Never have so many voted so overwhelmingly for so little as the members Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did for The Hurt Locker, this years Best Motion Picture.

Th’ Gaussling sat through a screening of The Hurt Locker last weekend. I must say that it was competently produced and directed. Without a doubt, the cast and crew did a fine bit of journeyman film making. However, an outstanding bit of film making it was not. It should have been titled Opportunities Lost.

What is so tragic about this movie is that all of the elements of an outstanding motion picture were there. An action packed setting, the threat of explosive death, flawed characters, intrigue, and comraderie. But somehow the director was unable to pull it together. Despite all of the raw materials available for a cliff hanger, director Kathryn Bigelow managed to patch together a picture that utterly lacks the fizz and crackle of a thriller. It’s as emotionally flat as a pancake.

Here is my primary beef with The Hurt Locker. It lacks application of the fundamentals of storytelling. While there is a lead character, the emotional hook that connects a viewer with the character is missing.  The viewers emotional connection to the lead character, Sergeant First Class William James, is lost through a series of missed opportunities. The director tries to paint this character as a man of steel or a “wildman”. But never convincingly. Even the attempt to hook you in with his half-hearted try to befriend a camp rat (an Iraqi kid) was botched.

The film makers tried to give this picture a documentary feel with the handheld photography. But it doesn’t catch. There are movies out there that use this method successfully- District 9, Cloverfield, and especially Saving Private Ryan.  But to do this successfully, in my opinion, the director must focus on a the characters.  One of the characters in The Hurt Locker was, by default, Iraq. But the development of even this “character” was poor.

To be compelling, the director must use some narrative trick to put the viewer on the spot with the characters. Either through a first person presence by a principle character as with Private Ryan, Cloverfield, District 9, or Apocalypse Now, or some other storytelling device like good character development on sympathetic characters. View the  Blackhawk Down and look at the difference.  In Blackhawk Down, there was better development of Somalia as a kind of character. It was not a sympathetic character, but it certainly had more depth.

OK. They did a few things right. They did not fall into the ridiculous cliche about the trick detonators. You know the scenario, there are many wires around the bomb and if the wrong one is cut, the detonator fires immediately. This is a regrettable dramatic device introduced foisted generations ago on ignorant audiences to raise the suspense level during the bomb defusing scene. Well guess what, audiences are still ignorant but at least the writer & film makers had some integrity this time. The EOD guy was portrayed doing the proper thing- looking for the initiator. That is where the drama is.

All in all, I would recommend viewing this movie if you have NetFlix so the financial investment is low. But I wouldn”t spend $19.95 on a DVD.