The Night of the Kiwis


So, Erin and I watched the Oscars last night. Billy Crystal did his usual stand-up job of hosting. Canada can claim some pride at having won the Best Foreign Language film category for The Barbarian Invasions and the nominations for The Triplets of Belleville, but what a night for New Zealand, eh? Eleven nominations, eleven awards, tying the records set by Titanic (ugh!) and Ben Hur (wow!).

It was great seeing the cast and crew march up to take their awards; I'm especially pleased that artist Alan Lee managed to pick up a trophy, though I'm disappointed that John Howe didn't get one himself (what was the distinction between those two?). In any event, one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time got the recognition it deserved and I think that I speak for science-fiction and fantasy fans everywhere when I say:

It's About Bloody Time!

Peter Jackson touched upon it with his victory speech; The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King becomes the only fantasy story recognized by the Oscars aside from Around the World in 80 Days. Did Wizard of Oz win? Nope (lost to Gone With the Wind). Did Star Wars win? Nope (lost to Annie Hall). Did Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Did E.T.? Nope.

In most cases, these fantasy movies found themselves in competition with better movies (I mean, who's going to topple Gone With the Wind or Ghandi?), but the Oscars have always been reluctant to recognize the achievement of science fiction and fantasy movies. Consider what Return of the King had to do in order to get its eleven nods: basically pair itself off with two other equally astounding films, the combined spectacle and running time of which exceeds War and Peace. To overlook The Return of the King and the rest of the trilogy would have been a crime of the century.

Maybe I'm being oversensitive, and looking for conspiracies where there are none, but the realm of science-fiction and fantasy has often been shunned by the rest of literature. Like children's literature, there is something not quite adult about it, not quite rooted in reality, not "real", as "real" literature should be. Remember the fits some critics had when voters had the audacity to rate The Lord of the Rings as one of the best books of the twentieth century?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: science fiction and fantasy is as real as any other story put on paper. The crux of the storylines, the characterizations, the internal conflicts, can and often are as serious as anything in Doctor Zhivago or All's Quiet on the Western Front. Just because Ged uses magic and fights dragons doesn't mean his quest is any less important than that of Captain Ahab. Just because Lyra jumps between worlds and converses with intelligent, armour-wearing polar bears doesn't make her story any less compelling than Huckleberry Finn. Just because Aslan is a talking lion doesn't mean we aren't looking into the face of God.

If you think of literature, put the your open hands together, palms up, and think of the space between your thumbs as all of the history of the universe, including all the past, the present and the future. Most literature is confined to the space between your two pinkies. Science fiction has the play of both hands. Now wave your arms in the air: that is the reach of fantasy.

But that doesn't make science fiction and fantasy less real, meaningful or literate. A good story is truly universal; once we as readers are willing to trust the authors enough to let our feet off the ground, we can truly appreciate the length and breadth of what constitutes literature.

Don't get me started on the fact that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King received no acting nominations, much less awards -- although I acknowledge the reasons for this is less of a bias against fantasy and more of the complications of picking out just who to recognize in what is essentially an ensemble movie. Who is more deserving of the Best Actor nod, Elijia Wood (Frodo) or Viggo Mortenstein (Aragorn)? Who is more deserving of the Best Supporting Actor nod, Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) or Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee)? Nominate one, and you slight the others. Nominate them all, and you'll split the vote within the categories.

The one award that The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King didn't deserve (well, Best Editing was debatable) was Best Original Song. Much as I like Annie Lennox' Into the West, the clear winner in my books was Belleville Rendez-vous from The Triplets of Belleville, which was nicely performed on Oscar night. Another good moment was when Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara reprised their roles from A Mighty Wind, sang the Oscar-nominated song A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow, and actually kissed. Knowing what I know of the movie, it's a touching moment.

Funniest acceptance speech: Denise Robert, after her husband won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for The Barbarian Invasions: "We're so thankful that Lord of the Rings did not qualify in this category."

Further Reading

  • This site has a good summary of the Oscar winners and nominees throughout history.
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