Monday, March 8, 2010

Best Picture

It was huge, man over Avatar! It is remarkable that the lowest grossing movie ever to receive an Oscar for "Best Picture" beat out the biggest grossing movie ever made.

The showdown between The Hurt Locker and Avatar, along with the stellar job done by co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, gave the 82nd annual Academy Awards a huge ratings boost. And the buzz leading up to the Oscar program about who the "Best Picture" winner would be also shifted back and forth.

Avatar, at $300 million in production costs alone, is largely a CGI (computer generated image) thriller. The movie gained enormous momentum with a record breaking opening weekend this past December. The world-wide gross box office receipts now exceed $2 billion. In Na'vi the right word would be "Irayo" or thank you.

This science fiction epic is set in the year 2154 on the moon Pandora, which is inhabited by the peace-loving Na'vi. Humans discover Pandora is filled with a precious metal called "unobtainium." They send a private force, armed with the latest weapons and accompanied by Na'vi avatars, to excavate the metal. Computer generated images and characters are ingeniously created in a breathtaking and overpowering display of technology.

Years in the making, charges of plagiarism against Cameron have cast a small shadow over the blockbuster. But, on the day after the Oscars, a court in Beijing, China, threw out a lawsuit brought by writer Zhou Shaomou, who said that “Avatar” closely resembled his novel “The Legend of the Blue Crow.” Cameron had said he began the Avatar project two years before Zhou's novel was released.

In sharp contrast, The Hurt Locker is an unrelentingly intense movie that follows a United States Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team during the Iraq War. The screenplay was written by Mark Boal, a writer who was embedded as a journalist with a bomb squad. The Hurt Locker has had a limited release in the United States since it first came out here last summer. It has so far earned about $15 million at the box office, which barely exceeds its production cost of about $12 million.

There are no avatars and no CGI in The Hurt Locker. It is a bone shatteringly real depiction of life for the Army's bomb squad in war-torn Iraq. For one man, Sergeant First Class William James, brilliantly played by Jeremy Renner, disarming Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's), car bombs and body bombs is addicting and far more thrilling than life with his family back home. It seems the war in Iraq blots out his insecurities and the mundane. It is a modified version of "Russian roulette" only played with explosive devices.

Oscar Award winning director Katherine Bigelow, James Cameron's ex-wife and the first woman to receive the award, wanted "something that was raw, immediate and visceral." And she was able to capture the feeling of total immersion using several Super 16 cameras to capture multiple perspectives. While the actors often didn't know which camera to play to, the approach heightens the viewer's sense of authenticity.

Good trumps evil in Avatar as nature overcomes man and machine. There will be no more plundering of resources, pollution and war on Pandora. The Na'vi are destined to live happily ever after and James Cameron is "the king of the world!"

In The Hurt Locker, senseless killing, brutality, inhumanity and inexplicable violence are seemingly without end. Goodness is snuffed out so it cannot propagate. Hatred, fear and hopelessness fill a vacuum. A bomb can be defused, but they are everywhere in this battle scarred region. So is Sergeant First Class James out of his mind or is he just a product of the world he lives in?

Avatar amazes us with innovation and imagination. On the other hand, The Hurt Locker leaves us shaken and searching for answers.

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