Feature: The Man Who Wasn’t There

The Man Who Wasn't There

So the Oscars have been and gone for another year and the annual debate in the Film Fluff household rages as regular as clockwork; should Andy Serkis have won an Oscar for Gollum?

It’s an old argument that keeps rearing its ugly head (okay, I keep bringing it up… because I’m right… and feel the need to convince people who think differently to me… don’t judge me).  I cannot understand why Serkis was not even nominated for an Oscar for his acting performance as Gollum.  With a film like Lord of the Rings, there is no clear leading actor and they can only be classed as supporting actors (or an ensemble, but whether there should be an Oscar category for this is for another blog at a later date), so, for me, he should have been a shoe-in for a nod in this category, and I find it baffling when people look at me aghast when I say this.

I am a big fan of both the films and the books, and, I must admit, I have watched all three extended versions back-to-back (in the same day… more than once… again, don’t judge me) and I have watched the making-of documentaries on the discs too, and it’s in these behind-the-scenes videos that you see how much of Serkis’ performance is in Gollum in the final film (they even changed the look of Gollum from The Fellowship of the Ring to look more like Serkis in the next two instalments).

Not only was Serkis on set acting with the rest of the cast, but he was then in the studio doing all his scenes again in a motion-capture suit.  This method of putting Gollum on screen produced such wonderful results as the cast were reacting to Serkis and vice versa, and this gave us more realistic performances without the blankly-staring-into-thin-air scenarios that other actors performing amongst CGI characters have endured in other films.  The animators also benefitted from Serkis’ repeat performance in the studio as they would capture his movements with greater accuracy using motion-capture and have a stronger foundation to build Gollum upon than if they were just animating him from scratch.  A quick search on YouTube will bring up a host of production videos on how Gollum was brought to life, but take a look at the scene where Gollum/Smeagol are arguing between themselves and you will see how much of Gollum’s/Smeagol’s facial expressions and emotions are Serkis.

Serkis_gollumSerkis_gollum 02Andy-Serkis-Gollum-Effects-Screen

Now this may sound like I’m giving no credit to the animators for Gollum’s performance.  I have studied and created animations and can confidently write that they must have worked day and night to get the Gollum we see in the final films on screen.  From the way his hair flows to the creases in his loin cloth, they must have worked tirelessly to get that looking realistic enough to suspend the audience’s belief that Gollum doesn’t exist in the real world, and they have done it so superbly that all their hard, gruelling work goes unnoticed (the true sign of successful CGI).  The Two Towers came out in 2002 and the work they did on Gollum has never been bettered bar their work on Gollum again in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which came out ten years later!  Now we’re in 2016 and, for me, Gollum is yet to be bettered by any studio.

But, when we’re talking Oscar nods for the acting categories we need to talk about the performance, and that is all Serkis.  The animation, whilst top notch, is just the costume that Serkis performs in.  So why wasn’t he even nominated for his roles in The Two Towers and The Return of the King?  Heck, he was also the only shining light in the entire dross that was The Hobbit trilogy and he was only in the first one, so where was his nomination there?

Let’s look at who he would have been up against.  In 2003, the Best Supporting Actor Oscar went to Chris Cooper for Adaptation, and Paul Newman was nominated for Road to Perdition (I thought he would have won it), but was there really no room for Serkis for The Two Towers?  Okay, the other nominees were Ed Harris, John C Reilly and Christopher Walken  who are all great actors but their nods were for films that I forgot they were in!  In 2004, The Return of the King cleaned up at the Oscars and yet there was no nomination for arguably Serkis’ best Gollum performance.  Tim Robbins was a deserved winner for Mystic River and I will always have a soft-spot for Ken Watanabe in The Last Samurai, but Serkis is again noticeable by his absence from a group that contains Djimon Hounsou for In America (never heard of it), Benicio Del Toro for 21 Grams (I fell asleep it was that dull… again, don’t judge me) and Alec Baldwin for The Cooler (nope, your guess is as good as mine there!).  In 2013, Christoph Waltz won for Django Unchained and Philip Seymour Hoffman was nominated for The Master, so I doubt Serkis was in with a shot of winning with his fleeting but superb performance in An Unexpected Journey but not to be nominated amongst Alan Arkin for Argo (who?), Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook (meh) and Tommy Lee Jones for Abraham Lincoln (was he even in it?) was surely a snub.

Why?  Because the real him isn’t on screen?!  Based on this logic the Oscar for Best Actress shouldn’t have gone to Nicole Kidman for The Hours because she was wearing a wig and a fake nose, and Best Actor shouldn’t have gone to Leonardo Di Caprio this year as his face was 40% beard!  It’s ridiculous, but based on who beat Serkis to the nominations it is the only feasible explanation that I can think of.

As you can tell, I think Serkis has been ignored by the Academy at least twice,  and I think him being nominated for an Oscar for a character he plays that uses CGI for high-tech make-up only would not have made a mockery of the ceremony like some would try and convince you to believe.  Fortunately for the Academy voters there has not been a genuinely Oscar-worthy performance by an actor behind a CGI character ever since and I doubt there will ever be again, at least not in my life-time, which makes the snub of Serkis even more poignant…

…unless they motion-capture Driving Miss Daisy… perhaps not…



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