Never before has the upcoming 2010 Oscars showdown been a nail-biting and closely watched event in the history of motion picture. But while there are 10 nominees for Best Picture, everybody knows it's a two-horse race between James Cameron's AVATAR and ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. There's more at stake than just the initial dramatics and hoopla, and here's why.
The movie AVATAR has done what no other film has done in the history of motion picture. It made US$700 million in box office takings in the domestic US market and US$2.55 billion worldwide, beating creator and director, James Cameron's own and the worldwide box office record of US$1.84 billion with Titanic. It is to date the most successful stereoscopic 3D movie ever made so far, beating closest 3D rival, Disney/Pixar's UP, which made only US$283 million in US compared to AVATAR's US$710 million (although UP opened in more 3D theaters).
Most of us journalists would have attended an event where producer Jon Landau comes on stage and demos the stereoscopic 3D effects of AVATAR to audiences. I remembered experiencing this demo when AVATAR was first previewed in cinemas worldwide on August 21 (it was first previewed to the public at Comic-Con San Diego), and once again at an Adobe Developers Conference in Los Angeles in October last year.
Test audiences, journalists, critics and the public were all impressed, as never before has a strange blue-skinned alien living in an alien world been so life-like in speech, reaction and movements. It was the dawn of film-making in what would become the Third Act of Film Innovation (the first was Color & Sound, the second was High Definition). We had a glimpse of it when U2's Bono went all 3D on us at the world's first 3D Film Festival held in Singapore last year. But of course, there are a few who felt that 3D could just be sugar-coating an additional dimension over what is obviously a blockbuster action film.
For those in the tech sector, AVATAR couldn't have come at an opportune time. Not only did we see 3D-TVs and 3D Blu-ray players become the star themes of the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in Las Vegas, we are starting to see announcements being made everywhere (including local launches in Singapore and the region). What this means is that on the hardware side of things, the consumer technology vendors are already preparing to roll out 3D-TV products and related accessories to an AVATAR-buzzed audience. Investments have all been made, marketing dollars are all waiting to be spent, more films are being considered to be filmed and distributed in 3D, so what remains is whether the rest of the ecosystems are in place.
If WETA and Cameron took close to three years to realize a believable, alien world in the shape of Pandora (principal photography started in August 2007, the scriptment was written since 1994), who are we to predict that 3D-TV ecosystems can take off in less than a year? For something this accelerated to take place, the continuous buzz of AVATAR has to carry forward. Not only will this convince everyone down the value chain that 3D-TVs and their ecosystems will definitely work, but it'll also steer more film productions into 3D mode, cinemas will upgrade their systems into 3D, the domino effect of the 3D production economy will trickle all the way into the living room, transforming into games, Minority Report air-screen-styled navigations and perhaps even daily TV programming...3D Lost reruns anyone?).
So we all know what's at stake if AVATAR wins at the Oscars. But what if it doesn't and loses out to The Hurt Locker (that is, presuming it becomes the eventual winner)?
There is no way to predict if the acceleration will be the same but here's what I know. In 1991, Disney was undergoing what was called the Disney Renaissance. Riding high after the success of The Little Mermaid, its subsequent release, Beauty and the Beast, became so successful that in 1992, it became the very first animated film to ever get nominated for the Oscar's Best Picture prize. This has never happened before (until this year, where UP is also in the contention for Best Picture).
Many saw the technical innovation and wizardry that went into the making of Beauty and the Beast. The blending of computer imagery (remember that ballroom dance scene) with traditional hand-painted animation. Many felt this exhilarating buzz because this was a first in the history of the Oscars. Imagine what a win for the film would do to the animation industry overall.
Academy voters made their choice. They gave the award to The Silence of the Lambs.
You have to feel a sense of irony if they decide to give it to The Hurt Locker come Oscar night. But at least, after 18 years, you know they're still keeping to a tried-and-tested tradition. :)
Terence Ang used to be the Supervising Editor for the New Media division in Singapore, where he worked with the editorial teams behind HardwareZone.com and HWM the magazine. In that role, he looked at ways the teams in Singapore can collaborate with the Editors in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Terence is currently the Product Manager but contributes to the blog section whenever he can (or finds something interesting to talk about).