Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Avatar (Combo Pack)

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Apr 23, 2010.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Avatar (Blu-ray Combo Pack)

    Directed by James Cameron

    Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
    Year: 2009
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 162 minutes
    Rating: PG-13
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French, Portuguese, others
    Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese
    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 39.99

    Release Date: April 22, 2010
    Review Date: April 23, 2010
     
     
    The Film
    4/5
     
    It’s a funny thing about the strange and undoubtedly fabulous new world director James Cameron has created for his sci-fi fantasy Avatar: though the planet we see is sensationally phantasmagorical, its underlying story of corporate greed and brutish militarism at its most jingoistic is depressingly familiar. Stunning to look at and alternately engrossing and even moving, it’s also at its core pretty basic stuff we’ve seen in war movies and westerns for decades. Only the approach with amazingly creative sci-fi elements that continually startle and astound lifts this tale of environmental assimilation and pride of country combined with love of traditions into stellar status.
     
    Due to dwindling reserves amid the dying planet Earth, the U.S. government has sent an expeditionary force to the planet Pandora to try to establish a relationship with the civilizations there so they can excavate the mineral unabtanium vital to reestablishing life back on Earth. The Na’vi clan is deeply mistrustful of the strangers even though enormous efforts have been made to reach out to the inhabitants of Pandora using avatars, psychically-linked hybrid creations which allow humans to move among the indigenous people in forms that the Na’vi might more readily accept. One of the important scientists for the mission has been killed, but his twin brother Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a marine paraplegic, has been recruited to stand in for his brother. The U.S. military force led by hardnosed Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is ready to storm the planet and take what they want by force, but he’s willing to wait to see if Jake, lead avatar expedition scientist Grace (Sigourney Weaver) and her associate Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) can’t convince the Na’vi to cooperate without the use of brute force. With his avatar fully functional giving Jake the first use of his legs in a long while, he’s more than willing to tow the company line until he begins to understand and appreciate the new world in which he’s living. A conflict of interest seems imminent.
     
    With the story of Jake’s assimilation into the Na’vi culture echoing such prior films as A Man Called Horse and Dances with Wolves and the military bombardment to take what is wanted by force resembling nothing short of war footage from Apocalypse, Now, Avatar reeks of influences and borrowings. Where writer-director James Cameron has triumphed, however, is in his invention of this mythical place with its many different tribes and astounding flora and fauna. It is a complete world, filled with thrills and chills, many of them captured in superbly directed and acted scenes from the evocative first night Jake spends on Pandora complete with its coyote-like monsters to flying sequences and, naturally, the film’s final half hour which, no matter how splendidly it’s designed and directed, can’t help but recall so many war films where early victories and an overconfident manner lead to the underdogs regrouping for a surprise assault on multiple fronts, the fact that the underdogs are rendered mostly with special effects impacting not at all the scenario’s over familiarity. Make no mistake, even with its 162-minute running time, Cameron keeps his sequences moving never allowing momentum to bog down, and there will be just enough romance and some tragic deaths to touch the heart and engage one’s appreciation for the massive creativity at work throughout this epic tale.
     
    Sam Worthington certainly casts the longest shadow of appreciation for his work in both human and avatar forms. His steady transformation from impetuous newbie to a fully committed individual with his own precepts of justice and honor make him clearly the star of the picture. Zoe Saldana as the Na’vi princess who’s assigned as his mentor shows a steely and stately demeanor that’s captivating, a warrior princess in the best Cameron tradition. Stephen Lang as the gung-ho marine colonel and Giovanni Ribisi as the corporate honcho calling the shots are commanding but a trifle one-dimensional in their single-eyed commitment to take what they want by any means necessary. Better is Sigourney Weaver as the head scientist who wants to use empathy and reason in dealing with the aliens. Michelle Rodriguez gets some assertive kick ass moments as the marine pilot determined to do the right thing.
     
     
    Video Quality
    5/5
     
    Everything you’ve heard about this high definition transfer is true: the video has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is everything one could hope for in conveying depth and detail in this fantastic new world. Color is most impressive. The trueness of color without oversaturation is truly superb, even in the fluorescent forest at night where deep black levels and the sensational special effects making the ground glow with each footstep come across without bombast but in pure, true hues that will warrant many revisits. Though only a 2-D transfer, you’ll notice a depth of field that’s as close to 3-D as it’s possible for 2-D to achieve. Prepare to be dazzled. The film has been divided into 35 chapters. When necessary, subtitles are printed in eye-catching and easy to read yellow.
     
     
    Audio Quality
    5/5
     
    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix makes absolutely constant use of the surround channels at almost every moment. It’s rare when you won’t notice something going on in the surrounds bringing this new world to forceful and believable life. Dialogue is well recorded (even the strange language spoken by the Na’vi invented for the film) and is never ambushed by the dynamic sound from the other channels. The subwoofer will stay remarkably busy during the entire listening experience. It's a true reference quality soundtrack.
     
     
    Special Features
    0/5
     
    The combo set contains a DVD copy of the movie, but there are no bonus features, not even trailers from other current or upcoming Blu-ray releases. Fox has been straightforward in announcing that a special edition of the film will come out later this year.
     
     
    In Conclusion
    4.5/5 (not an average)
     
    A bit derivative, yes, but Avatar still represents sci-fi/fantasy at its near-best. The Blu-ray release features reference picture and sound in 2-D. Those who want a 3-D release or a panoply of bonus material will have to wait for future editions of this ground-breaking, award-winning saga.
     
     
     
    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC
     
  2. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    One minor Nitpick Matt :) (BTW, Love the name :)


    The Avatars are not androids. They are biological beings made of a cross of the DNA of the Na'vi and humans, which is why the human who controls them must be a DNA match with the inserted DNA to function. It's also how they can interact. :) I know I know, a super-geeky nitpick, and has nothing really to do with anything. But they do spend that whole opening decanting sequence about discussing this, so I just wanted to point out.. not androids. :)
     
  3. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    For the sake of HTF forum harmony, I did make a slight change in the nomenclature.

    I knew when I wrote it that they weren't robots or androids, but other than "avatar" or "surrogate" (a la the Bruce WIllis movie recently released), I was at a loss to come up with a proper label.
     
  4. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    I'm just giving you a hard time, us SciFi geeks are that way, you know.
     
  5. Guest

    Great review guys! I have to say, while I will agree with the familiarity of the story. I have to laud the direction by James Cameron as superb, how many years have we had to deal with Michael Bay shaky-cam/3 cuts per second disasters? I was so happy to see an action movie where you knew exactly what was going on at all times.

    And I am sure we can all agree, that before Avatar, JC could go to his grave knowing he made two of the best sequels of all time. T2 and Aliens, so I have a hunch he will also put his best foot forward for Avatar 2.
     
  6. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    Good review Matt, although I'm not sure the non inclusion of extras should factor into your score(4.5/5) since they told everyone from the jump there would be none.
    It's like taking zero from zero.

    there's no doubt in my mind this is the best that a movie has looked or sounded on any home video format so far.
    The story felt a little lacking to me with the exception of a couple of scenes including the tree falling and the horse creature on fire.
    I just couldn't attach myself emotionally to the story.
     
  7. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    It didn't factor into my final score. Although my final scores are not averages, giving the movie a 4 rating and the video/audio both 5's it seems sensible to rank the final product a 4.5. I don't understand your complaint.
     
  8. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    oops you're right, reading comprehension is a fail again, forgot you gave the movie portion a 4 not a 5.
     
  9. Sam Posten

    Sam Posten Moderator
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    I joke around that this should have been called Dances with Smurfs but one of my co-workers was ranting and raving that Cameron "Totally ripped off Fern Gully". He seemed quite upset.
     
  10. Nelson Au

    Nelson Au Executive Producer

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    It would be ironic when the Special Edition is released later this year, the reviewers will find the video quality is not up to par with this release! Perhaps due to less disc space that is used for the extras! I know this is unlikely, but the thought occurred.
     
  11. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    I don't think I agree with this reasoning. If a movie had been released on DVD or Blu-ray only in pan & scan, but with otherwise exemplary image quality, would it merit a 5/5 video score, as long as the studio had announced beforehand that there would be no widescreen release? Knowing about a bad decision beforehand doesn't magically turn it into a good decision.

    To be clear, I don't have any issue with Matt's Avatar score in particular (extras aren't that important to me, so I agree with his score). I just disagree with the general idea that a disc would be given a pass on an issue that would otherwise merit a lower score, just because we know about it beforehand.
     
  12. Brian McHale

    Brian McHale Supporting Actor

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    Carl, I can't see that a lack of extras compares in any way with a pan 'n' scan transfer of a widescreen movie. Leaving extras off is a tradeoff that has several advantages: lower cost (no need to create/compile bonus material), earlier release (no need to waste time compiling bonus material), more space available for high quality video and audio. The only downside is that there are no bonus materials and many people don't care much about that. Those who do care are adequately forewarned.

    However, a disc with only a pan 'n' scan transfer is inherently flawed. No amount of notice or warning can negate the fact that it is flawed. A disc without extra features is not necessarily flawed.
     
  13. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    They compare in that they are both things for which a DVD/Blu-ray reviewer might dock points from his assessment of the disc. I happen to agree that lack of extras doesn't warrant a lower score, because extras aren't important to me. But Tony didn't say that Matt's sub-5 score was unjustified (remember, Tony thought at the time that it was due to lack of extras) because extras were unimportant, he said it was unjustified because we were told about the lack of extras.

    I agree that the former is a perfectly adequate justification for giving a high score to an extras-free DVD or Blu-ray, but I disagree that the latter is. If a disc is unsatisfactory in some way, knowing about it ahead of time doesn't somehow make it any less unsatisfactory.
     
  14. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    I've heard the Ferngully comparison before. I haven't seen it or Avatar yet, though.

    From what I've read about Avatar, the plot sounds a lot like Battle for Terra.

    Thanks to the HTF contest, I shall find out for myself soon enough! I saw part of an Avatar battle scene yesterday in Best Buy, and it was pretty spectacular in the sights 'n' sounds department.
     
  15. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer

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    Only superficially in that it involves humans coming into conflict with the native population of a planet. Since it was made with children in mind,the filmmakers in BfT cop out at the end and opt for an unlikely solution. The decision made by the human protagonist would have been singular in its impact on the human species if it had been played out logically: moreso than anything Jake Sully does.
     
  16. Alfonso_M

    Alfonso_M Second Unit

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    Did I miss something? I'll watch the film again, but I believe I heard the marines on the base described as basically MERCs for Hire , and they are working for a Mining Corporation not the US government...
     
  17. mattCR

    mattCR Executive Producer
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    Yes, they are working for a company, and they discuss shareholders and profit statements as motives. That's also why they point out that people quit, etc. They are for hire, this is not a government venture.
     
  18. Guest

    It made sense that the security/mercs were so aggressive. Imagine if you could do something horrible and your superiors would not even find out about it for 5 years ( the amount of time to travel from Earth to Pandora) They feel they can do anything without any real danger of repercussions.
     
  19. Brett_M

    Brett_M Screenwriter

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    It would take 4.3 years for a coded message to arrive from Polyphemus/Pandora. It takes the ship almost 6 years to travel to Pandora (5 years, 9 months). The ship did not travel the speed of light. Alpha Centauri is 4.37 light years away. By my calculations, the ship sent by RDA traveled at approximately 75% of the speed of light or about 228,000 kilometers per second, not including positive and negative acceleration during the flight.
     
  20. Adam Gregorich

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    Fox has announced that there is additional bonus feature content being made available via BD Live for those of us who currently own Avatar on Blu-ray between now and the release of the new Collector's Edition on 11/16:


    With access to a BD-Live player with a network connection, once you insert your disc into the player a LIVE EXTRAS option will appear in the main menu. By selecting this, new content will quickly download, allowing you to access preview video clips from the forthcoming Avatar: Collector's Edition Blu-ray.



    Below are the videos that will be made available from the November 16th Collector's Edition release and which you can chose to either download to your player in high quality, or stream them for faster access.


    1) Bar Fight: Excerpt from the Collector’s Extended Cut
    2) Users Guide for AVATAR deleted scenes
    3) Kauai: Excerpt from documentary
    4) Grandma's Teylu: Never Before Seen Deleted Scene
    5) 2006 Art Reel Excerpt
    6) Driving Range: Never Before Seen Deleted Scene
    7) Acting in the Volume: Excerpt from documentary
    8) Drums of War (full version): Never Before Seen Deleted Scene
    9) Scene Deconstruction: Demonstration
    10) “What did happen”: Excerpt from the Collector's Extended Cut

    b) the following pieces of content are going on the Portal for the Avatar ECE November disc:
    1) Crew Short: The Night Before Avatar
    2) Raw Footage Production Elements (runtime estimated 51:55)
    - Screen Test – Sam Worthington & Zoe Saldana (Raw Footage) (10:44)
    - Screen Test – Stephen Lang (Raw Footage) (4:30)
    - Screen Test – Giovanni Ribisi (Raw Footage) (3:10)
    - Screen Test – Joel David Moore (Raw Footage) (4:10)
    - Screen Test – CCH Pounder (Raw Footage) (4:47)
    - Screen Test – Laz Alonso (Raw Footage) (6:49)
    - Speaking Na’vi (Rehearsal/Raw Footage) (6:39)
    - Weta Workshop: Walk & Talk Presentation (Raw Footage) (11:06)
     

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