Avatar (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by James Cameron
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 162 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French, Portuguese, others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: April 22, 2010
Review Date: April 23, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.