Saturday, September 04, 2010

Aaron's Take on the 2010 Hugo Nominees :: DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM

The Hugo Awards are only a few hours away, which makes this my absolute last chance to declare in advance (barely) what should win, rather than whining about what should have won.

One of the most closely followed categories is Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (i.e., SF movies), even though the creators of the nominees often couldn't care less about the Hugo Awards. More to the point, the nominees often suck.

This year, however, we have a very strong slate of nominees, nearly rivaling the 1983 ballot, which included such classics as Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and E.T. In many a year, District 9 would be my hands-down first choice for the dramatic presentation Hugo, but this year I had to stick it down at #4 on my ballot, in favor of even better films.

Before we get to all that good stuff, however, let's dispose of the one nominee I disliked, the 2009 version of Star Trek. I acknowledge that this movie was entertaining, but I just hated it, largely because I am a big fan of the original Star Trek series. And this movie is emphatically not Star Trek. The one-dimensional characters: not Star Trek. (Compare the moronic Romulan villain in this movie to the Romulan commander in the "Balance of Terror" episode.) The ridiculous woo-woo science: not Star Trek. The cartoonish visuals: not Star Trek. The huge water pipe in the Enterprise's engineering section, the lack of handrails on the Romulan ship (plus knee-deep water--apparently it had one of those huge pipes too, and it froze), the fistfights and swordfights between characters who are carrying phasers, all of that would be at home in a Star Wars prequel or maybe Galaxy Quest but please don't call it Star Trek. The sad thing is most of this could have been fixed with a few lines of dialogue here and there, but the makers of this film didn't care enough to bother. This film is an old-style Hollywood assault on its viewers' intelligence, as bad as any 1950's black-and-white skiffy you can find.

With that rant out of the way, let's get to all the good news. I enjoyed District 9, an intelligent film with something to say about race and class barriers. The film had an interesting look, juxtaposing all-too-familiar slum areas with the visually striking alien creatures. But the movie can't make up its mind whether it wants to pretend to be a documentary——too much of the footage obviously would not have been available to the hypothetical documentary filmmakers——and I think it was a mistake to make the main character such a twit at the outset.

Up is another delightful success from Pixar. The movie features a grumpy old man protagonist and pulls it off remarkably well. And hearing the dogs' thoughts——"I will go get the ball!!! And then I will bring it back!!!"——was worth the price of admission by itself.

Moon is a cleverly written film, with some memorable twists. Sam Rockwell gives an unforgettable performance. The slow pace and grand visuals (despite the low budget) are a marvelous tribute to a prior generation of movies such as 2001 and Silent Running. I especially like the way the GERTY emerges as sort of a converse of HAL from 2001. This is a terrific movie, and I will be happy if it wins the Hugo, even though it is not my #1 choice.

My top choice is the highest-grossing film ever, Avatar. This movie is 37 different kinds of awesome, and I can't believe how blasé many fans of SF literature are about it. Some complain that the film is a rip-off of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Word for World Is Forest and Poul Anderson's "Call Me Joe." But to me, for Hollywood to draw inspiration from Ursula LeGuin or Poul Anderson is a very good thing. This film is visually stunning but also intelligent. The storyline may be fairly standard and straightforward, but the movie treats it with enough respect that it works. I can't remember when I last enjoyed a movie this much, and I hope the Hugo voters were not too snobbish to give Avatar the recognition it deserves.

Aaron's Ballot for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
1. Avatar
2. Moon
3. Up
4. District 9
5. Star Trek


Omphalos said...

I completely agree with you about Star Trek. It was a pale shadow of the great series that it came from, even if it was entertaining. But Avatar? Don't agree with you on that one. I was amused by the eye-candy in Avatar, but hated the story, especially the silly tree-worshiping, consciousness transferring bits at the end. The sad thing is that Cameron could have done a much better job, had he not been so hobbled by the economics of that film. He had to give it broad appeal because he had spent so much money making the thing. I have no doubt that Cameron is capable of making an excellent film that appeals to SF fans, but couldn't afford to limit the audience in that way with this one. Maybe next time, huh?

Aaron Hughes said...

Obviously your view is more prevalent than mine among serious SF fans. The Aussiecon Hugo Voting Report shows that Avatar received the fewest nominations and the fewest first-place votes of any of the five nominated films.