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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Avatar: Extended Collector's Edition



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#1 of 52 Matt Hough

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Posted November 14 2010 - 09:32 AM

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Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)
Directed by James Cameron

Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Year: 2009
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 162/178 minutes
Rating: PG-13/NR
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French, Portuguese
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, others


Region: A
MSRP: $ 54.99



Release Date: November 16, 2010

Review Date: November 14, 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 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.



Video Quality

5/5


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.



Audio Quality

5/5


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.



Special Features

5/5


Unless otherwise noted, the bonus materials are presented in 1080i.



Disc One


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.



Disc Two


“Capturing Avataris 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.



Disc Three


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.



In Conclusion

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!



Matt Hough

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#2 of 52 Steve Christou

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Posted November 14 2010 - 10:57 AM

Thanks for the detailed review, much appreciated.


One of the most enjoyable films I've seen this year, and the best 3-D I have ever seen.


Looking forward to this humungous collectors edition. 98min doc and 68min of deleted scenes, whoa! It's good to see the trailers haven't been forgotten amidst all the featurettes. Plus screenplay, encyclopedia, dictionary, song book, art galleries and 3 versions of the film. It may be overkill but I want it all! Posted Image


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#3 of 52 AlexS2

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Posted November 14 2010 - 11:13 AM

I can't wait to get this on Tuesday, but I still wish we could have gotten some audio commentaries. I guess I'm still spoiled by all the commentaries from the LOTR releases.



#4 of 52 DaveF

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Posted November 14 2010 - 11:41 AM

Thanks for the review. I'd like to watch the special features, but not $55 worth.



#5 of 52 benbess

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Posted November 14 2010 - 11:48 AM



Originally Posted by DaveF 

Thanks for the review. I'd like to watch the special features, but not $55 worth.



I think it's about $25 at amazon at this point.



#6 of 52 DaveF

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Posted November 14 2010 - 01:49 PM

Wow! Thanks for the note. I hadn't even looked. That's a good one for Christmas list.





#7 of 52 Adam Gregorich

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Posted November 14 2010 - 04:51 PM

Matt-

Did you think the longer cut added anything (besides length Posted Image) to the film?



#8 of 52 AlexS2

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Posted November 14 2010 - 05:08 PM

edit: excuse the double post



#9 of 52 AlexS2

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Posted November 14 2010 - 05:12 PM

I saw the special edition in theaters and preferred it to the original cut. Its the same movie, but most of the new scenes simpy added more context to the film, most of which helped to flesh it out.


There was one scene in particular that should haver never ever been cut in the first place as it kind of fundamentally changes one of the story beats...


The additional scene where we see the Na'vi killing humans in retaliation for their sacred grounds being bulldozed. Not only does it help to show the Na'vi as more active and independent, but its also the scene that provides the Justification for the Colonel to launch the attack on the Home Tree. Unlike in the theatrical cut where they simply go ahead and attack just because.
Not even a very long scene, but a significant improvement/change imo.



#10 of 52 Matt Hough

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Posted November 15 2010 - 12:17 AM



Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich 

Matt-

Did you think the longer cut added anything (besides length Posted Image) to the film?


It does enrich the experience just a bit, but I didn't find any of the additions essential. It IS long. Posted Image



#11 of 52 Guest__*

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Posted November 15 2010 - 01:47 AM

Awesome! Cant wait! And yes, amazon has it for almost half off! Go get it! :-D



#12 of 52 Mark_TB

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Posted November 15 2010 - 06:03 AM




Originally Posted by AlexS2 

There was one scene in particular that should haver never ever been cut in the first place as it kind of fundamentally changes one of the story beats...


That will make a big difference in my opinion of the film.  As it was in the original theatrical cut, the actions and reactions of some characters seemed simple-minded and arbitrary.  Unfortunately, this kind of thing is happening more and more in movies today, because filmmakers sometimes fail to condense their stories in the writing stage and once they reach the editing room, they end up having to cut out more subtle and nuanced scenes in order to bring the running time down.


Well, that's my theory anyway.  :)


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#13 of 52 joshEH

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Posted November 15 2010 - 06:23 AM

Amazon just sent me a notice saying that they've overnight FedEx-ed my copy out, literally, about 15 minutes ago. With any luck, will be spinning this baby by tomorrow.


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#14 of 52 AlexS2

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Posted November 15 2010 - 06:35 AM



Originally Posted by Mark_TB 




Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexS2 

There was one scene in particular that should haver never ever been cut in the first place as it kind of fundamentally changes one of the story beats...


That will make a big difference in my opinion of the film.  As it was in the original theatrical cut, the actions and reactions of some characters seemed simple-minded and arbitrary.  Unfortunately, this kind of thing is happening more and more in movies today, because filmmakers sometimes fail to condense their stories in the writing stage and once they reach the editing room, they end up having to cut out more subtle and nuanced scenes in order to bring the running time down.


Well, that's my theory anyway.  :)


- Mark



Who knows. Cameron obviously had to streamline the movie as much as he could due to several reasons. Unknown 3D threshold + the IMAX limit (which I think isn't even 170, but 166 due to trailer, intro, etc).


I wonder how long did Cameron think the movie would end up being when he first started. The screenplay is pretty much a 4 hour movie.



#15 of 52 robbbb1138

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Posted November 15 2010 - 06:54 AM

Does anything get added to the movie to suggest some inner turmoil from Jake over the fact that he's playing both sides?  For me, that was the part of the story that seemed way too straight-forward.


Is the dialogue in the added scenes worse than what was already in the movie?



#16 of 52 Johnny Angell

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Posted November 15 2010 - 07:02 AM



Originally Posted by robbbb1138 

Does anything get added to the movie to suggest some inner turmoil from Jake over the fact that he's playing both sides?  For me, that was the part of the story that seemed way too straight-forward.


Is the dialogue in the added scenes worse than what was already in the movie?



I think some of that is already there in the theatrical version.  At one point, he wonders which is the real world and I took that to mean he was having an internal conflict.  You can also see subtle facial expressions from Jake when he's in a conversation with others and the Navi are referred to as savages.  Yes, he's doing things that could harm them but he never agrees verbally with demeaning statements.


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#17 of 52 DaveF

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Posted November 15 2010 - 07:05 AM

I gave my wife very non-subtle hints that Avatar BR would be a nice Xmas gift, since she's been grousing that I don't have enough on my list this year :)



#18 of 52 AlexS2

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Posted November 15 2010 - 07:37 AM



Originally Posted by robbbb1138 

Does anything get added to the movie to suggest some inner turmoil from Jake over the fact that he's playing both sides?  For me, that was the part of the story that seemed way too straight-forward.


Is the dialogue in the added scenes worse than what was already in the movie?



Theres a scene in the script where Jake almost wishes that he' could die because he can no longer take what he's doing. But unfortunately its tied in to a massive 6 page CGI heavy subplot that was taken out of the film.


It will most likely be in the Deleted Scenes, but its definitely not in the extended cut.


edit: Here it is from the script, I saved the pdf when it was released last January



JAKE
But if I tell Quaritch the truth, he
yanks me out -- I never see her again.
And if I tell her the truth, the clan
throws me out -- that’s if they don’t cut
my heart out and show it to me.
Jake looks hopelessly at the two of them. In his own perfect
Hell.   (snip)   GRACE
Jake. You can’t carry this burden much
longer.
JAKE
(smiling wanly)
It’s okay. Mo’at says an alien mind
probably can’t survive the Dream Hunt
anyway.
Grace closes the lid. It feels like closing a coffin. She
watches his psionic patterns aligning to his avatar,
somewhere out in the night.



#19 of 52 Aaron Silverman

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Posted November 15 2010 - 09:06 AM

Talk about on-the-nose dialogue.  Yow! :)


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#20 of 52 AlexS2

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Posted November 15 2010 - 09:47 AM

Well, no one has ever accused JC of being too subtle Posted Image







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