Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)
Directed by James Cameron
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 162/178 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French, Portuguese
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, others
MSRP: $ 54.99
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Review Date: November 14, 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 but altogether 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. The two additional versions which Cameron has provided in this disc set (the Special Edition re-release of the film and the Collector’s Extended cut) tell the same story with the same beats only with additional information that somewhat deepens characters but certainly doesn’t change them.
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 paraplegic marine, 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 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, the basic plot of 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 and somewhat stale plotting. Make no mistake, even with its 162-minute running time (and the 178 minutes of the new, longer collector’s edition), Cameron keeps his sequences moving never allowing momentum to bog down, and there is likely just enough romance and some tragic deaths that will touch the heart and engage one’s appreciation for the massive technical 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 to his own precepts of justice and honor make him clearly the star of the picture even if his native Australian accent creeps into his speech from time to time. Zoë 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 certainly 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.
With three possible versions of the film on the disc, one might think the bitrates may be compromised just a bit from the movie-only original release of the film in April, but have no fear. Just as before, the video has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec, but there is no noticeable decrease in quality from that older edition to this one. 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 really 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, virtually every color of the rainbow, that will warrant many revisits. Though only a 2D transfer, you’ll notice a depth of field that’s as close to 3D as it’s possible to achieve. Prepare to be dazzled with the color, sharpness, and detail. The original film has been divided into 35 chapters with the collector’s extended cut, the one I watched for the purposes of this review, clocking in with 42 chapters. When necessary, subtitles are printed in eye-catching and easy to read yellow.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 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 placed in the center channel, never ambushed by the dynamic sound from the other channels. The subwoofer will stay remarkably busy during the entire listening experience. Yes, it’s a true reference quality encoding.
Unless otherwise noted, the bonus materials are presented in 1080i.
The set-up menu offers the viewer three configurations of the film: the original cut, the Special Edition re-release, and the Extended Collector’s Edition.
If one only wants to watch the scenes added for each of the two new versions of the movie, the main menu offers the 14 additional sections for the Special Edition and the 17 additional sections for the Extended Collector’s Edition.
The set-up menu also offers a Family Friendly audio track which removes all objectionable language from the soundtrack. It’s available for the original theatrical release or the Special Edition.
“Capturing Avatar” is a 98 ½-minute documentary (split in three sections which can be viewed separately or with “Play All”) which documents the journey toward the finished film stretching from 2005-2009. All aspects of the production are covered from writing the script to casting, training the actors, and the technical and design challenges of creating the new world for the movie.
There are twenty-eight sections of deleted scenes (in 2:35 aspect ratio) which can be played separately or in one 68-minute grouping. Director/writer James Cameron introduces this section of the disc in a 3 ¼-minute vignette in 1080p.
“A Message from Pandora” finds James Cameron and some other members of the Avatar cast and crew participating in a crusade to save the Amazon rain forest, an environmental plea for conservation which runs 20 ¼ minutes.
Production Materials is a catch-all section featuring fourteen brief featurettes showing aspects of the film in behind-the-scenes fashion. Here are the contents of this section with their running times (a “Play All” feature allows you to watch them in succession for 84 ½ minutes.)
- 2006 Art Reel (3 minutes)
- Brother Termite Test (2 minutes)
- ILM Prototype (¾ minute)
- Sam Worthington Screen Test (6 ¼ minutes)
- Zoë Saldana Screen Test (4 ¼ minutes)
- Zoë Saldana life cast (2 ½ minutes)
- James Cameron speech on first day of filming (5 ½ minutes)
- ILM VFX Progression (2 ½ minutes)
- Framestore VFX Progression (3 ¼ minutes)
- Hy-Draulx VFX Progression (2 minutes)
- Hybride VFX Progression (2 minutes)
- Prime Focus VFX Progression (3 minutes)
- Look Effects Inc. VFX Progression (1 minute)
- Crew Film: The Volume: a goofy behind-the-scenes short featuring some cast and crew making up their own story of jealousy and ambition on the set (31 ¾ minutes)
BD-Live offers ten featurettes (mostly new, a couple of repeats from above) featuring screen tests, rehearsals, workshops, and an animated crew short this time featuring producer Jon Landau.
Interactive Scene Deconstruction offers seventeen scenes from the movie which can be viewed in one of three ways: motion capture full screen, in-between template animation, or the final result with a PiP window featuring one of the other options. The colored buttons on the remote or a drop-down menu provide the user with the ability to switch views on the fly.
There are seventeen production shorts which may be viewed in succession. Excerpts from many of these interviews were used in the extensive “Capturing Avatar” documentary feature on disc two. Here are the vignettes with their approximate times:
- Sculpting Avatar (3 ¾ minutes)
- Creating the Banshee (9 ¾ minutes)
- Creating the Thanator (3 ¼ minutes)
- The Amp Suit (4 ½ minutes)
- Flying Vehicles (5 ¼ minutes)
- Na’vi Costumes (4 ¼ minutes)
- Speaking Na’vi (6 ½ minutes)
- Pandora Flora (5 ¾ minutes)
- Stunts (5 ¼ minutes)
- Performance Capture (6 ½ minutes)
- Virtual Camera (3 ¼ minutes)
- The 3D Fusion Camera (3 ¾ minutes)
- The Simul-Cam (2 ¼ minutes)
- Editing Avatar (7 minutes)
- Scoring Avatar (6 ¼ minutes)
- Sound Design (8 ¾ minutes)
- The Haka: The Spirit of New Zealand (5 ¼ minutes)
The theatrical trailer runs 3 ½ minutes in 1080p
The teaser trailer runs 2 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
James Cameron’s original scriptment (script treatment of the story) is provided in a step-through series of text pages.
James Cameron’s 300-page screenplay is provided in a step-through series of text pages.
The Pandorapedia, the 499-page encyclopedia and dictionary of the planet, is provided in a step-through series of text pages.
Avatar: The Songs provides the lyrics for the songs in the movie again in a series of step-through pages.
The Art of Avatar offers fifteen art galleries featuring artwork, stills, and diagrams over every facet of the production.
4.5/5 (not an average)
A bit derivative, yes, but Avatar still represents a sci-fi/fantasy journey that’s worth the trip. This new 3-disc Blu-ray release features the same reference picture and sound that the previous release boasted plus a complete array of bonus material both on the discs and using BD-Live. For fans of the film, it’s obviously a must-buy. Recommended!