The biggest sci-fi Oscar snub (almost) no one is talking about

Contributed by
Jan 16, 2014

The Oscar nominations are out, so it's time to indulge in that much-beloved tradition of talking about which films should be there more than the films that actually are there.

We've now got a month and a half to wait until we find out which of the 2013 Oscar nominees will take home the coveted little gold men, which means we've also got a month and a half to talk about which films got snubbed.  The more mainstream entertainment sites out there will be talking a lot about Oscar Isaac's name not being on the Best Actor list for his work in Inside Llewyn Davis, or Paul Greengrass' name not being on the Best Director list for Captain Phillips, but while they have their fun, we've got our own list of sci-fi snubs to consider from this year's Oscar list.

We're relatively used to seeing sci-fi films fall short of Oscar glory, with notable exceptions like the record-tying year The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King had at the 2004 Oscars. At San Diego Comic-Con, genre is king, but here among the auteurs and the profound "realistic" depictions of the human condition, it often has to settle for being the underdog.

But hey, I'm not bitter. This year is actually a pretty good one for genre flicks at the Oscars. Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron's edge-of-your-seat space-survival thriller, is tied for the most nominations of the year, and since Cuaron snagged the Golden Globe for Best Director a few days ago, I'd say it has a good chance of taking a few of those awards home. Her, the deeply affecting sci-fi love story from Spike Jonze, also got five nominations, and Jonze stands a good chance of taking the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (he's already got this year's Golden Globe). Plus, genre cinema is guaranteed to win in the Best Visual Effects category, because every single nominee -- Iron Man 3The Lone RangerThe Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugStar Trek Into Darkness and Gravity -- is a sci-fi or fantasy film. 

Ironically, though, it was while talking to my fellow Blastr writers about that very category that we realized the biggest sci-fi cinema Oscar snub this year isn't Spike Jonze losing out on Best Director or Joaquin Phoenix losing out on Best Actor or even The Hunger Games: Catching Fire losing out on costume design (seriously, did you see that party scene?). 

The biggest sci-fi snub of the year is Pacific Rim not getting a Best Visual Effects nomination.

Most of what's been written about Guillermo del Toro's robots-vs.-monsters sci-fi epic in the months since its release has been about how little or how much money it made, whether or not we can consider it a hit, and what its box-office outcome means for the future of similar films in an age when sequels, remakes and reboots (whatever that word really means) seem to dominate just about every year. That's all valid discussion, but as I reaffirmed for myself when I watched the Blu-ray a few weeks ago, we should also be talking about just how visually awesome that flick really is.

Now, full disclosure before we go any further: Pacific Rim was not only one of my most anticipated films of 2013, but also one of my favorites. I adored it. I felt like a kid watching all of its sci-fi bombast unfold on the big screen last summer. I came close to cheering out loud at several points. I very nearly had tears in my eyes when Gipsy Danger picked up a boat and used it like a baseball bat to beat a kaiju. I thought it perfectly merged the Japanese Tokusatsu tradition with Western cinematic sensibilities. Plus, and this is key, I had a hell of a lot of fun watching it.

That aside, I can realistically concede that it's not a perfect movie. Is the script formulaic and somewhat predictable? Maybe. Are the characters a bit too archetypal? Perhaps. Does it rely too much on melodrama for its big character moments? Sure, OK. Is its big dude rivalry a Top Gun ripoff? Short of a beach volleyball scene, yeah. 

You can level all manner of criticisms at Pacific Rim if you really want to, but at the end of the day, if you can still sit there and tell me that its big CG-driven action set pieces weren't among the most exciting, clever, well-designed and beautiful sequences you've seen on the big screen in ages, you just hate fun.

That's not to say that other nominees in the Best Visual Effects category aren't deserving. The "barrel of monkeys" scene in Iron Man 3 is a wonderfully creative superhero sequence. The Desolation of Smaug deserves to be nominated for its rendering of the titular dragon alone. Watching the Enterprise rise up out of an ocean in Star Trek Into Darkness, even if it made absolutely no sense, was beautiful. Even The Lone Ranger had some visuals worth at least glancing at. And Gravity ... well, Gravity is just stellar.

But Pacific Rim had mechs so huge they could walk upright in the ocean. It had monsters so massive they could rip the Golden Gate bridge to shreds. It had that wonderful shot of Gipsy Danger's fist ripping through an office building and going just far enough to make a Newtonian demonstrator start dancing before pulling back. It had an entire slum built around the bones of a kaiju. It had a team of biosuit-wearing scavengers digging deep into a kaiju's innards. Its climactic fight sequence was fought entirely underwater, and its centerpiece fight was fought in the midst of a massive city in the rain

That's hard, but don't just take my word for it. Check out this making-of video from the VFX team, courtesy of Wired

I mention all of this not just to provide a catalog of awesome sights from the film, but also to note that every one of those incredibly ambitious sequences was rendered with detail, power and energy by a visual effects team, a team that had to not only engineer a massive kaiju vs. jaeger fight, but do it while also rendering thousands of raindrops into the scene. That's not just dedication. When you do it right, it's mastery of a craft, and it's a level of cinematic achievement that deserves recognition.

Pacific Rim might have underperformed at the box office, but it absolutely shone when it came to delivering the bombastic king-sized action it promised us in all those trailers. Now the year is over, we're honoring the best cinema has to offer, and the Academy has neglected all the visual-effects glory del Toro and company delivered to us.

I call that a snub. 


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