The staff of Seed is pleased to present our awards for 2005's science-related movies.

Illustration by Tray Butler. March of the Penguins photos courtesy Warner Independent Pictures. The Island photo courtesy Dreamworks. Syriana photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. King Kong photo courtesy Universal Pictures.

On Sunday, America will bask in the glow of weepy acceptance speeches, heinous dresses on beautiful people, and the spot-on humor of Jon Stewart, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out the Oscars. We trust the Academy to take care of the Motion Picture Arts, but here at Seed we’re happy to pick up their slack on the Sciences. We are pleased to present the Seed Oscars for 2005’s science-related movies:

Best Plan for Sustainable (Re)development

In the touching coming-of-age film War of the Worlds, Steven Spielberg reminds activists everywhere that, when it comes to negotiating, a death ray is worth a thousand words. From the moment they set steely mechanical foot on Earth, Martians bring all hydrocarbon emissions to an abrupt halt, instantaneously forcing a shutdown of all driving and manufacturing activities. Although the aliens seem to have traded petroleum for another finite energy resource (human blood), by the end of the film they’re well on their way to creating a fully sustainable Vegas-style re-creation of the Martian landscape, which we are to understand looks something like a giant placenta.

Best Human-Animal Hybrid

Luckily for President Bush, the dopey man-rabbit halflings in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit are only made out of clay, unlike the fantastical hybrids in our runner-up, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—which at least looked real, kinda. It’s not clear what’s scarier, a bunny who loves cheese or a Brit who loves vegetables, but in either case, that’s what you get for trying to play God. A possible sequel: Wallace somehow uses his soul-swapping invention to grow a human ear on Gromit’s back. Science and humanity reap the benefits.

Best Costume Design

While Martin Lawrence dons his finest fat-suit and muumuu for Big Momma’s House 2, and Ewan McGregor will touch naught but Puma in The Island, one costume designer dares to transcend the trends of modern and postmodern design to capture the eternal nature of the penguins’ reproductive cycle. The sleek ‘n sexy image of the penguin has been claimed by opposing causes: Religious conservatives have held up the penguins’ (temporary) monogamy as a standard for human morality, while gays have embraced the homosexual male penguin couple at the Central Park Zoo. So it is only appropriate that the animal look like a cross between a nun and a singing waiter in a tux. Props to the intelligent, nay, brilliant designer of…March of the Penguins.

The “Oh my God, the Corporations are Taking Over and Causing the Pain and Death of People Around the World, Just not Inside our Idyllic American Bubble, so we Don’t Notice, but we Should be Seethingly Angry at the…PHARMACEUTICAL Industry” Award

Stodgy suit-wearing bureaucrats are poisoning Africans with weed killer in the name of research, corrupting governmental officials and murdering pregnant women. The only person who can defend us from the tide of corporate evil is the burnt dude from The English Patient, and he’s wearing shorts and might be a cuckold, to boot. Anyone who’s ever used medicine, bought medicine or watched anyone else use medicine should feel guilty right now. Thanks to The Constant Gardener, my Peace Corps application is in the mail. I swear.

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The “Oh my God, the Corporations are Taking Over and Causing the Pain and Death of People Around the World, Just not Inside our Idyllic American Bubble, so we Don’t Notice, but we Should be Seethingly Angry at the…OIL Industry” Award

Those of you who think the Amerikkkan empire has reached its nadir ain’t seen nothing till you’ve watched Syriana and heard Matt Damon declare that his people (white) think Alexander Siddig‘s people (brown) are a bunch of head-chopping, tent-dwelling savages who happen to be sitting on top of the world’s richest supply of black gold Texas tea. Not to mention the scene where director Stephen Gaghan juxtaposes images of a capitalist fat-cat handing out awards (for corruption!) with scenes of a US cruise missile speeding toward the convoy of prince Al-Subaai, the Middle East’s last hope for morally upright management of its vast supplies of crude. Writhe, guilty liberal American moviegoer. Writhe!

Best Revenge on Goldilocks

That swank Goldilocks was proof that blondes get away with everything: even eating a bear’s porridge and sleeping in its bed. In the documentary Grizzly Man, the bears have their revenge. A slightly effeminate, sandy-blond Timothy Treadwell turns the Alaskan outback into his personal petting zoo for over five summers, hanging out with monstrous grizzly bears in their “grizzly maze.” After logging hundreds of hours of film, Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, overstayed their welcome and were devoured by one of the beasts. Perhaps it was the bear he named “Mr. Chocolate” or maybe the one he dared call “Aunt Melissa.”

The Gattaca Award for Most Attractive Cast in a Sci-Fi Movie

The Island tries to insinuate that creating human clones as spare-part “insurance policies” for the wealthy is a bad thing, but it is immediately obvious to any viewer that this “dystopia” includes two Ewan McGregors and two Scarlett Johanssons. How bad could this futuristic world possibly be? Admittedly there’s only one Djimon Hounsou, but when a man has that many muscles, one’s more than enough to go around. While the plot devices are cold after years of sitting in Shirley Jackson short story collections, McGregor is hot-hot-hot as a virgin clone about to get some, and while the dialogue falls flat, Johansson is anything but. Hi, we’d like to take out an insurance policy on the cast of Closer. Thanks.

Best Bat-Shit Crazy Mathematician

Why are all mathematicians so crazy? The role of the mentally-ill, mathematical savant—you know them, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind—has become Hollywood stock, joining the crooked cop, the megalomaniacal businessman and the screwed over foreigner/minority/female. Proof didn’t bother limiting itself to just one of these characters. It cashed in twice: Gwyneth Paltrow is outfitted with a bit of Good Will Hunting innate analytical ability as well as some Conspiracy Theory rampant paranoia. Anthony Hopkins plays her father, a brilliant theorist in his 20s, turned basket case, who thinks there is a pattern in the Dewey Decimal System (there is, it’s sequential) and has questionable personal hygiene. Throw in the overly-theatrical “I can start my line before you ever finish yours” pace of the dialogue, and you may just lose your marbles, too.

The “Girls Gone Wild…for Giant Apes” Award

Though bestiality has been frowned upon by society for just-about-ever, moviegoers were totally rooting for some hot interspecies action between Naomi Watts’ Ann Darrow and her wild and woolly suitor King Kong, perhaps because of the logistical impossibility of their love. After all, who wants a bunch of human-animal hybrids running around? Too bad no one told this to the makers of 1933’s Son of Kong, which introduced the great ape’s shrunk-down, cool-headed and fair-haired offspring. The film never explicitly states who the doting mother is, but it’s easy to reason out. Mendel (and Presi Bush) would be horrified.

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Best Reason to Panic

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Hollywood’s adaptation of Douglas Adams’ classic book, tells the endearing story of Englishman Arthur Dent as he takes a highly improbable, zany trip around the cosmos. At least, that’s what the filmmakers want you to think. In actuality, the story is an apocalyptic prophecy of doom: During the opening minutes, Spaceship Earth and all those aboard are obliterated by bureaucratic aliens to clear the way for an intergalactic highway. Go on—keep laughing—those jokes about paranoid androids, towels and the number 42 are just soooo hysterical! It’s all fun and games until someone’s home planet gets vaporized.

The Desmond “Q” Llewelyn Memorial Award for Cinematic Scientist of the Year

As science’s lock-step influence on culture becomes more and more undeniable, this award becomes harder to hand out. Where in past years, we’d have only scant options to choose from, 2005 offered up Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow in Proof, Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man, Wallace in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins. But, actually, when we sat down and thought about it, the same name came up three times. And you know what they say in journalism: “One, two, trend…”

In Batman Begins, Morgan Freeman uses his scientific powers to combat evil as Lucius Fox, disenfranchised researcher at Wayne Enterprises and Batman’s version of Q. Relegated to the company’s basement, he still manages to create the Batmobile, saves our hero’s life with a hastily concocted antidote and, when Bruce buys back the family business, moves on up to a corner office.

Freeman brought scientific credibility to War of the Worlds, framing an otherwise pointless movie with a valuable lesson on how natural selection benefits a species. If the sci-fi seems like a bit of a stretch, just listen to Freeman’s confident baritone. Would that voice lie to you?

Finally, in what was probably Seed’s official movie of the year, Freeman lent that sonorous bellow of his to a story about a group of emperor penguins in March of the Penguins. He guided us out of the water and onto a desolate, open patch of ice along with our new flightless bird friends. His voice soothed us as we watched the poor penguins huddle together for warmth, because ensnared by a dastardly seal or lose a precious egg in the transfer from female to male. Freeman was a warm cup of hot chocolate in the white-out cold of the Antarctic winter.

But wait, there’s more…

We asked the bloggers over at what awards they would give to the movies of 2005. Here’s what they said:

Most Poignant (Yet Inconclusive) Big-Screen Hypothesis Testing to Broken Flowers. The main character, played by Bill Murray, has received a letter that he fathered a son who may be looking for him.  His analytical neighbor (Jeffrey Wright) drags the list of possible mothers out of him, then sends him on a cross-country trip to determine who it is, or is not. On the way, there are seeming confirmations everywhere and only a few decisive falsifications. How would Karl Popper review this film?” —Janet “Dr. Free-Ride” Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science

“Obviously, Grizzly Man gets the Natural Selection At Work award.” —John Lynch of Stranger Fruit

Serenity stands out for having some of the stupidest astrophysics ever. The original tv series was sort of hazy as to whether the various spots the characters visited were planets or moons, but the movie jumps right in with an explanation that it’s one really big solar system with dozens of planets extending very far out from the star. And yet, despite being located somewhere around the orbit of Saturn, all the planets look like California…” —Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles

War of the Worlds: Best Leading-Actor-Upstaged-by-Microbes Movie, and Batman Begins: Worst Evil Plot Involving a Microwave.” —Tara Smith of Aetiology

Best ‘Heat Transfer? What Heat Transfer?’ Anakin and Obi-Wan battling it out on various objects floating in molten lava at the end of Revenge of the Sith. I guess the Force must have protected their clothing from catching on fire.” —Orac of Respectful Insolence

Originally published March 2, 2006


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