Science fiction at the BAFTAs

Awards season is upon us, the time of the year when movie studios have to pretend that all of this is about art and not about making as much money as possible out of a line of films that look increasingly similar every year. This ends later this month with the Oscars, but before that we have the British Academy Film and Television Awards, which function along the same lines as the Oscars.

Personally, I prefer the BAFTAs, as they are slightly less preoccupied with American self-congratulation and contain a selection of foreign language and art house films as well as each year’s award blockbusters. The BAFTAs will take place this Sunday (8th February), and I have taken the time to look into how well the science fiction genre will be represented at the awards.

The answer to this question depends very much on how you define science fiction. In its purest form, the genre is underrepresented at the BAFTAs, but some borderline SFF titles do have nominations.

Birdman, the art house superhero film, has a lot of nominations, including in the best picture category. Birdman stands a good chance of going home with at least a few awards. Hopefully Michael Keaton will win best actor for his superb comic performance, in which he mocks himself and Batman mercilessly. However, the film would be better classified as magical realism, rather than science fiction or fantasy. Birdman does pays homage to the established archetype of the current generation of superhero films – namely that everything must be Batman: for evidence of the Batmanification of all superheroes, see the ludicrous dark and gritty Fantastic Four trailer.

The Grand Budapest Hotel also has a lot of nominations, again including best picture, and is a delightfully funny and distinctively odd film. It is set in a fictional, slightly mythical Eastern European country at a vague point in 20th century history. Again the film pays homage to many fantastical archetypes, but without being expressly fantasy.

Some of the other best picture nominees are likely to appeal to fans of science fiction, most notably the biopics of Steve Hawking (The Theory of Everything) and Alan Turing (The Imitation Game). Obviously these are historical dramas about real life scientists and both have strong performances at their core, but they are further evidence that film award bodies consistently overlook the science fiction genre.

The other major categories fare the same as best picture – for example, best director also has nominations for Birdman, The Theory of Everything and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but Christopher Nolan is cruelly overlooked for the masterfully directed Interstellar and James Gunn is similarly snubbed for the excellent Guardians of the Galaxy.

Children’s science fiction is well represented in the animated film category, with Don Hall and Chris Williams nominated for Big Hero 6, Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable for The Boxtrolls, and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for The Lego Movie. The later is one of my favourite films of last year; it is funny, emotional and innovative. Why it has not been nominated for an Oscar for best animated film is beyond me. The Lego Movie thoroughly deserves to win in this category.

Science fiction films are better represented in the ‘technical’ BAFTA categories. Interstellar has nominations for original music, production design and cinematography – in all three of which the film excels. Hans Zimmer’s score is dark, brilliant and contributes to the film’s edge-of-our-seat tension. The film is also beautifully shot, and the retro look of the its production design creates a timeless vision of the future.

Special visual effects is the category traditionally dominated by Hollywood’s big budget science fiction films, and this year is no different. Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past and the last Hobbit movie have all been nominated, and all were visually stunning. However, I find it hard to believe that visuals is the only way in which the science fiction genre has excelled itself in the last year.

Guardians of the Galaxy has a nomination for best make up and hair; the design of the alien creatures was very convincing, and it deserves a win in this category. This film was my favourite of last year, it is funny, spectacular and moving. In terms of the filmmaking craft, it is much better than the worthy biopics and art house films that are nominated for best picture. There are clearly certain genres that get nominations for awards and certain ones which are ignored. Looking outside the blockbuster science fictions which came out last year, there are many brilliant independent science fiction films such as The Phoenix Project which deserve award recognition.

Interstellar has a few nominations for being slightly more highbrow and acceptable, but it is still looked down on for being science fiction. Guardians of the Galaxy and other superhero films are snubbed further for not being considered artistically valid. This is despite the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy is better than most of the best picture nominees.

Apart from the technical categories, which are largely ignored by the press, science fiction as a genre is under-represented at the BAFTA awards this year. This has nothing to do with the sci-fi films of last year being below par: Interstellar and Guardians of the Galaxy are easy as well made as The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything. This is evidence of the fact that only a certain type of film gets nominated for BAFTAs.

The BAFTAs should be an interesting night of awards; I hope that Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel do well, but from the perspective of a sci-fi fan there is an odor on under-appreciation from the nominations.