by NTEMP · February 12, 2013 · LAMB Devours the Oscars · 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is part of a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!

Best Production Design

By Jason Porter of Jason The Website

Let’s talk about Production Design! This year we’ve got The Hobbit, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Les Mis, and Anna Karenina, all of which were pretty good (even if one of them was hampered down by unnecessary technology… I’m looking at you, Lincoln.) But seriously, they were each impressively beautiful films all in their own rights- however, only one can take home the Oscar. 

Right off the bat I’m going to tell you Lincoln isn’t going to win. Sure, it was filled with gritty realism to make a costumed period piece look favorable to the voters, but let’s be honest here… it was visually boring. Same thing goes for Les Mis. Whaaaaat?? Come on, you really think they’re going to give this to a film that looks like it stole its sets straight from the Broadway show? There were hints of originality here and there, but most of it, especially the barricade, looked like a scaled up set piece.

What about Anna Karenina? This film was beautiful from head to tail, dripping with design and creativity. I absolutely loved its use of a stage, beautifully showing the dichotomy between performance and reality in relation to the principles and the public’s ever-watching eye. The production design plays wonderfully with this concept and pushes it to its creative limits.  Sarah Greenwood, the production designer, has been nominated four times now (Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) and seems to have found her niche doing highly stylized, hyper-detailed design with a strong muted palette that all at once make the production look both modern and period without seeming out of place and making our eye’s bleed. She deserves to win.

When researching this award I saw something interesting. Here’s a list of the last dozen winners:

2012 – Hugo
2011 – Alice in Wonderland
2010 – Avatar
2009 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
2008 – Sweeney Todd
2007 – Pan’s Labyrinth
2006 – Memoirs of a Geisha
2005 – The Aviator
2004 – Lord of the Rings – Return of the King
2003 – Chicago
2002 – Moulin Rouge
2001 – Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Until five years ago they were giving this award to genuinely beautiful films that were all about physical design and beautiful set pieces. Then something changed. They started giving the Oscar to the film with the biggest budget and the most unrestrained amount of ungodly computer generated detail. Alice in Wonderland over True Grit??  The point being, the Academy likes to see how expensive its production design looks. They want to see the money on screen.
And then there were two – Life of Pi and The Hobbit. Both films are big budget CG smorgasbords, with expensive looking effects, and a serious lack of visual restraint. With that in mind, The Hobbit should trump because Peter Jackson doesn’t understand the concept of restraint. However, taking a look back at Peter Jackson’s track record with the Oscars reveals another interesting trend. All three of the previous Lord of the Rings were nominated for this award with Return of the King being the only one to take home the gold (and a lot of it!) The most common theory is that Return of the King swept the 76th Academy Awards as recognition for the collective three films, and deservedly so. With The Hobbit being the first of this trilogy, chances are it will have a similar fate and go home empty handed.

That leaves us with Life of Pi. I was unimpressed with this film. While parts were beautiful, visually it was a boat in the middle of the ocean with the occasional overly saturated whale, glow in the dark plankton, and a sunset in every shot. I think voters are going to be seduced by the beautifully rendered Richard Parker, a visual effect, and the clear line between production design and visual effects will be blurred even more. 

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Intersting analysis provided, and I hope you are correct in your reasoning that the Oscar needs to go to the picture that provides superior production design, and not the biggest bankroll. I thought your insight on Lincoln was a bit over-the-top (I enjoyed Lincoln, and it should win best picture), but I agree wit you in terms of the film’s lacking in production design. Colorful reading and insightful analysis.

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