it was shot and how cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who deservingly won an Oscar) handled the camera. Another example is the first shot of Blade Runner, a shot of a dystopian and “distant” future. It is this distance that pushes away voters and it is a shame.
So now you’re probably saying, “Matt, but 12 Years a Slave is far from a comfortable viewing?” Yes, of course it is, there is no denying that, but its familiarity in setting makes it relatable and real. Slavery happened and we all know it. And it takes place on the planet earth, which we all live on. Not all of us have traveled into space. In fact, hardly any of us have, and even though they are between us and the moon, it is still more of a leap to relate to 2 people is space, than a slave. I mean, at least that’s what the voters for the Oscars make it seem like.
It is just strange that a genre as rich as science fiction, with all of its ground breaking and innovative techniques, and filmmakers that push what filmmakers can do, has not won Best Picture at the Oscars. True stories and human stories are coveted more than creativity at the Oscars, so until the voters start looking for something different in a Best Picture nominee, it may be a while until we see it happen.