Avatar Vs The Hurt Locker – Did The Best Movie Win?

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Last night Katheryn Bigelow won Best Picture for her movie The Hurt Locker at this years Oscars. There were 10 nominees altogether, but the movie only ever had one real contender – James Cameron’s Avatar.

With the bewildering global praise for Avatar slowly subsiding, and The Hurt Lockers popularity now on the increase, I thought now would be a good time to step back from the hype, and access both movies individual merits and  flaws retrospectively. I will then attempt to answer the following question – Is The Hurt Locker really better than Avatar?

The Performances

I will begin with the easiest category to analyze – the acting. There is no real competition here. The acting in The Hurt Locker is flawless through out. There is not one unconvincing performance to found anywhere in this movie. Leading man Jeremy Renner gives an incredible performance as an EOD officer SSG William James. Renner`s character is a man who loathes the consequences of war, yet lives for the thrill of it. A man who is only truly alive, when in the presence of impending death.   He is cocky and reckless, but Renner makes sure that it is the characters humanity that always shines through regardless. His performance takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, that is both honest, complex and inspirational.

In complete contrast is Sam Worthington’s performance as crippled ex-Marine Jake Sulley in Avatar. I’m not quite sure what it is that Hollywood sees in this guy, be he is a bit of a black hole in terms of  onscreen charisma as far as I can see. Worthington’s performances falls flat through out, lacking both spark and depth. Admittedly, the script he had to work with was clunky as hell, but Im sure a more capable actor could have done far more with the material he was given. Worthington performance is quite frankly boring.

Avatar also has the strange ability to make great actors/actresses almost unwatchable. Sigourney Weaver is incredibly stiff, and unconvincing as the hard-nosed scientist Dr Augustine. As are the usually reliable Giovanni Ribisi, and Stephen Lang – whose characters have no more depth than you average  pantomime villan.

Avatars only real saving grace is its leading lady Zoe Saldana. The movie comes alive every time her character Neytiri is on-screen. Both strong, yet vulnerable, Neytiri is the only character you invest in emotionally, and the only character that projects any real humanity – which is ironic considering she is the Alien of the piece.

Sadly, one good performance is not enough to compete with the ensemble of great performances on show in The Hurt Locker.

Winner: The Hurt Locker

The Story

This is the one area where The Hurt Locker really suffers. Despite the excellent script, the movies lacks an actual plot. The movie is in essence a character study, set amongst a series of individual set pieces – that while tense and well executed – are completely isolated from each other. There is no overriding story arch to follow, making the movie feel more like a fly on the wall documentary than a conventional movie.  If the movie had of combined its fascinating lead character within an exciting and satisfying plot, The Hurt Locker would have won this round hands down.  As it stands, its lack of focus in terms of story is the films weakest attribute.

Avatar does have a story to tell – not a good one mind – but at least its there. Now, let me be clear – the story IS rubbish.  The movie is your bog-standard white guilt movie – akin to Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai – with some hookey spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and a very on the nose message about mans abuse of the natural world thrown in for good measure. You get the impression Cameron wrote a brief treatment for the film, and then thought – F*ck it – I don’t need to pad this out, the special effects will do the talking. £1 Billion dollars later, and it appears his theory was correct. I wont even bother going into the script, but with lines like  – ” When I was lying in the V.A. hospital with a big hole blown through the middle of my life, I started having these dreams of flying. I was free.” – you know it sucks!  Cameron’s back catalogue proves that he CAN write great stories, and he CAN write interesting characters and dialogue – just not in this case. The directors half-assed efforts leave FernGully, er I mean Avatar, with one-dimensional characters, an unconvincing romance, pseudo-racial stereotypes and recycled action scenes from his previous movies. But you know what?….at least there is a story to speak of, and despite its weakness, is engaging enough to win the round.

Winner: Avatar

The Direction

One thing Cameron undoubtedly has an eye for is action. Now the set pieces in Avatar are certainly epic, but Cameron’s total lack of effort in other aspects of the film, litters the battle scenes with characters that you are just not that emotionally attached to.  You therefore become quite bored, and apathetic to the constant barrage of lengthy action sequences the film throws at you during its bloated conclusion. To be honest, the pacing in Avatar is a major issue in-general. The movie is just too long for such a simple story, and goes from horribly drawn out (i.e – the dragon taming sequence) – to being to fast paced for its own good (i.e – the characters escape from their holding cell). A balance is never struck, reeking of over indulgence and arrogance on the directors part.

A lot of fuss has been made about the special effects in the movie. While Cameron may have developed an entirely new way of making movies with Avatar, that doesn’t mean the technological advances are onscreen for the audience to behold. The movie looks good, but is not as ground breaking as some have claimed. The world of Pandora is certainly imaginative,  but nothing more than eye candy – and eye-candy alone does not equal a good movie. Something a lot of Avatar fans seem to have forgotten.

To me, the most impressive aspects of the movie are the advances made in facial motion capture. This the real break through here! Although never truly photo-realistic, the emotional range on show by Pandora’s CGI inhabitants is enough to make you forget that what you are watching isn’t real. I believe this aspect, and this aspect alone is where Cameron and his effects team deserve real acclaim.

With Cameron’s movie set entirely in the world of fantasy, The Hurt Locker is completely grounded in reality.  Bigelow’s documentary style approach to the visuals, completely  immerses you in the war-torn cities of Iraq. A world where danger is literally around every corner, leaving both the characters and the audience on edge from start to finish. The film is hand-held for a majority of its run, with occasional cuts  to masterfully composed, iconic shots that are truly a sight to behold. The movies set pieces are all expertly staged, and nail-biting. It is these scenes that have made The Hurt Locker the success that it is.

What The Hurt Lockers lacks in story, it makes up for with character, depth, suspense and tension. Admittedly, the movie does suffer some pacing issues too – the time spent in between the action does drag at times- especially during the first half of the film. The films momentum only really starts to build much later into the film.  But these are problems that also hinder Avatar – even more so – thus The Hurt Locker also wins this round.

Winner: The Hurt Locker

So is The Hurt Locker really better than Avatar? The answer is yes.

To be quite honest, I believe both movies are quite over-rated. Avatar shockingly become a global phenomenon, and The Hurt Locker is slowly building a following that it doesn’t quite deserve. I think the key factor at play here is HYPE.  Avatar was being referred to as a masterpiece before it had even come out, and once that idea gets in to the public domain, it starts to become fact. Sometimes, it’s just easier to go with the flow, than fight against the grain. If the media dictates that its cool and trendy to like Avatar, then people will start to like Avatar – regardless of quality. Now I`m not saying this is the case for all fans of the movie, but it is my only explanation for why an over indulgent movie about blue cat-people became the global titan that it is.

I fear the same thing is starting to happen to Katheryn Bigelow’s movie. Now an oscar winner, people are going to start seeking out the movie, with the preconceived idea that it is a masterpiece –  which may cloud some viewers judgement.  It is undoubtedly a very good movie, but it is also a very flawed one. Is it the best picture of the year? I think not.

Inglorious Basterds should have taken the award that night…in my opinion at least.

What do you think?

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7 Responses to “Avatar Vs The Hurt Locker – Did The Best Movie Win?”

  1. Captain Yesterday Says:

    You question the greatness of Avatar? Burn the witch!

    In all seriousness – good article, makes me want to watch The Hurt Locker and forget ever watching Avatar

  2. Danjo Kazooe Says:

    Thanks man. I`m sorry I said bad things about Blue Cat People in Space…

    It wont happen again. Ill lend you Hurt Locker next time I see you to make ammends.

  3. mike fagan Says:

    Avatar is a work of art. The Hurt Locker captures man’s addiction to war, which is nothing new.

    • Danjo Kazooe Says:

      Hey Mike,

      Thanks for the post!

      While I would agree with you that Avatars best attribute is its visuals – it seems a little unfair to label Hurt Locker as un-original, when Avatars story isnt anything new either.
      Avatars general plot has been done by at least 3 other movies already. As I mentioned, eye candy alone is`nt enough to be classified as true work of art in my eyes.

  4. Mommie Dearest Says:

    I stand by my enthusiasm and the rollercoaster of emotions that I felt when I first saw The Hurt Locker. I wasn’t carried away by any hype, I had just heard it was a good movie, I had no expectations. Superbly acted, tight script, I don’t think this needed a heavy storyline. The film was simply about comradeship, loyalty and the often complex task of survival. On the surface Sgt.James is every soldiers nightmare as the commanding officer he selfishly and thoughtlessly puts his subordinates lives at risk to get his adrenalin kick as he attempts to outwit the bomb and it’s maker, but his kindness and sensitivity when dealing with a young terrified soldier and his willingness to go thirsty for the sake of a comrade he didn’t always see eye to eye with when they were in a conventional war situation was what gave this film a depth and truth that we don’t always see or understand about the life of a fighting man and why he will follow another man against his better judgement, it’s too simple to say he’s a soldier he has to. The film gave us edge of the seat action without any of the predictability which we would usually expect from this type of war drama. I thought the film was very well paced;there were moments when I thought ‘oh no it’s so obvious what’s going to happen here’ but each time that happened it suprised me and I could understand why Bigelow went there. Great film, fabulous direction. A very uncomfortably haunting contemporary film. Had it been around at the time this is the one Mommie Dearest would have sat and watched with her gung ho 14 year who was thinking about joining the Army a few years ago.
    Avatar OK, didn’t fancy it, but thought i’d see what all the fuss was about – not much actually. Inglorious Bastards better, Tarantino back on form, but not a patch on The Hurt Locker which along with Black Hawk Down will be the benchmark war films of the post vietnam era. A very worthy Oscar winner in my opinion!

  5. Mommie Dearest Says:

    OOps! Hope my post doesn’t spoil the film for anyone, I obviously haven’t learnt the art of critique without giving the plot away….Sorry.

  6. Danjo Kazooe Says:

    Expertly put! You have argued your views perfectly, and raised some fair and thoughtful points. While I still believe that the movie is no more than an entertaining character study – your post has inspired me to re-watch Hurt Locker again sometime soon . There are some movies that can only truly be absorbed after multiple viewings – maybe The Hurt Locker is one of them.

    🙂 Ta!

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