It is a well-known fact that Science fiction/Fantasy movies receive little love when it comes to awards. The Academy tends to ignore them, in favour of “serious” movies; movies which explore the depths of human emotion and present real-life struggles by relatable people. But don’t good sci-fi movies do the same, with more visual appeal, and aplomb?
Let’s take examples, shall we? The ‘Interstellar‘, in spite of being such an ambitious project, was mostly snubbed by the Academy. Apart from technical categories, the Academy didn’t see it fit to nominate the movie for any other awards. A Best Director nomination for Christopher Nolan is so long overdue that it is turning out to be the Martin Scorcese story all over again.
But then, ‘Interstellar’ doesn’t even count in the best science fiction movies made. Not by a mile. I am talking about the movies which are right there on top, with the Citizen Kanes and the Casablancas of the film industry. We have had classic oldies like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; made in 1927, it was a film so far ahead of its time that no one seemed to realize its importance back then. It is now hailed as a masterpiece, and one of the best works of the German auteur.
2001: A Space Odyssey
But the film which single-handedly redefined science fiction, and caused it to be taken seriously as a genre in cinema, was undoubtedly Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. A grand epic, it addresses all the themes which are apparently critics friendly, and is a technical marvel. It now enjoys a well-deserved status in almost all the lists of best movies made. But then, no Oscar love.
Another SF cult-classic is ‘Solaris’ ( no, not the Clooney one. ). Directed by one of the most influential directors of all time, Andre Tarkovsky, the film explores the human consciousness at its basest, the nature of love and desire and the difference between the real and the unreal. But of course, you’ll be asking me – see, all these movies are classics, why the rant then? I ask you – do you really hear these films talked about? Maybe you’ll get a fleeting mention of 2001, but not more than that.
‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Back to the Future’
Perhaps an argument can be made that since ‘Star Wars’, the genre of SF has primarily regarded as a cash-cow. All the real stuff gets bogged down under the blinding glares of summer blockbusters and popcorn stuff. Science Fiction, as a genre, is almost always associated with flying spaceships shooting lasers and green monsters. If 2001 gave a rebirth to SF, I daresay, SW brought it to a standstill. It has been a long and tedious journey since then, with some glorious moments such as ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Back to the Future’. These were amazing movies, but you’ll only see words such as ‘entertaining’ associated with them. Not ‘thought-provoking’. So it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan hit the circuit that it was realized that speculative fiction can be cerebral too, and not all glares and fights. But again, it has been a long and arduous realization, and unfortunately, not by the Academy.
The problem can be attributed to relevance vs resonance. The great science fiction movies, however relevant they may be for the times, don’t resonate as well with the audience as other great films do. And sometimes, even the banalest films find a place in the heart of people. It is a middle ground that SF has tried to achieve for so long, (a feat achieved by ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’) and will continue to try, until one glorious day.