In the grand scheme of the Academy Awards’ 82-year history, it’s no secret that comedies are typically overlooked on Oscar night. But if that’s the case, then this week’s surprising “District 9″ Best Picture nomination — teamed with the likely domination of Oscar favorite “Avatar” — reminded us that sci-fi takes a close second in the race for Oscar irrelevance.
What do “The Empire Strikes Back,” “The Matrix,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Alien,” “Back to the Future” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” have in common? Each are among the top-rated science-fiction films of all time, as rated by hundreds of thousands of fans on IMDb, and not a single one earned a Best Picture nomination. In fact, if you don’t include such debatable sci-fi fare as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the genre hasn’t been represented on Oscar night since “The Lord of the Rings” films broke through at the beginning of the new century. Go back further, and the last true sci-fi nominee was “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982.
Yet, science fiction is arguably the most popular genre in Hollywood, ranging from such enduring franchises as “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” to “The Terminator” and “Transformers.” With such an unfortunate history of awards voters looking down their noses at the realms of aliens, monsters and otherworldly drama that gave birth to writers like H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke, it makes Tuesday’s boundary-breaking nominations all the more impressive.
“Avatar” is now not only the top-grossing film of all time, but has balanced that commercial triumph with nine nominations — a stunning achievement, considering that most filmmakers feel they must choose between “commercial” and “awards-worthy” fare. The same can be said for “District 9,” which earned four nominations, overcoming the stigma of not only being a sci-fi film, but one made for a mere $30 million with no stars whatsoever.
“It was interesting and much more complex than the usual science-fiction film,” producer Peter Jackson — who knows something about breaking the Oscar sci-fi stigma — said of the first time he read the “District 9″ script, insisting that its financial limitations are what made the film so good. “And it’s not based on a comic; it’s not based on a remake or a TV show. It’s very original, which today is rare. For some reason, we’ve all forgotten how to be original.”
As sci-fi fans know, however, what makes the genre so great is how it can take us millions of miles away, then use alternate realities to teach us significant lessons about our own world — and both “District 9″ and “Avatar” continue in that proud tradition. “There is a theme about how we see others, and how we see other cultures,” Cameron explained to MTV News. “And if we could see the world through their eyes, instead of through our eyes, we might behave differently; if a bully could see their victim through their eyes, they’d behave differently and vice-versa. So, the film is very much about seeing, perceiving and getting on the other side of that cultural barrier. … ’Avatar’ is very much about getting outside your own bubble of reality and seeing the world differently.”
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