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Why Gollum shouldn't win an Oscar.
January 13, 2004 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Why Gollum shouldn't win an Oscar. Many Lord of the Rings fans think Andy Serkis should be nominated for an Academy Award for his work in the films, but as Roger Ebert writes, the actor shouldn't benefit because animators kept Gollum from falling into the Uncanny Valley.
posted by tranquileye (36 comments total)

 
Nope, can't agree. Serkis deserves recognition for his achievement. It's not all the animators' doing.
posted by SealWyf at 12:27 PM on January 13, 2004


Ebert didn't say it was "all the animators' doing", just that enough of Gollum was created by the animation that Serkis shouldn't be competing for "Best Supporting Actor" against human actors. The merits of that is worth discussing.

It seems to me that maybe some new catagory might be worth creating. I was hesitent with the creating of the "Best Animated Film" award, but based on what I've heard, they would still allow an animiated picture of be nominated for "Best Picture". So if, at some point in the future, they still allowed a digital creation like Gollum, but more so in some way, to be "Best Actor" or something, maybe they should have a best "Animated Actor" or something more general like "Best Nontraditional Character".
posted by skynxnex at 12:38 PM on January 13, 2004


The animators put in just as much work if not more then Serkis, if we didn't have either performance the character wouldn't have been as good as it is. Perhaps it's time for a new category?
posted by madmanz123 at 12:43 PM on January 13, 2004


I think voice work should be recognized when it is good, either by considering it along side other acting performances, or in a well-respected category of its own.

And where's the line between lots and lots of makeup and it being an animated character not deserving of an acting award? Certainly an actor's own facial expressions, etc., aren't what comes across in a movie like the recent Planet of the Apes remake.

And besides, we all know HAL was the best-acted character in 2001 by a mile. Or if not him then one of the monkey people
posted by Space Coyote at 12:48 PM on January 13, 2004


Didn't Gollum win a special award last year? In any case, I think it's impossible for Serkis not to benefit from the animators' contribtution to the character, which gives him a certain advantage that no one else will have. At the same time, unless you know something about how he was filmed, and later painted on top of, it's easy not to be aware of how much he was actually doing on set. Nomination? Sure. Award? I don't know, and for once, I'm glad I'm not a judge.
posted by scarabic at 12:48 PM on January 13, 2004


This whole thing reads as though Ebert was just itching to show off his new (to him) expression, "the Uncanny Valley", which he read about in the New Yorker. In fact, the question at hand has nothing to do with the concept. The question is, where both the actor and the animators created a great character who should get awarded. The answer of course is both. How the Academy handles that is a less interesting question, in my opinion.
posted by Outlawyr at 12:55 PM on January 13, 2004


If Serkis wins anything, he should accept the award standing by the animating staff... It still (obviously) took more than Serkis to create what we know as Gollum.
posted by LoopSouth at 12:57 PM on January 13, 2004


Yeah, great performances have always been abetted by technicians. Gary Sinise was such a convincing amputee in Forrest Gump (and was so relatively unknown at the time) that people were genuinely surprised to learn he was ambulatory. Is a camera recording the light bouncing off an actor's face really a pre-requisite for an acting award? What about the case of John Hurt, Oscar-nominated for The Elephant Man? Or last year's winners -- Nicole Kidman for The Hours (the nose), Chris Cooper for Adaptation (the missing front teeth), or even Adrian Brody and Catherine Zeta-Jones -- those assembled performances are at the long end of a technical process, from lighting to editing. They all have technicians to thank that were responsible for the unique cumulative effect of their performance.

I haven't seen a lot of movies this year and have no idea what the best performance is. But having seen the making-of-Gollum doc on the extended Two Towers disc, I find there to be little argument that Andy Serkis did a hell of a lot of fantastic acting that was directly pertinent to the success of the Gollum character.
posted by blueshammer at 1:09 PM on January 13, 2004


Didn't Gollum win a special award last year?

Yes.
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on January 13, 2004


I looked at the work in LOTR as a really fancy digital costume for Gollum. Sure the "costume" was amazing and was a huge part of the character, but isn't that true for many aspects of film? In the end, Serkis is the one who brought that character to life, not his costume. And it was one of the most memorable characters in film history, no?

Blueshammer, if I read you correctly I have to say I disagree completely, the 2 Towers disc made me realize just how much Serkis did contribute to the character's movements and general presence.
posted by cell divide at 1:14 PM on January 13, 2004


In the end, Serkis is the one who brought that character to life, not his costume. And it was one of the most memorable characters in film history, no?

I totally disagree. I thought Serkis proved quite clearly in the third movie, where he appears without aid of the animation dept., that he isn't that great an actor. After watching RoTK I was in even more awe of the animation crew. Serkis, sans "costume", was easily the weakest performer in the series, which is saying a lot when you consider Ian Ham makes an appearance in all of them.
posted by dobbs at 1:19 PM on January 13, 2004


This whole thing reads as though Ebert was just itching to show off his new (to him) expression, "the Uncanny Valley", which he read about in the New Yorker. In fact, the question at hand has nothing to do with the concept.

Nor does the concept have anything to do with Gollum. The Uncanny Valley applies to robotics and artificial intelligence, not to a digital puppet that is plainly driven by human beings. And for what it's worth, I believe that what Serkis did qualifies as acting and if I cared about awards, I'd say he deserves to be nominated or at least nominatable(?) for one for all the reasons bluehammer states.
posted by badstone at 1:26 PM on January 13, 2004


Well gee, color me underimpressed but perhaps it is just because I get sick of and tired of fanboys. Another problem is that the LotRs as a series suffers from a plague of good performances so that Serkis as Gollum really did not stand out for me. Although it seemed that all of the supporting cast ended up with better dialogue and pulling out better performances than any of the surviving fellowship characters. John Noble managed to hold my attention much better.

And perhaps some of my irritation on this comes from both Gollum as a character, Serkis as the voice of that charater, and tRotK being so intently oversold. "Most memorable characters in film history, no?" Certainly, NO! Most memorable of the last few years perhaps. Not in the same class as Peter Ustinov's performance in Spartacus, Joel Grey's Master of Ceremonies for Cabaret, DeNiro's young Godfather, John Gielgud's Hobson for Arthur, or Gene Hackman's psychotic Sherrif for Unforgiven (to name a bunch of extremely memorable Supporting Actor wins.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:00 PM on January 13, 2004


Blueshammer, if I read you correctly I have to say I disagree completely, the 2 Towers disc made me realize just how much Serkis did contribute to the character's movements and general presence.

By "little argument," I meant "one can't argue against it," not "one can't make a case for it." I was very impressed by Serkis' work.

I totally disagree. I thought Serkis proved quite clearly in the third movie, where he appears without aid of the animation dept., that he isn't that great an actor.

I think that was just a bad scene more than evidence of a bad actor. I don't know from the Tolkien just how accurate the film was in depicting Smeagol's corruption, but I thought it happened far too quickly, which plays against an actor's ability to make a series of emotional transitions believable. That said, Serkis may not be someone whom the camera loves, but I really do think he's a tremendous actor. You should really check out that documentary.
posted by blueshammer at 2:17 PM on January 13, 2004


I think that Serkis should be elegable for the award, however. As dobbs pointed out, he did apear un-animated in ROTK, and the scene sucked. Now, it may have simply been then scene itself, and not his fault but whatever. It was far from an enthralling performance.



He may have been the basis for the character, but all of the facial stuff, I mean, that was hand crafted by the animation department.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on January 13, 2004


I majored in film with a concentration in animation in college, and we had discussions about the aspects of film and animation in regards to Gollum in classes. As an animator, I think the role Andy Serkis played in the movies deserves credit and praise, but certainly not an acting award.

The character of Gollum that we're loving and praising isn't Andy Serkis. It's the labor of a team of dozens of computer animators and digital compositors. While hundreds work on a film, we understand the Best Picture Oscar goes to the producers. The award for a performance goes to the performer. The performer in this movie wasn't responsible for the quality of Gollum. Gary Sinese and Nicole Kidman are a huge difference, as we're still seeing the visual and emotional output of the performer on screen. In Lord of the Rings, we're watching, albeit an astounding one, a special effect.

"Acting" is a form that varies between the art being portrayed. You can't group stage actors and film actors in the same category because the element of "performance" varies greatly. A stage musical incorporates the singing ability of a performer. A ballet respects the performer's dancing ability. Film has surpassed radio to incorporate the visual element of the performer. It's unfair to other actors to consider the performance of someone like Serkis when computers have eliminated the visual aspect of the actor from the equation. In film, unlike radio and to a greater degree than the stage, visual performance is as influential on rating a performance as delivery of lines. Serkis gives no visual performance that is familiar to the final product that we, the audience, are evaluating. All we're judging is his voice and his rotoscoping (animation using live-action as visual reference). Does the work of Serkis still show in the movement and facial expression of Gollum? Yes, but even with that logic, Serkis does not deserve an acting award any more than someone doing voice-over translation for a foreign film who uses the same vocal incantation of the original actor.

I've always argued, contrarily, that voice actors in animated films deserve consideration for acting awards. But coming from a family that includes professional actors, and after four years of studying the elements of film, I've recognized that judging performance as it pertains to film requires you to respect all the elements of film an actor should be required to excel in.

My belief is that, be it with the Oscars or the Grammys, there should be a category for "Best non-visual performance" which incorporates the work of voice actors and digital performances Had this award existed, I'd back Serkis without question.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:25 PM on January 13, 2004


I've recognized that judging performance as it pertains to film requires you to respect all the elements of film an actor should be required to excel in.

I'm not convinced. What if a role doesn't require you to be funny? What if a role doesn't require you to do an accent, or pretend to be mentally handicapped? What if a role doesn't require you to be naked? When did totality become a necessity? Think of Dame Judi's Oscar-winning turn in Shakespeare in Love: Is she even there? I remember make-up, costume and voice much more than actual physical presence. She does, to that performance's credit, share the frame with other actors, but what about a performance that doesn't, either because it's all monologue or because it's not shot that way? (I don't remember a lot of shots in Road to Perdition with Paul Newman and someone else in the frame.) I think in a subjective setting like an acting award, the voters are smart enough to know just who and what they are voting for if they think someone's "voice work" should be nominated.

even with that logic, Serkis does not deserve an acting award any more than someone doing voice-over translation for a foreign film who uses the same vocal incantation of the original actor.

I think this example bends back on itself. Aren't the CGi artists really the ones doing a voice-over, only it's a visual-over, trying to "translate" Serkis' physical performance into something visually different?
posted by blueshammer at 2:37 PM on January 13, 2004


If you see the two towers extended special feature on the creation of gollum you will see just how much gollum's character was driven by andy serkis, in many scenes they edited andy out of the live action shot and then put gollum in on top doing almost exactly the same actions. a substantial amount of gollums movements were motion-captured from andy serkis, he put in a hell of a lot of work to the film and really made gollum seem real. the art department even remodeled gollum's face to be more similar to andy's so that it would react better to the facial expression's andy used in the live action shots. the "schizophrenic" scene in the two towers was almost 100% "andy-movements" and facial expression.

yes, the facial expression and the looks of the body were animated and designed by others, but the soul of character was andy serkis. without his energy and passion, gollum would not have worked. as peter jackson has said, "andy serkis is gollum."

i believe he should be allowed to be nominated for best actor, although i also believe a substantial amount of credit should go to the rest of the art team for the amazing work they did in creating the visual model (based on andy's work) for the film.
posted by knapah at 2:39 PM on January 13, 2004


I think this example bends back on itself. Aren't the CGi artists really the ones doing a voice-over, only it's a visual-over, trying to "translate" Serkis' physical performance into something visually different?


i completely agree with this. spot on blueshammer.
posted by knapah at 2:40 PM on January 13, 2004


Here's a thought: there is no way to really objectively measure the quality of one performance vis a vis another. For that matter, there is now way to really separate quality of the performance from quality of the writing, directing, design, zeitgeist, etc. Since there is no way to objectively measure this, and since it is nearly impossible to isolate the performance from the other part of performance anyway, it is silly to pretend that there be something called a "best actor," "best actress," or "best actroid" award anyway.

If, however, we insist on pretending that one can be deemed "best" performer, we need to create a situation where it can be measured objectively. I propose that the academy nominates a number of actors who they think might be the best actor and then give them all the same ten minute script. Put each of the nominees with the same director, designer, and other actors and have them all play the same scene. In this way, we can isolate their performance.

Next, we can create a rubric of measurable skills. Could we understand everything the actor said? Did they memorize all the lines properly? Did they give the performance a sense of immediacy? Were they pleasant to work with for the rest of the people involved? Etc.

We could then analyze the data and make a reasonably objective decision about who was, indeed, the best actor.

Of course, we could also just give it to Tom Hanks again. That's what the People would do.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:07 PM on January 13, 2004


knaph: In which case, should not Jim Henson have been given a best actor award for the equally astounding examples of puppetry performance and voice characterization that went into The Muppet Movie? The thing is, there is nothing new about layering FX on top of the performance of a physical actor. Cab danced with Betty Boop back in the 30s in what I would argue is one of the best shorts ever created. (This is not to discount FX as an achievement. Jim Henson and Frank Oz were good, and Brian Henson diserves cinematic diety status as much as Gene Kelly and Paul Newman.)

But I'll grant you that even with the massive enhancements of post-production that Serkis should be eligible. However, perhaps to break a bit of reality into the fanboy hype over tRotK. Perhaps the academy actually knew what the heck it was doing when it was not convinced for Two Towers, and perhaps the failure of Serkis to capture a Golden Globe nomination in a field with critically acclaimed performances from Finney, Baldwin, Robbins and Macey reveals that the problem is not with the feckishness of the people who give awards, but the inability of the fanboys oveselling Serkis to tell shit from shinola.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:47 PM on January 13, 2004


He may have been the basis for the character, but all of the facial stuff, I mean, that was hand crafted by the animation department.

The material on the TTT extended DVD makes it clear that this is not entirely true -- or at least, it's very blurry. They run the "schizophrenia" scene from TTT side-by-side with the footage of Sirkis when they were filming it, and the facial expressions are copied directly. (The animators say some things about this, in fact.)

This level of direct facial modelling wasn't the case for every scene. But I was amazed at the level to which the physicality of the character was not invented by the animation department, but rather by this strange little man drinking honey and water.

I don't know. The result is pretty amazing, but I could really argue whether it should be eligible either way.
posted by tingley at 4:05 PM on January 13, 2004


Does that mean that anyone who does voiceovers for, say, animated movies shouldn't be awarded because, after all, the animator is the one who brought the character to life?

Feh. Disney would be pissed.
posted by FormlessOne at 4:37 PM on January 13, 2004


Acting is more than just the visuals. To discount Andy Serkis' acting as "just" a voiceover for an animated character is to do him a great injustice. Listen to the "schizophrenia" scene from TTT with your eyes closed. The emotional impact is still there.
posted by lola at 4:55 PM on January 13, 2004


Does that mean that anyone who does voiceovers for, say, animated movies shouldn't be awarded because, after all, the animator is the one who brought the character to life?

I don't mean to imply that the work put into the animation doesn't deserve credit (lord knows that as one I think animators get the shaft when it comes to associating them with film- hell, best animated film was only established two years ago with the Academy) only that I don't consider it a form of acting equivalent in an award sense to normal live-action.

Again, as an animator I don't need to be informed of the visual reference work real people use to create animated characters; I don't refute that Serkis was greatly essential for the character we see on screen. Creating a life-like animation of Charlie Chaplin might be magnificent and totally reliant on footage of Chaplin for visual reference... does that mean Chaplin should recieve an award for what the animators did?

We're still not seeing Andy Serkis; we're seeing a completely different adaptation of him. The level of work done on alteration voids the level of acting that you legitimately see on screen from the original source. We aren't reviewing the performance of Andy Serkis, we're reviewing the cartoon character Gollum, who, being nonexistent, isn't eligible for an award. To me, it would be like nominating someone's stunt double.

Like I just said, the voiceover artists SHOULD be awarded. They should have their own award. It would give them much more recognition than trying to mesh itself into the category of acting.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:36 PM on January 13, 2004


I think it's quite obviously both Andy and the artists who created his digital costume.

It would be great for a special achievment joint award to be awarded to Andy and WETA - but I just don't think that will happen. It almost sounds like it's something that should be awarded at the technical awards ceremony.

It wouldn't have worked at all without either side.
Period.

But, maybe with the seeming increase of animated films and movies with digital characters - there should be a special 'voice and/or physical achievment award' for voice actors.
posted by cinderful at 5:46 PM on January 13, 2004


I majored in film with a concentration in animation in college

Really! That explains alot about how you post on other topics.
posted by WLW at 6:15 PM on January 13, 2004


blah blah blah... awards... blah blah blah.... awards.
posted by Eekacat at 7:48 PM on January 13, 2004


Taking this down to a semantic level, isn't the award "best performance of an actor in a supporting role" not "best actor?" I don't see any problem giving the award to Serkis and the crew all together. It would simply be unconventional. But no one so far has argued that the crew specifically does NOT deserve to be awarded. All that appears to be a matter of opinion is whether Serkis deserves the ENTIRE award or not. Why not award them all for their collective contributions to the "performance?"
posted by scarabic at 8:21 PM on January 13, 2004


Really! That explains alot about how you post on other topics.

OT: ?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:40 PM on January 13, 2004


Mmm, furry.
A sidestep from the last link.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 9:17 PM on January 13, 2004


Andy Serkis did a good job with the script he was given, but I thought the schizophrenia scene was lame. It would be much cooler and creepier to show a single personality struggling with himself, struggling with: temptation, greed, hate, fear of getting caught, duty to keeping his promise, affection/gratitude toward Frodo, etc. Instead you just have two caractaures talking to each other: the Good Smeagol vs. the Evil Gollum.

They made the same mistake with Theoden -- having him be posessed rather than depressed neatly absolves him of any responsibility for having listened to Wormtongue.
posted by straight at 12:51 AM on January 14, 2004 [1 favorite]


Face it: the award ceremony you love so much SUCKS.

Who cares what the stupid Academy deems worthy?
posted by Blue Stone at 1:49 AM on January 14, 2004


Blue Stone- inarguably, the Oscars are lame and overrated, given to back-patting and politics over art and craft.

HOWEVER, they've become the de facto reference point for American cultural discourse about film "excellence", and cannot be avoided. The heart of the Serkis nomination fracas is not, IMHO, about the trophy, but about whether we've finally hit a turning point in our culture where the old language that defines "acting" is changing.

This point has been discussed endlessly during the past decade (primarily in Wired), and now it's finally here.

Are there any actors in the community who want to throw their $0.02 in? My g/f is a theater actor, and she thinks that Gollum is both technically amazing and a great personal performance by Serkis, but is still unsettled about the larger implications.
posted by mkultra at 6:26 AM on January 14, 2004


Forget that the animated Golum exists, if you just saw the film with Mr. Serkis playing the part of the animated Golum, do you think he would deserve an award for it?

I don't think so, and seeing a human talk like that, even in makeup would come off as just a novelty for me.
posted by corpse at 7:59 AM on January 14, 2004


The problem is in the definition of "acting". Who is actually doing it? Serkis, period.

Serkis certainly is acting, there can be no dispute over that. You can be an actor without ever appearing on screen (think of radio theatre). Are the animators acting? No. What they're doing is animating special effects. Therefore Serkis gets considered in the supporting actor category, and the animators get considered in some special effects category.

If Nicole Kidman's nose was so wonderful in The Hours (or whatever other similar add-on to the actor you wish to consider), the makeup crew would be considered in some makeup/visual effects category. Many, many people go into improving the actor's performance, allowing it to be believable. Makeup, costume, special effects, etc. An actor like Serkis shouldn't be penalized because his acting performance was "enhanced" with special effects, because every acting performance is enhanced by something - makeup, lighting, good direction, a well-written script, whatever. Voice-only actors should be considered in the acting categories, and not arbitrarily excluded because "their" face doesn't appear on screen. You get nominated for the job, and his job is acting.


OK, that said... there's a difference between "considered" and "nominated" (let alone "won"). Should he be considered? Yes, definitely. Should he be nominated? If you say no to that, name me five better supporting actor performances last year. Not being snarky here, I just haven't seen enough movies from last year to judge. As KirkJobSluder pointed out, perhaps his wasn't one of the five best. It's not enough to have put in a great performance; it has to beat out nearly every other great performance, too.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:07 AM on January 14, 2004


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