Thursday, 14 January 2016

Did the Baftas snub Spectre?

The film award season is well underway. Spectre won the award for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, and the theme song is now up for an Academy Award (come back, Sam Smith, all is forgiven). The lack of other awards or nominations here isn't particularly surprising, especially given Spectre's lukewarm critical reception in the US.

The picture in the UK, however, is rather more curious. When the nominees for the 2016 Baftas were announced last week, there was one notable omission: Spectre hadn't been given the nod in a single category, including the technical categories. Was this a deliberate snub by BAFTA members, reflecting a degree of snobbery towards the Bond films, or was Spectre simply not that good?

When Dame Pippa Harris, chair of the BAFTA film committee, was asked by the BBC's arts editor, Will Gompertz, why Spectre (and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) had been overlooked, she gave an interesting answer: “There's a tendency with both comedies and action films for awards, generally speaking, to overlook them... When it comes to the awards season, people tend to look at what they consider to be serious dramas.”

I think Dame Pippa is being a little disingenuous here. It's true that over the course of the Bond series, few films have been recognised by BAFTA (though in fairness, the technical categories were only introduced in 1984), but Daniel Craig's Bond films have been lauded by members. Skyfall received eight nominations in 2013, while in 2007 Casino Royale received nine. Even Quantum of Solace, which divided critics, Bond fans and general cinema-goers alike,  received two nominations in 2009. Overall, then, the lack of nominations for Spectre does raise a Roger Moore-like eyebrow.

Two aspects interest me. First, Dame Pippa's response, effectively that action films can't compete with serious films, is something of a common trope, a meme that may have been true in the past, but less so now. Indeed, it belies BAFTA's own recent history (and in any case, what is Mad Max: Fury Road, which has received seven nominations, if not an action film?).

Second, why wasn't Spectre nominated? There could be all sorts of reasons related to the competition from other films or the quality of the film itself; possibly a bit of both. I wonder, though, whether the lack of nominations reveals something about the perception of Spectre and its place in the Bond series.

Daniel Craig's Bond films have been exceptional, being both highly popular and well received critically, and winning over many who would not have regarded themselves as Bond fans. Spectre does, however, seem to mark a turning point. With the re-introduction of a villain of old, the reinstatement of the gunbarrel to the beginning of the film, the upping of the humour level, and a bonkers plot twist, Spectre begins to look more, well, traditional.

Perhaps that's how BAFTA members saw it. Spectacular and enjoyable as it was, the film was an excellent Bond film, but not an excellent film. One for the fans, to be judged against other Bond films only, just like most Bond films before Casino Royale. (Up till then, only Goldeneye (I think) had been nominated for a Bafta, despite many of the Bond films, particularly the Brosnan-era ones, enjoying very positive reviews on their release.)

So did Bafta snub Spectre? Probably not. But perhaps it was a case of Spectre returning to the mean. Normal service has resumed. For a Bond film to be nominated for awards, it needs to diverge significantly from the traditional structure of the series, and jettison once again some of those standard Bond memes.

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