My favorite novelist, Kurt Vonnegut, once complained about the treatment of science fiction by critics in his book Wampa, Foma and Granfalloons:
I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since [publishing Player Piano], and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.
Science fiction films have often received the same treatment. However, two of the surprise nominees for Best Picture this year are none other than James Cameron's Avatar and the South African alien apartheid action film District 9. While my money this year is on Precious, it's nice to see science fiction films getting the serious attention they deserve. Avatar received nine nominations (including Best Picture and Best Direction), District 9 racked four (including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay) while Star Trek grabbed four in the technical categories. While I may be the only one on the ScienceBlogs network who doesn't have a review of Avatar (though I hosted Four Stone Hearth that had a number of Avatar themed entries) I do have an in-depth review of District 9:
Inexplicably, a UFO appears over one of Earth's remote cities. Hovering a few hundred meters above the terrified citizens, a government mission to board the craft is executed only to find the strange beings living in disease and desperation. A decision is made to save their lives and relocate the aliens to the city's outskirts. In that moment, what seemed to be a compassionate action develops into an outdoor prison reminiscent of the worst crimes of colonialism.
While there are problems with both films, it's certainly nice to see some examples of smart science fiction having their file cabinets moved out of the outhouse.
Avatar was science fiction? Huh.
From a storytelling standpoint, District 9 utterly owns Avatar. It made you feel emotional for completely hideous looking aliens.
Then again if the D9 aliens had been tall, lanky Smurfette cat girls, they most likely wouldn't have been put in a camp. :-)
And with a fraction of the budget D9 presented a far more complicated moral situation, and examined real world issues through the lens of speculation- one of the classic uses of science fiction.
Avatar? Groan....Did these people even see the movie? Ever heard the term-nice special effects shame about the script?
I can't wait to see the knock-down-drag-out fight between The Blind Side and Avatar for Best Picture. Or wait, no I just want to be a fly on the wall when they vote, so I can hear sides splitting all around. "No guys, seriously, that Sandra Bullock schmaltzfest was the BEST. PICTURE. EVAH!" "Screw you man, the digital 3D mashup of Dances w/Wolves and Pocahontas was the BEST! *scuffle, scuffle, BANG, sound of body hitting the floor* Voting rooms get contentious . . .