Gravity at the Oscars: Will it get a fair screening?
The Oscar Academy, the people responsible for selecting the nominees and the winners, have a tough job some years and one that doesn't always net them a lot of praise with yearly headlines being pulled out with the words "Oscar Snub" tacked on the end of someone's name or a film title.
Surprisingly though the film Gravity has made it into the nominations, despite the flaws with the film the popular opinion and the effects alone have pushed it through to the competition for the American film award.
However there may be a problem, Gravity isn't going to get a fair screening from the people behind the voting.
To be fair those of the voting panel who have already seen the film in the cinema will have had a chance to see Gravity (Filmstalker review) in all its glory, but those being delivered Academy Award screeners won't be. In fact the film is being put at a disadvantage straight away and you could almost say that the Academy is being biased towards the film.
Why do I say that? Well Gravity is one of those films that is about scale and about the excellence of the effects. These aren't a small part of the film by any means, they are a core part of it and seeing the film on a big screen with a big sound system, and perhaps even in IMAX only, makes the effect of the film on the audience that much greater.
One of the core elements of Gravity is to make you feel space, to make you feel and empathise with what the main character is experiencing as they float almost completely helplessly in space, alone for thousands of miles in an environment that is constantly perilously close to killing them.
On a big screen, surrounding you and immersing you in the picture with responsive audio tracks all around you, it achieves just that. These factors are as much an element of this film as colour or lighting is of the others in the nominee list, and you wouldn't send out a black and white screener for the other nominations, a screener on VHS or a screener so poorly transferred that it was too dark to see correctly.
Unfortunately the fate of Gravity will fall to the home cinema equipment that many of the Academy voters will have in their home. Hopefully most of them will have seen it in the ideal place, in the cinema, but that won't always be the case and so Gravity may get an unfair screening, especially when it comes to categories of cinematography or visual effects.
Of course it's not just Gravity that suffers from this, think of The Hobbit films which are touting 3D and 4K as an integral offering of the film, how will that come across in a screener?
I've been to a number of festivals in my time as a writer about film and I've seen many screenings where there has been a delay as a representative from the film checks that the screening is correct, that the picture and sound as were intended. I have to wonder why this isn't the case with those voting on films at award events such as the Academy Awards.
Surely it would be easy enough to arrange a screening for each of the films, allow a representative of the film to make sure the print and the cinema have everything set-up as they should be and that the screening is going to show off the film to the full potential? Isn't that fair? Letting another film screen too dark, with a hiss over the audio or in black and white wouldn't be allowed would it?
Why does it matter so much to Gravity over any of the other contenders? Well Gravity bases a great deal of the audience effect on making them believe that the character is in space and to a degree that they are too. To not put too fine a point on it, Gravity relies on the visuals much more than many other films and strip that away and I don't believe you'd be seeing it in the nominations at all.
Take Twelve Years a Slave though and you could easily watch a substandard presentation of the film and still be absorbed by the story, empathising for the main characters and walking away from the screening having been affected by the story, the film and the performances. Gravity doesn't have its power concentrated in those same areas.
So is it at a disadvantage over other films being screened to voting panels? Could they be missing the effect of the film by watching at home on home cinema system that hasn't been properly calibrated, perhaps only has stereo, and may not be giving them the full visual impact of the film?