Oscars 2013: Sci-fi, fantasy fail to capture academy’s imagination

Feb. 24, 2013 | 2:47 p.m.
Noomi Rapace explores in "Prometheus."

Noomi Rapace in “Prometheus,” which was nominated for just one Academy Award. Credit: 20th Century Fox

It’s a rough time for science fiction and fantasy films at the 2013 Academy Awards.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “Prometheus,” two high-profile films with Oscar pedigrees, fell comparatively flat with critics. They made their share at the box office, but came up short come during the awards season.

The closest either genre has to a place at the top of the Oscar honorees this year is through the more fantastical elements of best-picture nominees “Life of Pi” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” though both films spin narratives that are far from sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Both directors, Ang Lee and Benh Zeitlin are also nominated.

Oscars 2013: Full coverage

And in other categories, there’s barely a film in either genre. There’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” up for best costume design, “The Hobbit’s” three nominations in technical categories, and nods for the visual effects in “Snow White,” “The Avengers” and “Prometheus”

Genre-oriented films historically have taken home Oscar gold for their technical accomplishments. But with the academy opening up the best-picture category in 2009 to accommodate more nominees, recent standouts such as 2009’s “District 9,” and “Avatar” along with 2010’s  “Inception” and “Toy Story 3” have all received nominations.

And it’s not hard to imagine that had the academy increased the number of nominees just a year earlier, that 2008’s “The Dark Knight” would have been among those films.

Even if the academy has shown more openness to nontraditional films taking the top honors, especially given the slew of awards given to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (including the first best-picture award for a fantasy film with “Return of the King”) it’s been a long road for sci-fi.

Arguably the first sci-fi film to be nominated for best picture was Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” in 1971. And though films like “The Exorcist” would soon be nominated, it wasn’t until “Star Wars” took a nomination in 1977 that sci-fi saw further representation.

But after that, “E.T.” was the only sci-fi nominee for best picture until the field widened in 2009. Films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Empire Strikes Back,” “Blade Runner,” “Alien,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Wall-E” all saw, at most, their technical prowess awarded, not their overall quality.

— Morgan Little

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