Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Sci-Fi Ghetto... Why?

In an article last month, I talked about Gravity and brought up the question of whether there was any chance a science fiction movie had any chance of winning something bigger than Best Visual Effects at the Oscars.

To answer the question I brought up, yes, Gravity has to an extent managed to succeed where 2001 failed. My hope was to see it win one of the big awards. Best Picture would have been great, but I would have been satisfied with Best Leading Actress or Best Director. I figured it was probably a long shot, since I knew the Academy would probably throw the worst movie of the year onto the list of nominees before they gave Best Picture to a science fiction film. The odds always seemed to be far more in favor of 12 Years a Slave and far more people talked about that one but I kept polling for it anyway.

My efforts were rewarded, though admittedly not to the extent I had hoped. Gravity lost Best Actress and Best Picture, but managed to win Best Director. As far as I know, this may in fact be the first ever science fiction movie to do so, or at least the first since science fiction became an established genre in the 50's. Before Gravity, the best a science fiction movie could ever hope for was Best Special Effects. Anything higher was a nomination at best, never a win.

The whole phenomenon known as the "sci-fi ghetto" is one that I find particularly frustrating. This is a strange and completely pointless issue wherein snobbish critics as well as writers can't fathom the idea of sci-fi being anything more than cheap b-movies, serials, and pulp magazines (never mind the fact that H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and quite a few other great sci-fi authors made their name writing for pulp). Now everybody is entitled to their opinion, and some may be more appreciative of a certain genre more than others. I for one am not a huge fan of musicals, romantic comedies, or documentaries. However, while finding out a movie is a musical or romantic comedy may not initially compel me to go see it in the theater I'm not above making exceptions. Neither are these hypothetical guys, but the difference is they're not so keen to admit to it.

Now, once in a while I do find a musical or romantic comedy or documentary I actually find myself liking. I'm more than willing to admit that while I'm not super keen on those particular genres I did enjoy Singin' in the Rain along with Breakfast at Tiffany's or Roman Holiday. However, those who endorse the sci-fi ghetto have a slightly different outlook. To them, all science fiction is cheap and a waste of time. The result is that when an author not interested in the genre writes a book that clearly should fit within science fiction or a critic sees a science fiction movie they actually like, they try to rationalize it as not being science fiction. It's absurd. You don't see me claiming that Singin' in the Rain is simply a love story with a musical background, or that Breakfast at Tiffany's is "a story about people." 

Quite a few films that should fit into the science fiction genre are often cast out because of this: movies like The Road, The Time Traveler's Wife (the science fiction aspect of which is so obvious it's in the friggin' title), and Never Let Me Go among others. 

A story about a man who travels through time because of a peculiar genetic defect... um... how exactly is this not science fiction again?

While I was hoping for more, I've also been hoping that the success of Gravity  at winning Best Director might mean a chance to break out of the ghetto. For the first time a science fiction movie actually got one of the most prestigious awards. Is it not possible that this may pave the way for science fiction films of the future, maybe even one that will eventually win Best Picture?

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