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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 and the Avatar Blu-ray release, see Avatar Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on November 15, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi
Director: James Cameron
» See full cast & crew
Avatar Blu-ray Review
Bigger and bluer than ever. But is it better?
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, November 15, 2010
You knew it was coming. Back in April, when 20th Century Fox released a bare-boned, bonus-feature-free edition of Avatar to coincide with Earth Day, the studio made it perfectly clear that a fully loaded multi-disc set was only a few months away. If you picked up that initial release, then, there's no room to complain about being forced to double dip. You really can't say you weren't warned. On the other hand, if you've held out these past seven months, waiting for the Avatar set to end all Avatar sets—until, at least, the inevitable 3D Blu-ray edition—well, your patience is going to be thoroughly rewarded. I've just spent the weekend with this new three-disc release, and I'm here to report that it's as exhaustive, encyclopedic, and all-encompassing as you'd hope. To start, you get three versions of the film—the Original Theatrical Release, the eight-minute-longer Special Edition Re-Release, and the Collector's Extended Cut, which has all the footage from the Special Edition plus another eight minutes of reintegrated, fully finished material. The three cuts are selectable from the menu of Disc One, and presented via seamless branching. Disc Two, titled Filmmakers' Journey, contains a lengthy "making of" documentary, along with over 45-minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes, and Disc Three, Pandora's Box, is a treasure trove of production featurettes and scene deconstructions. Fans couldn't ask for more.
And, of course, this set is meant for Avatar fans. If you're completely new to the film—that is, if you're one of the three people on the planet who have no clue what a Na'vi is—let me direct you to my original review, which can be found here. The short version is this: I think Avatar is an evolutionary leap forward in motion capture technology, the blending of live-action with CGI, and digital filmmaking in general, but it's also a poorly scripted, spectacle-over-story mash-up of various anti-imperialist allegories, and yet another tired example of the "white guy goes native, becomes one with nature, and betrays his own kind" trope. It may sound trivial, but nearly everything I dislike about the film can be summed up in the fact that it so prominently uses the Papyrus typeface. Let me explain. Papyrus is the default font for lazy designers who want their product to look "ancient" or "spiritual." Hence, it's often found on the signage for yoga studios, spas, Thai restaurants, and New Age-y bookstores. To me—and this is my interior graphic designer speaking—the font connotes a superficial attempt to appear profound. Or, to put it more simply, it's cheesy, flaky, shallow. And that's the vibe I get from Avatar, with its over-obvious Big Issue message, Lisa Frank color palette, and wilted brand of patchouli-scented, we're all one with Mother Earth animism. It's left-wing, yes, liberal, sure, eco-friendly, absolutely, but in a fusty, aging- hippy kind of way that seems immediately outdated. (I say this as a self-proclaimed left-wing, liberal environmentalist.) If the movie had feet it would almost certainly be wearing Birkenstocks and hitchhiking toward Burning Man.
But perhaps this is missing the point. Plenty of people love the film, and when given the chance to reevaluate Avatar, I tried to keep an open mind. I even went trolling in Blu-ray.com's forums to ask site readers what they like about it. The responses were near unanimous, praising the movie's larger-than-life storytelling, the research and detail that went into the creation of the alien world of Pandora, and director James Cameron's deft handling of the action sequences. I really can't argue with any of that. Avatar truly is an epic production—the kind of big budget, tent pole event that only comes around once or twice a generation—and it's easy to get sucked into the film's universe. Rewatching the movie this weekend, I found myself coming back to the same knee-jerk criticisms I had when I first saw the film in the theater—the mechanical, expository dialogue, the wooden acting, the media language of the Iraq War repurposed to cringe-worthy effect—but I'll admit that I gained a new appreciation for the sheer technological scope of the project, the fluidity of the action, and Cameron's ability to turn an almost completely digital creation into a believable, and sometimes unbelievable, world. It says a lot about the pacing and, more broadly, the quality of the filmmaking, that even the Collector's Extended Cut—at three hours—doesn't feel long.
Which brings me to those highly anticipated sixteen minutes of newly incorporated footage. While they don't drastically alter Avatar's emotional tone or narrative shape—and certainly won't change anyone's opinion of the film—the added scenes fit nicely into the overall structure and offer fans a moderately fuller experience. There's a spectacular new aerial hunting sequence that finds the Na'vi atop their flying pterodactyl-ish steeds, swooping over the Pandoran equivalent of a herd of bison and loosing their arrows and spears. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) spends more time integrating with the tribe, and his love scene with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the chieftain's daughter, is slightly less truncated. (Although, don't expect to see any hardcore blue-on-blue action. The Extended Cut is technically "unrated," but this is still a PG-13 affair.) The hardass, R. Lee Ermey-esque Colonel Quaritch is made, in loose snippets, to look like even more of a nutcase, and—in the most dramatic addition—we learn what happened to Dr. Augustine's school. I won't spoil it, but I'll just say that the info adds weight to Sigourney Weaver's character and fleshes out a previously only hinted-at subplot.
Of course, fans are most curious about the alternate intro, which briefly shows Earth as a Tokyo-on-speed, vaguely Blade Runner-ish metropolis populated by all sorts of crazy-looking denizens wearing face masks to guard themselves, presumably, from pollution and/or communicable disease. Here, we see Sully in his cramped apartment—complete with wall-sized television screen!—and get a sense that the planet has effectively gone down the crapper. Later, our wheelchair-bound hero does a whisky shot while popping a wheelie and then gets in a bar fight with a macho misogynist before being tossed out into a rain puddle that, reflecting the neon city lights above, takes on the purple/blue hues that Sully will later encounter on Pandora. Which brings me to my final, albeit entirely aesthetic complaint—why is everything in Avatar the color of an early-1990s Trapper Keeper?
Avatar Blu-ray, Video Quality
High definition home video enthusiasts—myself included—collectively held their mouths agape in awe when Avatar debuted on Blu-ray in April. "Reference quality. Demo worthy…nothing short of superlative in nearly every objectively measurable or subjectively eye-balled category," was my initial slack-jawed judgment, and I'm sure many of you agreed. You'll be glad to know, then, that despite the addition of 16-minutes of new high definition footage, the quality of the image hasn't dropped in the slightest. I popped in my copy of the standalone disc to spot check several scenes, and I really couldn't make out any negligible differences. Fine detail is just as crisp. Color is just as vivid. ("Eye-popping, with deep jungle greens, phosphorescent purples, bright orange bursts of fire, and, of course, the Na'vi's Smurf blue, all contrasted against the bleak fluorescence and gunmetal grays of the human military base.") Neither are there any noticeable fluctuations in black levels, contrast, or compression noise. I'm sure there are citizens of Internetsville planning on going frame-by-frame through all three hours of the film to parse out minute disparities, but to these well-meaning folks I say, one, just sit back and enjoy the show, and two, there are resources to help you get through this addiction. Help is out there.
Kidding aside, you'd be hard pressed to find any inconsistencies in the picture between the two equally fantastic-looking releases, so the real question, now—and this is entirely subjective—is whether or not Avatar's visuals still have the power to impress as much as they did seven months ago. Of course, I can only answer for myself, and I'll just say this: The live-action footage is not quite as stunning as I remembered it—it's a little soft and too video-ish for my tastes—and the human characters, on second viewing, sometimes stand out awkwardly from their digital environs. That said, the CGI stuff still completely floors me. I'm not very fond of the film's art direction and character design, but it's impossible to go unimpressed by the technical intricacy of the world that Cameron and his collaborators at WETA have created. Watching the behind-the-scenes materials has given me a new appreciation for the sheer innovation that went into the film's workflow—more on that in a sec—and when Avatar confines itself to all-digital characters and environments, the detail is breathtaking.
Avatar Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Not much has changed on the audio front either. With the exceptions of the new scenes, this is the same stellar DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that graced the original release, and with good reason. There's really not much room for improvement. The only notable change is that the Theatrical Cut and Special Edition Re-Release editions of the film also carry the option of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Family Audio Track, which removes all objectionable language— by way of dubbing from the original actors—so that Avatar is friendlier to little ears. I stand by my earlier assessment:
With all of the visually stunning landscapes to take in, it's easy to overlook the immersion, power, and intimacy of Avatar's soundscape, brought to Blu-ray via an exceptionally detailed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. There are certainly several sonic shock and awe moments here that will rattle your ribcage, shake the walls, and wake your neighbors—massive LFE-heavy explosions, spitfire machinegunning, and metal-rending, tree-cracking crashes—but where this track really succeeds is in crafting an engaging, believable world of sound. The surround channels are almost ceaselessly active, filling out the space around you with directionally accurate ambience. Just listen to the diversity of minute sounds as the characters traipse through the jungle—strange bird calls, wind, ominous rustlings, the chatter of the Pandoran equivalent of chimps. The cross-channel effects—zipping arrows, the rush of helicopter rotors, the flapping of enormous pterodactyl-like wings—are seamless and transparent, shot through the soundstage with pinpoint precision. More so, the sounds themselves have weight and clarity—the dynamic range is expansive—and the mix is effortlessly balanced. Meaning, no volume boosting or trimming required. I set my receiver to my usual listening level, and I don't think I touched my remote for the duration of the film. Dialogue remains discernable in the forefront, except for a few chaotic moments when the voices are intentionally—and realistically—difficult to hear. James Horner's score veers quite closely into Titanic territory at times—during one motif I can practically hear Celine Dion singing "Near, far…"—but it's appropriately epic, complementing the film well. I really can't imagine Avatar sounding any better than this.
Avatar Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Disc One: Avatar
Direct Access to New/Additional Scenes
This is a great feature, one that should be adopted by any and all extended or director's cuts. Here you can hop right to the new material, choosing either the Special Edition Re-Release (1080p, 17:12), or the Collector's Extended Cut (1080p, 33:19). You can select individual scenes but you also have the option, of course, to "play all." Note that the added runtime is due to the new scenes being sandwiched between existing clips to give context.
Disc Two: Filmmakers' Journey
Deleted Scenes (1080p, 1:07:51)
Like the material in the Extended Cut, none of these deleted scenes will alter your perception of the film, but there's some fun stuff for fans, including Sully taking a vision quest-type hallucinogenic drug trip. The footage is presented in various levels of completion, from raw motion capture and rough animatics to sequences that are only missing green-screen elements. Once again, the runtime is roughly 68 minutes, but only 45 minutes is new. The rest is there to give context to the individual scenes:
Here's where things get good. Capturing Avatar is a four-part, feature-length "making of" documentary by Laurent Bouzereau that explores every facet of the production, from the germination of Cameron's first ideas for the script all the way through to the film's blockbusting release. In between, you'll see the technological challenges of having to invent an entirely new and innovative motion capture workflow, as well as sequences about the creature and sound design, the casting, the score, etc. My favorite bit was seeing Cameron walk around a bare stage with the digital "camera" that he used to see inside the CGI world, framing shots exactly how he wanted them before sending all the info off for finishing at the WETA Workshop.
A Message from Pandora (1080i, 20:12)
A brief documentary about Cameron's environmental activism, including his bid to help a South American tribe stop the building of a dam on their land.
Production Materials (1080i, 1:24:25)
A ton of making-of material, including preliminary artwork, raw footage from the actors' mo-cap performances, visual effects progressions, and a silly short about some of the crew members.
Scene Deconstruction (1080p, 1:05:21)
This is pretty cool. Using the colored buttons on your remote, you can toggle through three levels of visual effects completion: motion capture, template, and the final image with picture-in-picture reference. There are seventeen scenes from which to choose.
Clips from many of the following featurettes can be found in the Capturing Avatar documentary, but you'll find the full versions here:
Besides the usual assortment of trailers, you'll find Cameron's screenplay and "scriptment," along with the entire Pandorapedia, a wikipedia- style guide to the sci-fi world of the film, and all of the lyrics to the Na'vi songs, translated into English.
A whopping 633 full high definition images from the following categories:
James Cameron has promised to periodically update the material here, but for now you'll find:
This is a sturdy, well-constructed set, built somewhat similarly to the recent Alien Anthology, but I'm not particularly fond of how the discs are stored. They're housed in glossy cardboard sleeves that you have to pull out from the "pages" of the book-like packaging. I don't think the discs will get damaged at all, but the sleeves don't exactly slide in and out fluidly. (Well, they slide out easily enough, but when you slide them back in, you have to fold down this cardboard "lip" that keeps the disc in place.) Also, the pages are very glossy. (Almost as glossy as the film itself!) Still, these are minor complaints. This one'll look great on your shelf!
Avatar Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Whether you think Avatar is this generation's Star Wars or a bloated, over-indulgent spectacle that represents everything that's wrong with cinema today—me, I'm somewhere in the middle—it's hard to argue with the over two and a half billion box office dollars that the film has raked in worldwide. Avatar fans are legion—and passionate—and this three-disc Blu-ray set is for them. They won't be disappointed. Featuring the same outstanding audio/video performance as the standalone release, this new edition adds eight hours of never-before-seen bonus features, including 45-minutes' worth of deleted scenes and a production documentary that'll tell you any and everything you'd ever want to know about the making of the movie. If you love Avatar, this is the release to get. Recommended!
Avatar: Other Editions
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• Three Avatar Sequels Coming Up - August 1, 2013
Twentieth Century Fox has announced that it will finance and produce not two, as previously rumored, but three sequels to James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar. Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Shane Salerno (Savages), and Rick Jaffa and Amanda ...
• Amazon Blu-ray Sale: Avatar: Extended Collector's Edition (Expired) - June 13, 2011
For a limited time, Amazon is offering the extended edition of James Cameron's Academy Award-winning Avatar at 64% off its SRP. Amazon's special price is $19.99 - the website's lowest-ever for this 3-disc Blu-ray edition.
• Avatar 3D Blu-ray Review - December 1, 2010
James Cameron's Avatar is by far the top-grossing 3D movie in history, and helped immensely the adoption of stereoscopy in theaters. However, its recently-released Extended Collector's Edition lacked precisely that: a 3D Blu-ray version, as it will only be offered ...
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