The Fritzes award honors the best interfaces in a full-length motion picture in the past year. Interfaces play a special role in our movie-going experience, and are a craft all their own that does not otherwise receive focused recognition. Awards are given for Best Believable, Best Narrative, Audience Choices, and Best Interfaces (overall).
As we know, 2022 marked the third year of the COVID pandemic, but people just seemed to want to move on, venturing back into cinema en mass. Studios reportedly had tight protocols that still let them get big casts and crews onto sets and big movies made again. Surprisingly, the only category to not “fill up” with candidates features two animated films, which could have been made all remotely.
These movies’ interfaces adhere to solid HCI principles and believable interactions. They engage us in the story world by being convincing. The nominees for Best Believable were Belle and Apollo 10 1/2.
The winner of the Best Believable award for 2023 is Belle.
If Belle rubs you the wrong way for turning the volume on the Ugly Guy, Hot Wife trope up to 11, well, that’s because it’s a modern retelling of the OG, Beauty and the Beast. It adds layers of connections between a virtual world called U and the real world of Suzu and her “nerd in the chair” friend Hiro.
The interfaces within U are not what this award is for. It’s the interface to U and all the primary-diegesis interfaces throughout. They’re well-designed and often improved versions of tech we know. Take special note of the lovely and subtle in-ear device that forms the “neural connection” that drops users into the virtual world.
Trigger warning before you check it out: verbal abuse and threats of physical violence towards young children. But it all turns out OK in the end, thanks to our plucky heroes. Catch the movie on Amazon Prime.
I want to take a special aside to note one surprisingly spectacular interface in a movie otherwise full of rather derivative ones. In the movie Warriors of Future [sic], most of the interfaces lazily mimic ones seen in other films, without adding anything of particular note. But then there is one scene in which Taylor and Huo Naiguang, two of the eponymous warriors, must escape a collapsing building while fleeing ferocious insectoid aliens. In their heads-up displays, they are given real-time, easy-to read augmented reality instructions on exactly what to do when to get them to safety. It’s fantastic and cinegenic and I just loved this moment. It wasn’t enough to save the film from the weight of the rest of its tropes, but I wanted to give the scene an honorable mention.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen augmented-reality assistant tech do this, and do this so well.
These movies’ interfaces blow us away with wonderful visuals and the richness of their future vision. They engross us in the story world by being spectacular. The nominees for Best Narrative were The Adam Project, Big Bug, and Strawberry Mansion
The winner of the Best Narrative award for 2023 is Strawberry Mansion.
In 2035, dreams are required to be recorded so that aspects within can be taxed. James Preble is a dream tax assessor who is sent to the home of artist Arabella Isadora to audit her older-model VHS dream recordings and determine what she owes. Entering her dreams, he comes to know and fall in love the dream version of herself, while in the outside world, psychopathic, capitalist forces threaten him even as he nearly loses himself in the dreamtime.
The interfaces are lo-fi and really well done, shaping the dystopian and absurdist world where the lines between taxes and dreams and advertising are losing their meaning. Keep a special eye out for the wonderfully disgusting (especially for a vegetarian) Cap’n Kelly fast food ordering interface (is the sack-of-chicken character a mediated avatar or an AI?), and the lovely touches that connect Isadora’s helmet and her VCR.
This year I present many Audience Choices awards. Across social media, the readership was invited to vote for their favorite, and the results tallied. The results are below.
Between Strawberry Mansion, Brian & Charles, and the spectacular and narratively challenging anti-colonial Neptune Frost, low-fi sci-fi interfaces made their own special splash in 2022. This tactic lets filmmakers compete against the big-budget films with charm instead of money, and sets the work stylistically apart. I would not be surprised to see more of this in the years to come.
Audiences selected Strawberry Mansion as their favorite, and just looking at this thing, it’s easy to see why.
There were lots of HUDs this year, with audiences choosing between seven: The Adam Project, Big Bug, Lightyear, M3gan, Strawberry Mansion, Wakanda Forever, and Warriors of Future. It was a three-way tie between M3gan, Wakanda Forever, and Warriors of Future, requiring me to cast a tie-breaking vote.
So, congratulations to M3gan as the winner, notably for the lack of any obvious FUIgetry, even if I wasn’t sure why some framing rectangles were placed where they were, and the science of affective interfaces has proven dubious at best. It was still great stuff.
Best Sand Table
Sand tables are an important tool for telegraphing character’s plans to the audience and keeping commanders in the action with the grunts. Audiences had their pick between Black Adam, Lightyear, or Warriors of Future.
Audiences picked Lightyear. Congrats!
Reticles are often an opportunity for a little indulgent opulence wherever they appear. Some nice reticles were seen in Thor: Love and Thunder, Lightyear, and Warriors of Future.
Thor: Love and Thunder walks away with the win for the reticles seen as the Guardians of the Galaxy—with Thor’s help of course—battle against the Booskan scum early in the film.
Best Big Red Warning
Big Red Warnings are important to show the audience that there’s an obstacle a character has just run into. Audiences had their pick of warnings from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Lightyear, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Warriors of Future.
The winner is Lightyear, for any of the handful of red warnings throughout.
The movies nominated for Best Interfaces manage the extraordinary challenge of being believable and helping to paint a picture of the world of the story. They advance the state of the art in telling stories with speculative technology. The nominees for Best Narrative are The Batman, Black Adam, and Lightyear.
The winner of the Best Interfaces award for 2023 is Lightyear.
This movie tells the “real world” backstory of Buzz Lightyear, who audiences first met as the Quixotic, toyified version of the character in Toy Story. In the movie, Buzz makes a mistake that traps Star Command troops on a hostile planet. He tries to achieve faster-than-light travel that will help return everyone home, but returning from one particular mission he learns that Star Command has come under assault by a robot army under the leadership of the mysterious Zurg. With the help of a few plucky cadets and a robot cat named Sox, Buzz infiltrates Zurg’s ship, saves Star Command, and learns more about what makes a home.
Pixar has long been a powerhouse for awesome interface design, and the studio is in fine form here. The interfaces feel just real enough for immersion, and just narrative enough to signal plot points and do all that troublesome exposition about how stuff works in this world. Also Sox is hilarious, and a fine model for zoomorphic general AI. Oh—and on the way they also remembered to give their HUDs an augmented reality to identify currently-cloaked teammates. Really, nice job, Lightyear.
Congratulations to all the candidates and the winners. Thank you for helping advance the art and craft of speculative interfaces in cinema.
Is there something utterly fantastic that I missed? It’s possible. Let me know in the comments, I’d love to see what you’ve got.