"Avatar" faces tough rivals for tech Oscars

Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:00am EST
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By Debra Kaufman

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - To nobody's surprise, "Avatar" dominates the tech race at this year's Oscars.

"When 'Avatar' is out there, it's the 800-pound gorilla in the room," says Visual Effects Society chair and VFX supervisor Jeff Okun. "Every film gets judged next to that."

"Avatar" figures in four of the main craft categories: visual effects, film editing, sound editing and sound mixing. (James Cameron's opus scored nine nominations overall, tying for the lead with "The Hurt Locker.")

In film editing, it faces four of the other best picture nominees: "District 9," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds" and "Precious," and in this category the final decision can go to any of them. Tentpole films like "The Bourne Ultimatum" (which won in 2008) and "The Aviator" (winner in 2005) often take home the gold, but smaller indie films such as "Crash" (winner in 2006) and last year's "Slumdog Millionaire" that have captured the zeitgeist have also won the Oscar.

"Sometimes people are looking at it for craft and sometimes they're looking for an emotional response," notes editor Sally Menke, Quentin Tarantino's longtime colleague and a previous nominee for "Pulp Fiction." "Editing is multileveled, which is why (the nominations) are all over the map."

Each film in this category, she says, is "amazingly edited. They are all really different, and it proves the point that editing has to be different, to go after character, tension, excitement."

Editor and first-time nominee Joe Klotz ("Precious") agrees. "It's a pretty diverse field," he says. "Sometimes a film with multiple story lines and convoluted connections can pick up a win, as 'Crash' did. Sometimes it's the style: 'Slumdog Millionaire' upped the ante with a style of cutting that worked for that story."

Nowhere does "Avatar" loom larger than in the visual effects category, where it goes up against "District 9" and "Star Trek." According to Okun, the trend with the Academy "is to look for outstanding work that pushes the envelope," and "Avatar," with its wealth of digital characters and virtual worlds, more than fits the bill.   Continued...