The movies on that shortlist were directed by a cavalcade of what are now household names for many: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Robert Wise, and Stanley Kubrick. Between these four people, there’s a total of 46 Academy Award nominations and $23 billion in box office receipts.
|Long before they were beloved by millions of
moviegoers, science fiction fandom embraced
the works of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
The Hugos gave each of them their first award nods
for feature films.
(Image via Reddit)
Each of these directors moved the art of moviemaking forwards and made extraordinary contributions to science fiction cinema … but to be blunt, none of them produced their best work in 1971.
Just 24 years old at the time, Steven Spielberg was taking short-term television gigs while trying to break into feature film work. He’d had a rocky start with poorly-received work on Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery and on Marcus Welby, M.D., when he had the opportunity to direct a one-off science fiction TV movie for an anthology show about journalists in Los Angeles. The result, L.A. 2017, is a surprising inclusion on the Hugo ballot.
Shot for a paltry $375,000, and with a script by Philip Wylie (author of When Worlds Collide and
|The real Los Angeles of 2017 turned out to be far
more dystopian than even Steven Spielberg had
imagined in his first feature-length movie L.A. 2017.
(Image via IndieWire)
Although not well remembered, L.A. 2017 is of significant historical value as it opened doors for the young Spielberg. It’s also interesting to note that this nomination means that the Hugo Awards can boast of being the first major award to have shortlisted Stephen Spielberg.
Just two years older than Spielberg, George Lucas was somewhat more established in Hollywood. Fresh off filming the disastrous Altamont Music Festival for the Maysles brothers’ documentary Gimme Shelter, Lucas was given his first chance to direct a feature film through a partnership with more-established filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
Intended to launch a new studio, THX-1138 was shot on a modest budget of slightly under $1 million — by comparison Marooned, which was released little more than a year earlier, had cost ten times that amount. Lucas does an extraordinary amount on that small budget, creating a world that is evocative, cold, and sterile to tell a story about rebellion and a search for emotional connection.
Although this may be one of George Lucas’ most visually compelling movies, the plot (which is essentially an unacknowledged adaptation of Brave New World) is mostly unengaging. The coldness of the setting leaks into the dialogue, leaving little for an audience to engage with.
|Shockingly, the guy who would go on to write
screenplays for The Radioland Murders and
Strange Magic wrote some clunky dialogue
in the movie THX-1138.
(Image via Lucasfilm)
Interestingly, the Hugo nomination for THX-1138 was also George Lucas’ first major award nomination for a feature film (a short version of the film had received a nod at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in 1968.)
In 1972, Robert Wise was a Hollywood icon at the height of his career. He’d won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture twice (1961 West Side Story, 1965 Sound of Music). After Universal had won the bidding war over Michael Crichton’s breakout novel The Andromeda Strain, Wise was brought onboard to bring a sense of respectability to a script that might otherwise have been seen as another cookie-cutter disaster movie. Andromeda Strain covers a four-day period after a pathogen arrives from space, and concerns itself with the scientific team attempting to contain the disease.
While it may not deliver high-octane thrills, or incisive social commentary, it’s one of the best depictions of science or scientists that science fiction cinema had seen up to this point. Notably, it's refreshing to see the inclusion of central protagonist Dr. Ruth Leavitt, a caustic, competent, and down-to-earth scientist. Her character — and the lack of objectification — makes Andromeda Strain one of the least sexist SFF movies up to this point.
That depiction stands in stark contrast to the over-the-top misogyny of A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick’s stylish, beguiling, and deeply unpleasant Hugo winner. Set in a near-future England that has slid into fascism, the movie follows a young man named Alex, his friend group, and their experiences with the police and prisons.
|Documentary footage of our cinema club reacting
to 1960 Hugo-finalist Men Into Space.
(Image via FilmLoverss)
Based on a novel by Anthony Burgess, the movie seems to suggest that the sexual revolution will only provide ways for men to aggressively dominate women’s bodies. Debates have raged over the past five decades over whether Clockwork Orange is a commentary on misogyny, or simply misogynistic in and of itself.
Though Kubrik won his third Hugo Award as a director (a feat only equalled by three other directors), it’s difficult to suggest that the voters got this one right. Clockwork Orange is certainly a classic of cinema, and the actual filmmaking, editing, and camera work are all meticulous. But it’s barely science fictional, and many (including about half our cinema club) find it offensive.
It’s not made by as famous a director, but perhaps the more meat-and-potatoes populist option of The Omega Man might have been a more suitable choice to honour with a Hugo in 1972?