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An ex-Marine finds himself thrust into hostilities on an alien planet filled with exotic life forms. As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people.
For more about Avatar 3D and the Avatar 3D Blu-ray release, see Avatar 3D Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi
» See full cast & crew
Avatar 3D Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray 3D at its best.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 1, 2010
One life ends. Another begins.
Avatar is the new "King of the World," the latest from Director James Cameron and, over the past decade-plus, the only film audiences deemed worthy of supplanting Cameron's own 1997 Best Picture recipient Titanic as the top Box Office earner of all time. Avatar is an undeniably beautiful picture and an achievement of digital technology that surpasses every other film ever made in terms of its visual effects work and sheer scope of production. For that, the film is most certainly praiseworthy and a must-see experience, but has Cameron -- seemingly so completely absorbed in the world of Pandora and his personally-developed 3D camera system that's granted the film the finest 3D presentation ever -- forgotten to add more emotional heft and thematic substance to what is the most visually spectacular movie of all time? The answer, unfortunately, is "yes." Even Avatar's spellbinding visuals and the seamless and completely believable world of Pandora can't mask that underneath it all is a core that yearns for more substance, craves greater import, and demands a story not so riddled with transparencies. Make no mistake, Avatar is an incredible movie and the plot holds together just enough to see viewers through what is a fast-paced and oftentimes enchanting experience, but the film ultimately misses out on its chance to be hailed as an all-time great thanks to a lackluster and seemingly hastily-developed story and an emotional center that's only good enough to prop up the visuals but not carry the movie as much more than a ridiculously large-in-scope testing ground for the next generation of CGI delights.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation) is a wheelchair-bound Marine mourning the loss of his recently-deceased twin brother. In his grief, he's been recruited to step into a highly sensitive, time-critical, and biologically-precise role for which his brother had invested no less than three years of his life in training. Sully's mission is to control his brother's avatar, a human-alien hybrid that's biologically linked to its human counterpart and telepathically controlled by the human subject while in a state of suspension. His mission: enter the body of the Na'vi-human hybrid and study the mineral-rich moon of Pandora. Group leader Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Galaxy Quest) doubts Jake's abilities, but the paralyzed Marine proves a quick learner while he secretly conspires with Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, Gods and Generals) to provide clandestine first-person surveillance and analysis of the Na'vi home world in exchange for a promise that the military will pick up the tab for the medical treatments Jake requires to once again regain the use of his legs. While on mission on Pandora and in the body of his avatar, Jake becomes separated from his group and is discovered by the native Na'vi who distrust him, but he finds favor with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek), a female of the species who believes Jake to be blessed by Eywa, the Na'vi's benevolent god. Jake finds himself torn between his duties as both a scientist and a Marine as he becomes immersed in the alien world around him and the culture of the peaceful Na'vi who face a danger from a power-hungry human military bent on securing every scrap of a precious resource known as Unobtanium that's concentrated at the center of Na'vi life, the Hometree.
James Cameron has come a long way since the days of The Terminator and Aliens; 1980s Cameron seemed all about dark, distressed worlds; adrenaline; and Michael Biehn. His 1990s films still offered challenging and thought-provoking plots with The Abyss headlining and serving as, perhaps, his most complete film. With Titanic, the director changed course completely, favoring spectacle above all else, though that epic Disaster movie nevertheless generated a Best Picture Oscar win not only for its special effects but for the heart of its emotionally-driven story. Avatar is the culmination of Cameron's journey as a filmmaker; his 2009 picture completes his progression from edgy auteur to bonafide superstar director who sees before him a cinematic future where the digital rather than the physical reigns supreme. With two films -- Titanic and Avatar -- the Cameron of old has been all but erased, replaced with a director bent on honing his movies into the grandest, most cutting-edge extravaganzas technology allows with everything else, it seems, mere afterthoughts in the exceedingly large shadow cast by the movies' good looks and the gargantuan efforts that are the pictures' effects wizardry. Avatar all but shuns a deep plot in favor its sheer visual prowess, eschewing the tenderness of even Titanic for an emotionless thrill ride that certainly excites the eyes but does little-to-nothing for the heart and mind. With Avatar, has Cameron proven that story no longer matters so long as there's a barrage of seamless special effects splashed across the screen?
If Box Office returns are any indicator, the answer is unfortunately "yes." Make no mistake about it, Avatar is worth seeing, and it's also worth much of the hype and many of the accolades, but Best Picture material? That's another question entirely. Avatar is certainly not as good as several of the other nominees, whether compared to other special effects-laden movies like District 9 or more traditionally dramatic and structurally basic pictures, such as An Education. Avatar seems more content to simply overwhelm moviegoers with a shock-and-awe barrage of breathtaking digital worlds, flimsily held together by "1s" and "0s" rather than cemented in a top-flight story. Cameron certainly builds a world worthy of dropping jaws; Pandora is a fully-featured and seamlessly-realized locale of a size and scope never before seen, featuring a living, breathing fictionalized environment that even the newer Star Wars films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy can't come close to matching. Cameron's world is certainly nothing new; rideable creatures, lush landscapes, dazzling natives, and even floating mountains don't represent any kind of radical new vision, but it is instead the way the world seems so expertly and seamlessly realized that's the true star of the show; it's just too bad that the overwhelming beauty of the movie is but skin deep.
Avatar's plot is decidedly average and riddled with cliché and phony dramatic convenience and coincidence. There are a few semi-clever ideas here -- the Na'vi are obviously so named to evoke a sense that they're navigating the hero of the story, Jake Sully, towards both their plight and way of life as well as pushing him to uncover the truths in his heart and soul and lead him to his destiny -- but most of the picture plays with an almost shocking amount of unoriginality, so much so that anyone who has seen the trailer and understands the crux of the story knows how it's going to play out. That's what's most disappointing with Avatar. The technology is new and with every frame comes a spectacle of moviemaking the likes of which have never been seen before, but each of those frames is saddled with a predictable and shallow plot, generic characters (could Colonel Quaritch be any more stereotypical?), and an outcome that's never in question. Like any good Science Fiction story, the plot behind Avatar is grounded in the issues of today but projected into a futuristic setting. That works well in both ridiculously over-the-top yet also highly intelligent satires like Starship Troopers as well as more grounded and subtle but no less effective and evocative pictures such as Forbidden Planet. With Avatar, however, the grander ideas that aim to bring to light the issues of environmentalism and war are far too blunt, their impact effectively negated through characters that are painted as extremes and a story arc that offers no middle ground.
Still, Avatar is a fun ride, all the pros and cons considered. The action scenes are extraordinarily well done and quite exciting from a visual perspective, even if they're tempered by the foreknowledge of how they'll ultimately play out. The characters are, for the most part, well acted; the movie even finds some genuinely emotional undercurrents in several scenes, such as when Jake Sully initially awakens in his new avatar body and experiences the joys of walking and running once again. In a vacuum, Jake Sully is an incredibly interesting character; he's pulled in three directions at once --by the military, the scientific community, and the Na'vi -- while struggling to find some balance inside himself and come to terms with the position he's in and the pressures he's suddenly forced to balance. Sam Worthington is strong in the lead role, showing plenty of emotion and allowing the audience to gradually but surely come to understand his course of actions, even if they're being nudged by the overwhelmingly clichéd figure of Colonel Quaritch. The entirety of the film is supported by an exceptionally strong score courtesy of James Horner (Glory), who once again proves why he's the best in the business. His Oscar-nominated Avatar score is at once playful, adventurous, and tribal; it seamlessly meshes with the picture and, aside from the film's outstanding visuals, is easily its strongest asset.
Avatar 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
Avatar's Blu-ray 3D transfer delivers a mesmerizing 1080p experience that's about as close to perfection as any high def 3D release is likely to come for quite some time. It would be fitting (not to mention easy) to simply label this one as "perfect," and indeed, there are so few problems here, and all of them so microscopic in size, that it would border on the sinful to give this transfer anything less than a "perfect" rating. Only ever-so-slight "ghosting" is visible when the disc is played back on Panasonic's first-generation Blu-ray 3D hardware; eagle-eyed viewers may note a few instances in the yellow Na'vi-to-English subtitles and a trace amount in one or two shots, but that's pretty much the extent of it. The 3D image is simply stunning in how seamless it truly is; every moment practically transports viewers to Pandora, whether the lush tropical outdoor areas or the more sterile and technologically-advanced interiors where humans work when they're not on the surface or inside various military vehicles. The image is wonderfully deep and detailed, with the 3D image adding a great deal to most every scene, whether extending the background far off into the distance or allowing viewers to better appreciate the size and shape of various circular computer displays and workstations that are seen in several places. Avatar's depth is nothing short of remarkable, and it tends to look so real that viewers might occasionally forget that this is 3D; with every other release, there have been instances where the effect is in some way lessened or, on the other end of the spectrum, greatly over-exaggerated, but not here. Look at the instances where Jake speaks into the video log camera; the way the graphics are offset from the rest of the image is fantastic, giving a new meaning to "virtual reality." The image is so crisp and visually astounding that it never allows viewers to slip back into the real world, and even the weight of the 3D glasses and whatever eye strain might accompany other titles at least seems drastically lessened here. While there aren't many "wow" moments -- nothing really jumps out at the audience -- Avatar impresses through its stability and constant depth of field. It's hard to describe just how wonderful this transfer is; it's the definitive 3D release of the year, and that's not even to mention how fine it is in several other areas of note.
As if the amazing 3D visuals weren't enough, Avatar yields an exceptional color palette and plenty of fine detailing that both elevate the disc to the top of the heap and make it the premiere Blu-ray 3D disc in production. The transfer handles CGI and physical material alike with a precision that's rarely achieved on Blu-ray; the two mesh perfectly, with the transfer picking up not only the most subtle of nuances on real objects such as human faces, but also on all of the digital environments and creatures that give Pandora and its inhabitants a tangible sense of reality that is the key factor in making the movie as successful as it is from a visual perspective. Additionally, Avatar's striking color palette is handled as well in 3D as it is in 2D; there's no perceptible drop-off in color, whether the steely blue and sterile hues that dominate the opening of the film or the lively and bright purples, oranges, blues, and greens that define many of the exterior Pandora shots. Blacks, too, are faultless with only one or two very minor instances where they appear a bit more murky than they probably should. Flesh tones, too, are solid, and there's no perceptible amounts of banding, blocking, or other eyesores to be found. Perhaps the highest praise that could be given to Avatar's 3D transfer? Release it wide -- give it away, even, to every single 3D buyer -- right now and place this disc in every 3D demo player across the world. Get the disc in people's hands and in front of their eyes, and 3D units will move, and move quickly. Why the highest-grossing film of all time and the one fans want to see more than any other in 3D is saddled with an exclusive and therefore pricy release is beyond the imaginations of anyone but the highest-ups at Fox and Panasonic. Perhaps they have insight, charts, and other odds and ends that tell them that exclusivity on this, or any, title is the way to go, but it's near impossible to fathom a reality in which getting this release out there wide -- even as-is with no extras -- could be bad for rapid 3D adoption. It's the Blu-ray 3D release of the year, and only a select few will see it for the foreseeable future.
Avatar 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Avatar features a reference-quality DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack that's perfect in every regard. Much like the 3D video presentation, it manages to deliver a seamless and mesmerizing experience that never feels overpowered, overdone, or in any way unnatural. The track thrives on delivering everything in harmonious balance, whether the slightest background nuances or the most powerful of explosions and action-oriented effects. While the latter are certainly loud and sonically exhilarating, such events never break the boundaries of what one might expect of such an occurrence; the track finds a wonderful stability in all that it does, and while it might not be quite as raw and powerful as some tracks, it holds its own -- and then some -- by basing its every element within a real context. Bass, then, is exceptionally potent without ever becoming monstrously agressive; vehicles rumble around the soundstage, various object explode, and the ear-piercing thuds of machine gun fire send plenty of power into the soundstage, but never enough to deafen the listener or overstay its welcome. Imaging is fantastic as many of these same elements seamlessly move about the soundstage; whether at slow, average, or fast speeds, directional effects open the soundstage wide and never allow it to close back in until the end credits have rolled. James Horner's magnificent score is wonderfully crisp and effortlessly delivered about the listening area. The track handles the various environmental effects of Pandora -- whether subtle atmospherics or the greatest cries of various beasts -- with unmatched precision, while other atmospherics that are heard in the metallic and artificial environments that house human characters also enjoy their own sets of ambience that altogether create a perfect 360-degree field of sound within every inch of the movie, no matter the place or the time. Rounded out by faultless dialogue reproduction, Avatar's DTS lossless soundtrack is one for the record books.
Avatar 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are included.
Avatar 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
When dissecting Avatar and granting it that overly-important numerical "score" that's ultimately going to carry more weight than a commentators' words, one must determine just how much of an impact on that number the special effects and the overall scope and grandeur of the film will have up against the decent but recycled and clichéd storyline that leaves audiences emotionally frigid and wanting something better to fill the void and make this into an all-time great movie. Certainly, one can see that Avatar is an important and destined-to-be prominent film through the rest of the history of the medium not only as a clear-cut fan-favorite but also as a hallmark visual effects movie that will be remembered alongside the likes of Star Wars, The Last Starfighter, Jurassic Park, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Toy Story. Where those pictures succeed, however, is where Avatar lags behind. Each of those films are carried not by their effects but by their stories and all of the emotion and power they bring to the table. Their special effects are undeniably impressive and serve as milestones in cinema history, but for all the dazzle they're but supportive elements to a greater whole. Avatar overwhelms audiences with spectacle but underwhelms through its lack of novelty, absence of thematic import, and shortage of raw emotion, even considering that Cameron's film tries to incorporate the latter two but to lackluster results. The film runs cold despite a strongly-beating heart and plenty of blood and energy flowing through its blue veins, and the result is a dazzling achievement of special effects that should have been so much more. This Blu-ray 3D exclusive title is currently the best in the business. There's no point rehashing the "exclusive" argument; it is what it is, and when this title is one day released to the general public, it will push sales of 3D TVs like no movie before it and probably no movie after it, at least for quite some time. The dazzling lossless soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment, and the absence of extras comes as no surprise. Obviously, this is worth claiming for Panasonic 3D HDTV owners, and hopefully it will be available to all in the not-too-distant future.
Avatar: Other Editions
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Avatar 3D Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Panasonic Free Avatar 3D Blu-ray Offer Expanded & Extended - March 2, 2011
Panasonic has once again expanded its Avatar 3D Blu-ray promotion. Now, if you purchase a qualifying Panasonic 3D Blu-ray player or home theater system between March 1, 2011 and February 29, 2012, you can receive a bonus copy of Avatar on Blu-ray, exclusively from ...
• Buy a Panasonic 3D Blu-ray Player, Get Avatar 3D Blu-ray Free - January 4, 2011
Panasonic has expanded its Avatar 3D Blu-ray promotion, making it even easier for 3D enthusiasts to get the 3D BD edition of James Cameron's epic without having to pay extortionate prices on eBay. For a limited time, if you buy a Panasonic DMP-BDT100 3D-compatible ...
• Avatar 3D Blu-ray Exclusive with Panasonic until February 2012 - December 14, 2010
A press officer from Panasonic UK has confirmed that the Avatar 3D Blu-ray bundle deal between the consumer electronics manufacturer and 20th Century Fox "does run until Feb 2012." This is the first official confirmation of the duration of the exclusivity period, ...
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