Was the Hurt Locker better than Avatar?

Jeremy Renner in the Hurt Locker.

Some scientists believe that six is definitely a bigger number than three. Yes, it is understandable that for some this is hard to comprehend, but it is true. It is simple math. During the 82nd Academy Awards of 2010, the Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow (she’s the one that made Point Break) proved that six is a bigger number than three.

To put someone in a “hurt locker” is to physically mess someone up, badly. It is roughly associated with causing someone “a world of pain”. According to the movie’s official web site: “In Iraq it is soldier vernacular to speak of explosions as sending you to “the hurt locker”. The Hurt Locker threatens us with “hurt” throughout the duration of the movie – and delivers – in a stylish, gritty and exciting package.

Set in modern day Iraq, the film explores a bomb disposal squad’s descent in to what appears to be madness, led by their adrenaline addicted squad leader Staff Sergeant William James (Renner), whose recklessness in action borders on the insane.

With awards such as Best Achievement in Directing, Editing, Sound, Sound Editing, Best Picture and Best Writing/Screenplay under its belt – and nominations in virtually every category available – the Hurt Locker proved that going 3D is not a necessary commodity to make a classic movie.

Like Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and the lesser-known sci-fi project Primer by Shane Carruth; Kathryn Bigelow – director of the Hurt Locker – proved that a massive budget isn’t necessary to make a good movie. Costing only $15million dollars to make it seems utterly dwarfed by: you’ve guessed it … Avatar. Costing in excess of $300million, James Cameron’s latest adventure would surely give The Hurt Locker a run for its money.

James Cameron with Sigourney Weaver on the set of Avatar.

Avatar had been in production ever since early humans discovered tools and fire. Throughout the Renaissance as the script developed and technologies became available, Cameron’s dream child started to grow legs. Several millennia had passed before the first stills appeared of Cameron himself wielding some massive bastard of a gun; we knew already that this was going to be a big film. The biggest film ever in fact: in the history of the world according to the hype.

The story, however; goes as follows: disabled man takes on job on mysterious hostile planet. Man uses a Navii Avatar to move around the environment where he meets and falls in love with a native Navii (much like the avatars on xbox live, but with more spears … and weapons … and problems.) It is all very spectacular, but it has been seen before. Our main character Sully turns against the evil humans and helps save the Navii. An extremely happy ending indeed that washes over the audience in an awesome wave.

It’s pretty much The Smurfs meets Dances With Wolves, with some of the best visuals witnessed in the history of cinema. It’s a conflicting film that keeps its audience feeling satisfied, yet confused and angry. Here’s why…

Having waited several years for Avatar to smash out of the screens and in to the audience’s face, we were expecting a miracle. We were expecting James Cameron to deliver “the” movie; the one that helps us get away from all the straight-to-dvd, Robert Pattinson jerk fests: the very same guy who does to movies what Prison Warden Percy Wetmore does to Eduard Delacroix in the Green Mile. In short, he gets royally screwed over.

The point being is that for a film to win best film selection at the Academy Awards, it has to be a film of substance, not just ground breaking visuals. As cool as they are in Avatar, they are sometimes not enough to win best picture. The Academy Award for Best Motion Picture is considered the most important of the Academy Awards and as it’s the final award presented; directing, acting, and writing efforts put forth for a film are all considered. This is why Avatar did not win.

To bundle Avatar in to the ‘experimental film’ section would be wrong. It was truly 3D, not like My Bloody Valentine, a film that uses 3D only as a gimmick. A poor, “why-did-I-spend-my-money-on-this?” style gimmick. Bigelow’s Hurt Locker involved the audience through tension and reality, masterfully exploring the depths of human emotions brought on through war. The opening title, an excerpt from American war journalist Chris Hedges’ book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning reads: “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” An addiction so potent, we would be led to believe that the lead character is completely insane.

As well narrated as Avatar is, it is the story alone that makes it flawed. Unlike trying to defuse a bomb in the sweltering heat of Iraq, Avatar doesn’t leave us wondering what might go off. Throughout the Hurt Locker we are presented with the days left in the unit’s cycle, an addition that leads us to believe something bad is going to happen – a count-down timer – like a roadside bomb grinning at you before exploding in your face, completely ruining your day.

The Hurt Locker is as gritty piece of film. While Avatar feels fresh and clean, with its otherworldly colour schemes and studio perfect lighting Hurt Locker feels sand-blasted, coarse and realistic. Understandably, the whole point of Avatar is to take us to another world, to a different reality, brought to us through the power of silky smooth high-def projections; but it is the Hurt Locker’s realism that makes it a more powerful film. There are men like this risking their lives daily. On screen, it makes for harrowing, intense and dramatic story.

Yes, Avatar is purely sci-fi, a completely different genre of film altogether from Hurt Locker. Surely this would invoke outrage: that a sci-fi film has been compared to a war film. Some would even go as far as saying this is a mockery. Well, it essentially is. Avatar’s story line was predictable, and most importantly, lame; full of lack luster and all the makings of a great episode of the Smurfs. Avatar needed only to be less predictable. Of course Sully (Worthington) was going to weave his way in to the Navii lifestyle. Of course he was going to save the day by harnessing the power of that great big bastard of a flying beast that everyone was so scared of and of course Sully would become one of the good guys in the end, leaving his dead-legged body behind for a considerably taller and bluer Navii body. Suitably bored by this turn of events, one would be hard pressed to find anything tedious in Bigelow’s desert warfare classic, unless you do not like war films…or Bigelow’s sense of direction.

Avatar is Cameron’s baby as some would put it, and for what it’s worth he has done a fantastic job as always. Jim Cameron has created some of the most entertaining cinema ever brought to our screens. The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day … Titanic was okay despite the ever-present danger that is Bill Paxton (Twister). He also created Aliens, sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien – a film considered in some circles to be the only sci-fi film that actually works in scaring its audience – whereas Aliens is a balls to the wall action/infestation romp. Not like The Fourth Kind, which generally fails as a film.

Like Titanic for example – the film with most Oscars under its belt at the 70th Academy Awards – for many, it was not the best film of choice. Cameron’s Avatar – as visually amazing as it was – lacked story and substance, leaving many of its audiences shifting in their seats, wondering when the hell it was going to end. The Hurt Locker proved that massive blockbuster images, seemingly endless budgets and a 3D perspective are not needed to progress cinema or win awards. The audience didn’t need to wait for a plot twist that never arrived or hang around for an inevitable story structure to unfold.

You are left exhausted and exhilarated by the balls-to-the-wall intensity of the Hurt Locker, not tired, angry and hungry. Its six Academy Awards are a testament to classic film-making. As ground breaking as Avatar is, 3D format does not mean all films made this way are going to be better than hardcore front-line filming. Truth hurts.