28 July 2017

My Hugo Awards 2017 Votes: Dramatic Presentation Categories

This posts covers my votes in the two Hugo categories for "Dramatic Presentations." In each category, I'll start with the story I placed the lowest and move up to the highest.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

6. Deadpool, screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, directed by Tim Miller

Well, I never would have watched this film if it wasn't for the Hugos, and I can't say I enjoyed it per se, but I am pretty sure I laughed at the jokes more often than I did in Ghostbusters; I liked the meta gags the most. On the other hand, there sure were a lot of things I had absolutely no inclination to laugh at (lots and lots), and I think that on the whole I am more sympathetic to what Ghostbusters was trying to do than what Deadpool was, even if neither accomplished enough to make me very enthusiastic.

5. Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, screenplay by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, directed by Paul Feig

This was all right. Kinda funny, but not very funny. Some good gags (the Chinese delivery one had a great pay-off, and I liked Chris Hemsworth's character), but at the end it kind of drown in tedious city-destroying spectacle like too many modern sf&f films. Like, I had a good time-- the interplay between the main characters is very likable-- but I suspect I will never want to see this again.

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards

I know a lot of people raved about this film, but I didn't find it near as good as The Force Awakens. A good take on a war film in the Star Wars world, and Gareth Edwards has a great way with striking visuals and giving the effects heft, and of course there are some wonderful callbacks to the original film, but I found this lacked the emotional weight I think this wanted to have. Jyn's story felt muddled. A lot to like, but little to love.

3. Hidden Figures, screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, directed by Theodore Melfi

I enjoyed this. It's not science fiction or fantasy, but I guess the official guidelines also allow "related subjects" and I'd rather see this get the award than two 1980s franchise revivals. Even outside of that, it's a pretty good film with some strong performances and a number of great scenes, casting light on a part of the Space Race I knew nothing about despite growing up watching PBS documentaries about NASA.

2. Stranger Things Season One, created by the Duffer Brothers

Coming after Ghostbusters and Rogue One, 1980s nostalgia clearly rules the Hugos this year-- but this is an original work, not another installment in a franchise. I thought this was marvelous, a slow-burn television show that actually works, with great characters solidly based in a series of excellent performances. I loved all the kids, and the last couple episodes were especially filled with really strong emotional moments.

1. Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer, directed by Denis Villeneuve

I really enjoyed this. Gorgeous music, beautiful visuals, cool concepts, and a clever twist. But a twist that's not just clever: when you realize what's going on, your entire emotional world changes. Everything just came together for the final act, with a tribute to daring for peace and cooperation, as well as a moving depiction of how we have to keep going in a world where all the certainties feel like bad ones. I need to seek out the Ted Chiang story this is based on now.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) 

6. Game of Thrones 6x05: "The Door," screenplay by David Benioff & David Weiss, directed by Jack Bender

This is the second episode of Game of Thrones I've seen, the other one being the first episode back in 2011. There's not attempt at all to tell a discrete story within this episode, so to me it just comes across as a series of scenes I can faintly discern the relations between; there's a lot of politics and a lot of plotting and a lot of making armies and a lot of having cod-period drama conversations in front of dramatic landscapes. I did pick up enough to intuit why the closing revelation was probably exciting if you'd been watching the show all along, but for the most part my ignorance was alienating.

5. Game of Thrones 6x09: "Battle of the Bastards," screenplay by David Benioff & David Weiss, directed by Miguel Sapochnik

I enjoyed this more than "The Door," partly because it told more of a distinct story (though there's some side stuff about the dragon lady, most of the episode is about a battle involving at least one bastard), and partly because I had a better idea of who some of the players were thanks to "The Door." A lot of it is right out of the epic medieval movie playbook, down to the last-minute save by a second army, but I did find myself becoming involved. My feeling, having seen these two episodes, is that Sophie Turner is a better actress than this show deserves, and Jon Snow is kind of useless as a military commander. My favorite scene, though, was the one where Gemma Whelan started flirting with the dragon lady. I'm not sure, it might actually be better than "Doctor Mysterio," but I'm using show loyalty as a tiebreaker.

4. Doctor Who 10x00: "The Return of Doctor Mysterio," screenplay by Steven Moffat, directed by Ed Bazalgette

This was Moffat's best Christmas special thus far, I thought, a fun and funny tribute to the Richard Donner Superman films. Why exactly Moffat decided to write a tribute to those thirty years later, I don't know (though as I observed above, apparently 1980s nostalgia is the Hugo finalist ticket these days), but I enjoyed it, even if I suspect the only reason it was nominated for the Hugo was by virtue of being the only episode of Doctor Who to air in 2016; Moffat has done much better work before and since.

3. Splendor & Misery by Clipping.

Well, I would not have guessed than an Afrofuturist hip-hop concept album would be a Hugo finalist, but I ended up really enjoying this, the story of an escaped slave who commandeers a spaceship from his captors but then ends up isolated in the blackness of space and time with only the ship's AI (to which he is somewhat hostile) for company. The ending kind of fizzled for me-- I wanted more of a climax plot-wise, even though we got one musically-- but up until that I enjoyed it a lot, and I still enjoyed it even with those reservations. My favorite track was "All Black," which chronicles the protagonist's adjustment (such as it is) to life alone in space. I listened to it alongside these annotations by Eden Kupermintz, which explained both the story (I always struggle to follow the plots of concept albums; five years on and I still have only a vague notion of what The Hazards of Love is about) and the very dense references to sf (Delany, Le Guin, Butler, and Star Trek: The Next Generation all get mentions, among others, and Kupermintz points out a lot of Cordwainer Smith parallels, too) and to other music, including Clipping.'s own oeuvre. I then went back and watched the three music videos for the album; my favorite was "True Believer"-- like the best music videos, it elevates the music, in this case with a simple but arresting image.

2. The Expanse 1x10: "Leviathan Wakes," screenplay by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough

I really enjoy The Expanse, a space opera that manages to be character-driven and interestingly political at the same time, while putting some hard sf concepts up on the small screen. Though there have been some even better episodes in the second season, the first season's finale was its strongest story, taking what had been two separate plotlines and suddenly jamming together to explosive and emotional effect.

1. Black Mirror 3x04: "San Junipero," screenplay by Charlie Brooker, directed by Owen Harris

This is the first episode I've ever seen of Black Mirror, but it's an anthology series, so that doesn't matter a whole lot. I loved this, an emotional (yes I teared up) tale of two women finding love in the 1980s in improbable circumstances, with some intriguing sfnal ideas. It actually kind of reminded me of Banana, but science fiction. Which is, well, a good thing.

Overall Thoughts

If you let me be grumpy for a moment, the long-form Dramatic Presentation category shows what's wrong with contemporary sf on the big screen: 50% 1980s nostalgia, overlapping with 50% franchise installments. The most original thing on offer is Arrival, an adaptation of a twenty-year-old short story. Though probably if I look back it's never been much better than this, and I did really enjoy what I ranked #1-3. My guess is that Arrival will smash this category.

As for short form, I again really enjoyed by #1-3, though I'm mildly annoyed that "Return of Doctor Mysterio" got nominated solely on the basis of being a Doctor Who episode; I mean, I love Doctor Who, but let's not be blindly partisan here. I have no sense of what will win this year, but a Game of Thrones episode did win short form in both 2013 and 2014. I'm curious to see how this category looks next year, with multiple excellent episodes of Doctor Who to nominate, plus The Expanse's even better second season, and the forthcoming first season of Star Trek: Discovery.


  1. While I haven't seen any Black Mirror, I googled the episode you mentioned because I was curious about what sci fi mechanism it included. The summary set off a potential "compulsory ablebodiedness" alarm bell so I looked to see if any reviews had tackled the episode's treatment of disability. This one is interesting: https://www.autostraddle.com/san-junipero-is-a-beautiful-haunting-queer-love-story-with-mixed-messages-about-disability-362026/

    1. I was being vague because the sf element is itself a spoiler; it's not clear what's going on until 20 minutes or so in. That's an interesting take-- I'm not very knowledgeable in disability activism. Does it try to reclaim ALL forms of disability? Yorkie was able bodied until she was paralyzed in a car accident in her teens, and has lived in a single room with limited communication up until she's in her sixties. It seems fair game to me to want to escape that particular form of disability.

      Also I hope you noticed that one of the two leads is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. It is very good, and well worth watching.

    2. I DID notice that, and will definitely need to watch it. I've been avoiding Black Mirror because it sounds too depressing for me which is why I spoiled myself for this one, even though you were so kind as to avoid doing so!

      Some disability theorists & activists DO try to reclaim all forms of disability, which I agree does seem profoundly counter-intuitive in extreme cases. More broadly, I think the typical position of disability activists would be to take issue with the tacit cultural assumption that the ideal world is one where all bodies are young and nondisabled.

    3. Yeah, that makes sense. It does seem hard to believe that there is no one in San Junipero who chooses to present themselves as disabled, especially as the episode points out that Yorkie still wears glasses in San Junipero despite not needing them anymore, so clearly total able-bodiedness is not required, and people still hang onto the abilities of their physical bodies.