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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, last week, announced its short list for the Special Effects categories. The final three nominees in this category will be chosen from among these seven films:

The Hulk
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Peter Pan
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
X-man 2

Each of these films’ crews will be asked to submit a 15 minute demo reel to a special jury which will determine which one ultimately gets nominated.

What’s striking here is that all except Master and Commander fall into the science fiction or fantasy category, which suggests something about the marginalization such films receive come Oscar time.

Like most of you, I am certainly hopeful that the new Lord of the Rings movie will receive best picture, recognizing the extraordinary accomplishment of Peter Jackson’s series as a whole and the particular richness of its final installment. My opinion is that Return of the King makes the other two films look like a warm-up act! But, I would like to hope that it gets recognition for its gifted performances, including Andy Serkis’s performance (in digital drag) as Gollum. I wrote after the last Oscars about the strange logic where make-up (like Nicole Kidman’s nose in The Hours) enhances your chance at an acting award but digital effects decreases it.

But the other side of the coin is also troubling. The battle scenes and historic settings of Cold Mountain and The Last Samurai are as much dependent on special effects as the giant spiders and elephants in Return of the King. So, why do we still act as if only science fiction and fantasy films have special effects? Are special effects more or less award-worthy if we don’t notice them than if they dominate the film? The Hulk’s special effects were so disparged that they damaged the film’s box office, according to most analysts. You couldn’t ignore them but it doesn’t mean they deserve an award.

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