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What just happened??

I have seen The Hurt Locker and I enjoyed it.
But I don’t get the hype.

Is this a memorable movie?
Is it memorable for the right reasons?

I’d love to hear your comments.

I have serious doubts whether most people who voted for the Best Original Screenplay actually did read it. It may be a truly gripping movie, I didn’t think the writing was exceptional.

As to its Best Picture win, by my standards great movies can be watched over and over again. I have serious doubts whether this is such a movie.

Was it ‘important’? In the sense that it is a sign of our times, that it makes a statement about war? Then what was the statement? The quote at the beginning about how war is a drug?

Then the statement has not been heard. Only a very limited audience has seen the movie and it surely won’t make a big difference for America. In that sense, the movie failed.

Again, I have serious doubts whether Oscar will change this.

Very keen to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Karel

About the Author

Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international movie rights acquisition, script development and production. He has trained and consulted to filmmakers all over the world, including award-winning screenwriters, and Academy Award nominees. Karel founded this website, as well as Logline.it!, ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks more than a handful of European languages (which should come in handy in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia).

Comments 34

  1. I said it when I saw it 8 months ago. “The Hurt Locker” is the best film of the year. Thank goodness the Academy got it right (two years in a row).

    I dare all to give a single reason why any of t he other nine nominees deserved it (“The Blind Side” didn’t even deserve a nomination).

    1. Perhaps you should list some reasons why you think it’s the best rather than daring people to state why it’s not?

      1. It had a story which was executed to near perfection. The tension begins immediately. This is a film people will be talking about in 20 years… no one will give a crap about Avatar in 5.

        1. Did you remenber Crash (best picture of 2003) nobody remenber this movie. Hurt Locker is good but not to that point. Avatarwill be in every body minds for years and years. Did you no anyone who forgot about Terminator, Aliens,The Abyss, T2, True Lies and Titanic.

        2. Who will be talking about it in 20 years? The handful of people who saw it? You’re naive to think Avatar will be forgotten. I’m betting the sequel will probably also break the billion dollar mark. That equals bums on seats my friend.

          1. Hey Chris from Australia!! Sorry i though you talked to Romain1138!!

            Im so agree with you indeed!

  2. For me, Hurt Locker captured the menace of war in Saving Private Ryan fashion and Avatar took Disney’s Pocahontas to a new level by becoming the highest-tech cartoon to-date.

    But as to the question of which one was deeper and made the most informed contemporary statements about the path of modern Western society, I don’t think either can be seen as the catalyst for a debate worthy of the very deep questions asked in your blog.

    Perhaps next year we’ll have a set of films with fewer heros, bullets and character cliches to discuss in more detail.

  3. By the way, I’m from Worcestershire. And between the two, Hurt Locker was better than Avatar – with far more emotional take-away. But war films? Perhaps it’s now time for the Academy to think Sideways?

    1. The studios always shy away from “War Films”. This was passed on by everyone.

      I work in the “system” and hear every weak… “No one cares about war. It’s too dangerous.” Not to mention the knobs who green-light these things think Patton is a social network.

      Maybe it’s a culture thing, but THL was easily and without a doubt the best film of the ten nominated. WITHout question.

      1. Shane of California says: ‘I work in the “system” and hear every weak… “No one cares about war. It’s too dangerous.”’

        Firstly, it’s “week”, not “weak”. Are you illiterate?

        Secondly, I’m picking up just a little too much personal bitterness at your colleagues and peers to take your aggro opinions at all seriously

        1. Hey Lyndon, you smart ass…

          Firstly, it’s “week”, not “weak”.

          Is not a sentence. Is this where I LOL?

  4. Post
    Author

    What I really liked about THL was how it keeps you hooked using pure anticipation, without formulaically following the 3-Acts/Hero’s Journey. See Paul Gulino’s piece on ‘The Deadline Approach’ (http://thestorydepartment.com/the-deadline-approach/). This is the purest and most successful example I know of this technique.

    Now, that’s me speaking from personal taste; my professional opinion is very different…

    As a matter of fact, this movie is divisive not for its controversial message (which I didn’t think it had) but simply because most people just don’t like the movie and the WAY the story is told. Some find it repetitive, over-realistic, boring, they don’t care about the characters etc. These are real problems and strong indications of a failed picture.

    If the primary objective was to entertain, then the filmmakers have failed, apart from the small vocal minority of film buffs and industry peers (including Academy members). If the primary objective was to get a message across, the filmmakers have failed because they simply haven’t reached their audience.

    1. What if the primary objective was to tell a story about a guy whose job it is to keep strangers from dying? And that’s all.

  5. Thank you! ‘Cause I’ve been thinking the same thing ever since I saw the movie, which was after it received all the nominations. At best, I thought the movie was a fun story. When I saw it was up for technical awards, I was a little shocked, when I saw it was up for best screenplay AND WON I was a little upset (as a writer), and when it won best picture I was mostly confused.

    Were movies sub par this year? I know Avatar gets a lot of flack for being obvious, over-the-top, but it was groundbreaking whether you hated it or loved it. And for the record, I didn’t think Avatar deserved best picture, not even close.

    But Hurt Locker? What’s the deal? It’s a story about a guy who loves disarming bombs more than his freedoms at home, more than his family, more than anything. Oh and he has this nagging concern, maybe guilt, for little boys who sell dvds. Okay? Is it a commentary about post-modern, post-911 militarism? Or is it a commentary about post-modern, post-911 psychology? Is it both? Isn’t Rescue Me on FX about the same kinda things?

    I know there are some movies you just watch and think, “Ah that was so brilliant even though I couldn’t tell what the writer or director set out to do” e.g. any Kaufman flick but I thought the latter and couldn’t find the brilliance. Is the brilliance so subtle that I’m over thinking it when compared to something so monumental as the best picture Oscar? Maybe. I’ve only watched it once.

    People loving their job more than their family isn’t anything new. War isn’t anything new. Addiction to war? -sounds like an American political cliche to me. I’ll tell you something. UP may have been obvious and kiddish, but it moved me a lot more than Hurt Locker. Inglourious Bastards? Are you kidding me that screenplay must’ve been awesome.

    As a writer, I pick up on nuances from the film in the screenplay. I’m not this great writer or anything, but when I can feel the writing, I know it’s a good screenplay. Hurt Locker? Meh.

    To be honest, I don’t feel I have a good eye for direction, so Kate Bigelow congrats on getting something in a male dominated industry and category.

    Let me just wrap up by saying that I’m no expert and I hate apologizing but best screenplay? Best Picture? I didn’t see it the first time through. Should I have to see it more than once to “get it”? Of course not. Is it fair to feel the way I do after one viewing? Absolutely.

    1. Basterds, tho’flawed (scalping, Brad Pitt), had more sustained brilliance than any other film. An Education: pure perfection in every aspect – script, lead and supporting performances, direction(and by a woman,Lone Scherfig, who deserved to make Oscar history too – why wasnt she nominated?)

      Now Karel, can you ban Shane from California for flaming, please?

      1. An Education was great. That’s Criterion material right there. Best in all that stuff you mention? No. But great.

        I also think IBs should have gotten best Screenplay.

        Am I going to get banned for “flaming”? What is this, 1999?

        Chill out, Lyndon, I’ve worked with one of your country’s best directors… Simon Wincer.

      2. I’m not certain at what point the competition became solely between The Hurt Locker and Avatar. Lynden mentions the nominee I thought was brilliant, Inglourious Basterds. Not a perfect film, but wildly creative, sharply written, and, ultimately, a very satisfying film. With both The Hurt Locker and A Serious Man, I felt underwhelmed at the end, wondering, “That was it?” And I was genuinely surprised that THL was even nominated for Best Screenplay.

  6. I’m certain that a movie about war is a non-risk enterprise because everyone will like it just because it is about war. Yes, the Hurt Locker is pretty good, actors play nice and speak supposedly philosophical lines as they should but, people, haven’t we seen it all? There are thousands of films out there about how hard the life of a military is and they all are about pretty much the same things, same values, same choices. Whenever there’s any kind of military stuff on the dvd cover I just skip it. Why? Because, I know, it’s gonna be utterly boring. Well, I can’t help admitting that such movies ARE needed to educate teens but they can’t impress me personally. Not anymore. I’ve seen so many of them. Yes, some were really fascinating. But, honestly, what kind of new message does the Hurt Locker have to tell us? Or, what new has it brought to the cinematography? Another military story? I’m quite sure that in 20 years no one will remember THL. Although Avatar may also not have a very original message it is the movie people will be willing to dive into and experience over and over again. And, I think, this what “the best picture” means.

  7. Everyone’s an expert. Right?

    Best Picture award is political. We all know that. Why do we waste time arguing which was best picture? The award itself is stupid. Everyone loves a different movie for different reasons. I have yet to see a set of “selection criteria” that defines the Best Picture award at the Oscars. So the judges will make a decision and give an award. It doesn’t actually mean that movie is the best movie of the year.

    Oscars are about politics and boosting people’s careers, not about some objective truth. Relax and keep creating!

  8. I’m pleased that you posted this question Karel, I was extremely disappointed with the Best Film and Best Original Screenplay winners.

    IMHO Avatar absolutely deserved to win Best Picture – epic scale, mythic storytelling, spectacular world crafting, futuristic concepts, contemporary themes, profound meaning and ground breaking immersive technology. Avatar is a masterpiece that changes cinema and the way cinema is made. It stands as the most impressive cinema experience of my lifetime, so I will certainly remember it for decades. I saw the film without experiencing any hype, ie – no spoilers, previews, trailers, TV specials or articles (no easy task). So when the lights dimmed I was completely transported to Pandora and drawn into the struggle of the Navi. The anti-colonial, anti-military, anti-corporate message had profound resonance with me and I responded to Jake as a character, his inner conflict and his journey. I was impressed enough to see it three times in 3D, including IMAX and to pay for my entire extended family to see it Gold Class. This is a movie going event, cinematic story-telling at its most powerful.

    Naturally I was surprised at the backlash surrounding Avatar’s release. After many debates and discussions I am left with the impression that the over-criticism is exacerbated by the hype surrounding the film and the persona of James Cameron himself. Couple this effect with the rivalry between ex-partners (plus the first female director issue) and it goes some way to explaining why Avatar didn’t win Best Picture. Cameron also shot himself in the foot by previously proclaiming “I’m the King of the World!” … there goes Best Director.

    I never understood the rave reviews for Hurt Locker. I felt it was entirely unimpressive – another war movie about “the tragedy of war” (yawn). It focused on a psychotic central character addicted to adrenalin, risking his life (and others) for his dependency. IMHO it was fairly suspenseful, well shot and the performances were good … thats it. I certainly did not think it was memorable, moving or deserving of a nomination, let alone winning Best Picture or Best Original Screenplay. I was more moved by war films such as Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Black Hawk Down. In fact I have yet to see a truly compelling film set in the Iraq conflict … perhaps that is a reflection of the politics behind Bush’s “War on Terror”?

    As far as Best Original Screenplay nominations, I thought District 9 was an extremely original, complex, interesting and well crafted screenplay. The themes of racial prejudice and xenophobia were explored in interesting ways within a truly unique Science Fiction scenario. District 9 is an important genre film and I felt it deserved more recognition.

    Inglorious Basterds was also a better candidate for Best Original Screenplay. As irritating as Tarantino is as a person, you have to marvel at his dialogue.

    So after the ceremony I also thought “what just happened??”. I am personally left with the impression that the Academy Awards were more about Hollywood politics than recognition of cinematic achievement.

  9. They all seem to be ‘good’ films, but I think it won an Oscar due to the competition up against it. I enjoyed Hurt Locker but it really wasn’t Oscar winning compared to past film winners. It just stood out against the other ‘good films’. Didn’t mean it was great, just stood out from the others.

    In my opinion, Up should have won in place of Hurt Locker. That’s a film that’ll get playback for years to come.

  10. My two cents: the supermarket scene is the most important scene in the film. That’s the key that unlocks the whole film for me. And, for me, that scene (and how everything built up to and reflected off that) is brilliant, so much more brilliant than anything else I saw all year, that it deserved to win Best Film just for that.

    1. The supermarket scene was not only banal it was a direct copy of a scene from the superb BBC miniseries ‘Warriors’ about UK Paratroopers serving in Kosovo under the UN peace-keeping.

      If you want to see the ‘solider displaced into the domestic, strangely longing for ‘ done right, have a watch. Hurt Locker is a poor second cousin.

      But maybe you have to be American to appreciate this film? Maybe Im missing something by not being a US flag-waver. Maybe there’s something reassuring or challenging in this film that i cant access…?

      Or maybe it just plays to safe conservative audiences who really only want the illusion of having their perspectives on conflict challenged? Because in terms of great films about war that open minds and challenge beliefs, Hurt Locker is an empty vessel.

      Mike Jones

  11. I am astounded by this film.
    Astounded by its banality.
    Astounded by its disturbing lack of having anything at all to say.

    Upon walking out of the cinema i found myself completely devoid of any insight into the the lives and perspectives of Bomb Disposal experts, I was devoid of any new understanding of the Iraq war, I was utterly devoid of any new comprehension of the nature of modern conflict.

    So please tell me what the point was?

    Hurt Locker is a film where a whole lota stuff happens TO the characters but the characters themselves actually dont DO anything at all. They just walk around having random stuff happen to them and at the end are exactly the same as when they started.

    And please dont try and tell me thats’ the point. Banality is no way to make a point.

    After the superb Three Kings anyone making a movie about US troops in Iraq better come up with something new to say or else risk making a disposable and forgettable film.

    This film is eminently forgettable and 2 years form now will be a hot topic of discussion Nowhere.

    And if I have to suffer through one more cliche ‘Crying with Emotional Distress in the Shower’ scene again Im gonna puke! Best screenplay Oscar my arse…

    Mike Jones

  12. I couldn’t agree more. I was appalled when it received its win and against such a break though script- ‘Inglorious Basterds’. The January issue of Script mag had a discussion on the “Oscar Race” regarding many films and their writers. It explains Mark “Boal spent three weeks in 2001 witnessing a bomb squad at work.” I believe that sums up what’s wrong here. It’s a movie surrounding a hot situation. But legitimately the story was basic in my eyes. Compared to its competition it IS basic story.

  13. Academy Award for Best Script: The Hurt Locker

    Academy Award for Best Movie: The Hurt Locker….

    PLEASE EXPLAIN?

    When Avatar was released, James Cameron said not only was the pre production so involved and the wait for the technology took so long but Avatar was before its time to be released any earlier.
    Obviously the world proved that when finally made- it was ready by grossing over $2B.
    So my other curiosity and question is- although Avatar was ready for the public, was it still premature for the Academy Awards?

    Was the rawness of The Hurt Locker what captivated them along with the possible politics that follow it (considering it is a current war)?

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