So there has been a lot of commotion about whether or not Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” should have taken away the big prize at this Sunday’s 82nd Annual Academy Awards. People have come out guns blazing claiming “Avatar” was robbed of the trophy, while others have lamented about the whole process altogether. Here is my take on why the film won, and why I think it deserved the much coveted golden statue.
First, let it be noted that “The Hurt Locker” was by no means the blockbuster that “Avatar” was. It accumulated pennies compared to how much the green giant of a movie made, but there is a reason for this. “Avatar” was made to make money. With about (from what I’ve read through various media outlets and sources on the internet) $230 Million invested in the film making, and even more invested in marketing and advertising, “Avatar” was designed to bring in the big bucks. Its was constructed big, so it draws money in, while on the other hand, the “The Hurt Locker” had a production of about $15 Million I believe. Considering the scope of the budget, the Hurt Locker did fine for a movie that wasn’t designed as a cash crop. So for all you naysayers out there who use the argument that “Avatar” should have won because it made the most money, apparently size does not matter.
I believe “The Hurt Locker” won because of the way it told the story. All too often, war films tend to demonize their subject, portraying war as the root of all of society’s problems. This film doesn’t take that approach, but rather sheds light in the characters that war creates. Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” ‘s subtitle was that “The first casualty of war is innocence”. This films message questions why people do the things that they do. Now I understand that people view films differently, and often people have come up to me and said that what I thought the film was about was completely different from what they experienced, so I am just sharing my perspective. I think the film tries to show how Jeremy Renner’s character deals with his life, both within and without the institution of war. Throughout the entire movie, it shows how he reacts to the situations he is faced, and in the end attempts to explain why he is where he is.
War movies don’t often win Best Pictures. Now classics like “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line” were snubbed the same year for “Shakespeare In Love” in 1998. This year it is interesting to note that the war movie managed to win, and the reason why it separated itself from those other war movies is simple; it was a neutral film. It did not glorify war, it did not judge the act, nor did it sit in one camp, instead, the film decided to objectively explore something missing in war movies, a single character.
It has been shown from previous winners that character development wins Oscars. From all the previous 5-6 winners, the major theme between them all was character focused drama. Even the “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” focused on the life of Aragorn in the last picture, although that film won because of other reasons (it was “due” to win). “The Hurt Locker” focused on the life of Staff Sergeant William James and his story drove the film. It helps to have a strong actor playing the lead.
The ingredients to a Best Picture win are simple on paper, very rare on screen, and almost always those very movies are left out of the race to begin with. In my opinion, 4 things contribute to a Best Picture win: Interesting Characters, A Thought-Provoking Story, Layered Messages, and Amazing Writing. Few films can meet those very high demands. Slumdog did last year, and the Locker does this year. Its that simple.
I think there’s hope yet though for Avatar fans though. I myself am an Avatar fan. James Cameron is going back to the books to begin to pen a sequel to the Koolaid man of blockbusters. If all goes well, and if Cameron understands why he won Best Picture with “Titanic” way back when I was a wee child, we might see some more of those lacking elements. Then, Jimmy will be nearly 15 years off from his previous win, and considering his stature in the film industry and what he will have eventually contributed, he will be “due” to win another. Let’s hope, for Oscar’s, film-goers, the world’s collective eyeballs’ sake, its completely worth the wait and deserving. Plus it wont hurt that if it does follow the simple regiment, it will probably smash its own record. Here’s hoping.