Picture courtesy: guim.co.uk
THE TRIUMPH OF GOOD
MAR 9, 2010 – AT THE END OF THE LAVISH – and, quite frankly, tedious – ceremony that marked Oscar 2010, there was the sense of witnessing a morality play unfold, a sense that good had won over evil. As the extraordinarily elegant Kathryn Bigelow stood on stage, flanked by hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, a golden statuette clutched in each hand, we shared her disbelief, that a little-seen drama about an unpopular war could trounce the highest grossing movie fantasy of all time (not counting inflation, of course). The night was supposed to belong to her ex-husband, James Cameron, who proclaimed from this podium over a decade ago that he was King of the World, a justifiably titanic claim considering that he’d beaten all odds – inclement conditions, escalating costs, widespread skepticism about a love story set afloat a sinking ship – and delivered the highest grossing movie of all time (again, not counting inflation, till he shattered his own record with Avatar).
Instead, The Hurt Locker won, and all was right with the world – David had risen, once again, and brought down Goliath with the humblest of slingshots, with old-fashioned filmmaking. It’s seems almost quaint now to make movies the way The Hurt Locker was made, to actually travel to distant locations instead of conjuring them up on a computer, to actually have flesh-and-blood actors employ their faces and bodies to bring to life the words on the page, and to actually hope that the strength of a powerful story powerfully told would be enough to draw audiences increasingly weaned on techno-gimmickry. Whatever the real reasons for this turn of events were – perhaps The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences simply decided that Cameron had already basked in his moment of glory and perhaps it was time to crown, instead, a Queen of the World – it was impossible to ignore the subtext that moviemaking should not be measured in terms of box-office winnings, and that tech-demos have their place but not beside movies that aspire to be movies.
And that is just what Avatar is, an expensive, jaw-dropping, never-before-seen tech-demo – nothing less, but certainly nothing more. The makers can argue that they dumbed down the narrative elements in order to make the movie play better across every audience segment in every corner of the world – but banality, however well intentioned, is still banality. It is entirely fitting that the Oscars that Avatar took home were only in richly deserved technical categories – Art Direction, Visual Effects, and, somewhat puzzlingly, Cinematography (does there need to be a separate category, henceforth, for films “shot” inside computers?). The intent isn’t to equate filmmaking with an organic diet, that “artificial” films are bad and only “natural” films are good. As Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy showed, cold technology can be used to manufacture a thrilling, heartfelt narrative – it deserved every one of its accolades. Avatar, on the other hand, deserves to be recognised simply as the film that will change the way films are made – a hugely important consideration, no doubt, but certainly not one deserving of Best Picture.
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