Can Cameron be king of the Oscars?

Having only spent six weeks in the box office, James Cameron’s epic film, “Avatar,” has already broken records in the film industry and for Cameron himself.

“Avatar” has raked in over $1.86 billion as of Jan. 27, becoming the top worldwide grossing film of all time, beating Cameron’s 1997 effort, “Titanic.”

The film follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a disabled Marine who is sent on a mission to Pandora to mine for a unique mineral called unobtainium.

The atmosphere in Pandora proves to be harmful for human beings, so Jake and his crew maneuver around the planet via avatars – blue, human-like figures that are hybrids of human DNA and the DNA of Pandora’s inhabitants (the Na’vi), and are controlled through the human’s conscience.

The film itself has already won and been nominated for many awards, most recently winning “Best Film – Drama” and “Best Director” at the 67th Golden Globe Awards.

As the film continues to rake in big money and top honors in the film industry, the biggest awards show in the motion picture world looms closer and closer, the 82nd Academy Awards.

What exactly are “Avatar’s” chances in taking home the Oscar this year for the coveted “Best Picture?” English and Film Studies professor, Dr. Christopher Wielgos weighed in, saying that Cameron’s blockbuster hit is sure to be recognized on Oscar night.

Wielgos explained that what makes “Avatar” unique is that it establishes a completely new way of filmmaking which Wielgos believes will win Cameron a special recognition, “just for the innovation that [he’s] made.”

“James Cameron came up with a whole new production method that he invented whereby he can see on a screen, as he’s directing the actors who are wearing [motion capture] suits. He can actually see them in [animated] character, so he can direct them in a more traditional way,” said Wielgos.

Pete Hammond of the Los Angeles Times believes that “Avatar” can take it all and become the “Best Picture” front-runner of the night, citing the film’s technical aspect and overall message will appeal to the Academy voters.

“‘Avatar’ seems strongly positioned to win Oscar’s heart with its strong environmental and social messages […] and, most important, its technological breakthroughs that present endless new possibilities for the movie industry,” said Hammond.
Wielgos agrees with Hammond, in terms of Cameron’s new filmmaking technique and believes that the movie will win awards for art direction, costuming and sound, but believes that “Avatar” won’t win the coveted “Best Picture” award.

“I don’t think ‘Avatar’ is going to win Best Motion Picture. What you have look for is what the Academy votes for, not necessarily what’s popular,” said Wielgos. “If they were to choose something like ‘Avatar,’ it might mean that the Academy is embracing this technological innovation. It might mean that the Academy does look towards the blockbuster as sort of what it wants to be represented as.”

In Academy Awards past, only one animated motion picture has ever been nominated for “Best Picture.” Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was nominated in 1992, but lost to “Silence of the Lambs,” which is why the Academy created the “Best Animated Feature” category, as Wielgos explained.

And although “Avatar” has garnered the title of “Top Grossing Film Ever,” Wielgos also explained that that factor could hurt it’s chances during the Oscars.

“Traditionally, the fact that it is a blockbuster, is actually a negative for an Academy vote. The [Academy] voters tend to want to pick films that they are proud of artistically, not necessarily popular,” said Wielgos.

One other aspect that could hurt the film from doing well is the fact that many critics have paralleled “Avatar’s” storyline to previous films.

Critics have said that the story of a group of people pillaging another group of people in their native land, like in “Avatar,” is present in films like “Dances With Wolves” and even Disney’s “Pocahontas,” which prompted the Huffington Post to post a feature on its site titled, “‘Avatar’=‘Pocahontas’ in Space.”

Though some criticize that aspect of the film, Wielgos, believes that it’s a storyline that the Academy doesn’t necessarily look down upon.

“It’s the story of the colonizers who come and want to exploit the raw resources of the new found land,” said Wielgos. “That’s the story that we’ve been hearing since 1492. It’s a very traditional story. I think the Academy likes those stories.”

So if “Avatar” does win that “Best Picture” title, Wielgos believes that it signifies the Academy embracing new filmmaking techniques.

“It might mean now that they’re embracing the realities of digital filmmaking; that they now fully embrace computer generated imagery as a valid form of production, which is going to come eventually,” said Wielgos.

But what exactly would that mean for smaller, independent-type films that don’t have the budget to use technology like CGI? Wielgos believes there’s still room for them as well.

“The Academy still loves to embrace its artistic side, which is really where the independent films come in,” said Wielgos. “And independent, low budget films tend to be more focused on the arts so there will always be that sentimental feeling amongst the Academy members for the art films.”

Whatever “Avatar’s” chances are during Oscar night, Wielgos believes that, overall, the film has set a new height for future animated films.

“I think it’s up the ante in terms of what audiences expect. The most significant innovation in this film is the 3-D effects,” said Wielgos. “They were almost without fault, almost to the point where you felt yourself completely immersed in what was going on. Almost as if it were a holographic image […] Eventually, I think that’s the future of film.”

The Lewis Flyer

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