Avatar: Collector’s Edition Digital UHD Review

2.5 Stars Disappointing, YMMV by retailer
Avatar Collector's Edition Review

James Cameron’s Avatar gets another digital release that now includes additional versions of the movie and special features, but at the time of this writing, is a complete mess. Not every digital retailer is offering this “Collector’s Edition,” and those that are, what they have included varies greatly. As of this writing, Disney is reportedly looking into the issue with this and other James Cameron titles that were released on digital platforms on December 12, 2023.

Avatar (2009)
Released: 18 Dec 2009
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 162 min
Director: James Cameron
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Writer(s): James Cameron
Plot: A paraplegic Marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.
IMDB rating: 7.9
MetaScore: 83

Disc Information
Studio: Disney
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 2 Hr. 42 Min.
Package Includes: Digital Copy
Case Type: N/A
Disc Type: Other
Region: A
Release Date: 12/12/2023
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 4/5

James Cameron is a man who is not afraid to take risks. His movies are some of the most expensive ever made, and his only financial disappointment was The Abyss, and even that has evolved into something of a classic. He is also something of a perfectionist, often taking years to bring his vision to the screen. From his breakthrough hit The Terminator in 1984 through to 1997’s Titanic, Cameron was averaging a new movie every three years. It would then take him twelve years to bring his next blockbuster to the big screen, Avatar, waiting for technology to catch up to his creative mind.

Upon its release, Avatar was one of the most expensive movies ever produced at a budget of a then-unheard-of $237 million. It would go on to earn over $2.923 billion at the worldwide box office. The film was released on a barebones Blu-ray in April, 2010 (a 3D version was also released exclusively to those who purchased Panasonic 3D capable displays). In August 2010, the film would get a 3D theatrical re-release with an additional nine minutes of new footage, followed by an Extended Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release in November, which included three different cuts of the film (the theatrical 162 minute  cut, special edition 171 minute cut, and a new “extended” 178 minute cut), all in 2D, plus for the first time special features that included a feature-length documentary, Capturing Avatar. Prior to the release of the long-awaited sequel Avatar: The Way of Water, Disney released a “new” 161 minute cut of the film, now remastered for 4K and high dynamic range with some scenes now presented in high frame rate (48fps), which also included a new version of the sky people being escorted off the moon of Pandora, with Giovanni Ribisi’s Parker Selfridge warning Sully and the scientists that “This isn’t over,” thus setting up the planned sequels (it has been rumored that Selfridge will play a larger role in upcoming sequels). It is this latest cut of the film that is included on Disney’s new release, that also replaces the opening studio logo with the newer 20th Century Studios logo.

The following was taken from Matt Hough’s review of the 2010 barebones Blu-ray release:

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 unobtanium 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: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

For some odd reason, at the time of this writing, Vudu and Movies Anywhere are only providing the 2023 theatrical re-release in 4K with Dolby Vision and HDR10 for this “Collector’s Edition.” Back in 2009, Avatar was rendered out as a 2K digital intermediate. For its 2023 theatrical re-release the movie was upscaled and remastered in 4K by Park Road Post Production in New Zealand under the supervision of James Cameron, and the results are simply breathtaking. Each frame is rich in detail, revealing intricate facial and fabric textures that would make one to think this was a native 4K transfer. While not quite as crisp or sharp as the 4K disc release from earlier this year, colors are wonderfully bold and vivid, never appearing overly saturated. Contrast is excellent, with deep blacks and strong shadow detail as well as bright highlights that never appear clipped. There are some occasional but barely noticeable compression artifacts here and there, more noticeable on Vudu than on Movies Anywhere. As of this writing, Apple TV is offering the two hour fifty-eight minute Collector’s Edition cut in HD as the main feature.

Audio: 4/5

The lossy Dolby Atmos track included on the theatrical cut on both Vudu and Movies Anywhere is one of Disney’s better efforts, with a nice sense of immersion, but lacks the dynamic range of the lossless Dolby Atmos track found on the 4K disc release from earlier this year. Surrounds are very active, with sounds moving seamlessly around the room as well as above you. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout. LFE is very good, although it seems dialed down a notch or two, yet still adds emphasis to the many explosions and crashes.

Special Features: 2/5

This is where this digital release really goes off the rails depending on which retailer you choose to view the movie and special features on. As of this writing, this “Collector’s Edition” is not available (or did not port over from Movies Anywhere) on Amazon Prime Video. So, rather than list each special feature (most of which ported over from the original “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray release from 2010), I thought it would be more insightful if I listed what each retailer included. My low rating of 2 out of 5 has more to do with the overall inconsistencies of this release across multiple digital retailers.

Apple TV
The special features are only accessible using the Apple TV app on an Apple TV device.

Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition (1080p; 2 Hrs 58 mins): This is the 2 hour 58 minute extended cut, presented in HD and 5.1 audio. This is the main feature and can also be viewed on the Apple TV app on non-Apple TV devices. This appears to be an older transfer, as it includes the FOX logo rather than the newer 20th Century Studios logo.

Pandora: The World of Avatar (1080p; 8:25): A sneak peek at the attractions and land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida.

Pandora: The World of Avatar Gallery: Ten photos from the theme park.

A Message from Pandora (1080p; 20:12): An environmental pitch from the filmmakers.

Original Theatrical Release (1080p; 2 Hrs 42 mins): The original 2009 release with the older FOX logo and in 5.1 audio. Also available with a Family Friendly Audio track in 5.1.

Special Edition Re-Release (1080p; 2 Hrs 51 mins): The older 2010 release with the older FOX logo and in 5.1 audio. Also available with a Family Friendly Audio track in 5.1.

Direct Access to New/Additional Scenes (Special Edition) (1080p; 17:00)

Direct Access to New/Additional Scenes (Extended Cut) (1080p; 33:02)

Unfinished Scenes: Never Before Seen (1080p; 70:31)

Capturing Avatar (1080p; 98:33): An in-depth look at the making of Avatar, from concept all the way through to release.

Production Materials (1080p; 84:25)

Scene Deconstruction (1080p): 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.

Featurettes (1080p; 91:51): A total of seventeen are included, that cover everything from sculpting figures, designing creatures, stunts, performance capture, different camera technologies, editing, scoring, and sound design.

Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 3:32)

Teaser Trailer (1080p; 2:07)

Avatar: The Original Scriptment: A script treatment of the story through a step-through series of text pages.

Avatar: Screenplay Written by James Cameron: Read the original screenplay through a step-through series of text pages.

Pandorapedia: A 499-page encyclopedia and dictionary of the planet provided in a step-through series of text pages.

Avatar: The Songs: Provides the lyrics for the songs in the movie in a series of step-through pages.

The Art of Avatar: Fifteen art galleries featuring artwork, stills, and diagrams over every facet of the production.

Movies Anywhere
Avatar (2023 Theatrical Re-release) (2160p; 2 Hrs 42 mins): The 2023 theatrical re-release in 4K Dolby Vision and HDR10 with Dolby Atmos. Also available in 1080p with a Family Friendly Audio track in 5.1 audio.

Avatar Special Edition (1080p; 2 Hrs 51 mins): The 2023 remastered special edition cut (with 20th Century Studios logo) in HD with 5.1 audio. Also available in 1080p with a Family Friendly Audio track in 5.1 audio.

Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition (1080p; 2 Hrs 58 mins): This is the 2023 remastered 2 hour 58 minute extended cut (with 20th Century Studios logo), presented in HD and 5.1 audio

Direct Access to New/Additional Scenes (Special Edition) (1080p; 17:00)

Direct Access to New/Additional Scenes (Extended Cut) (1080p; 33:02)

Memories From Avatar (1080p; 21:20): Producer Jon Landau sits down with cast members Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, and Scott Lang as they share memories of making this iconic blockbuster.

Avatar: A Look Back (1080p; 10:03): James Cameron, along with members of the cast and crew, reflect on their experiences making the film.

Capturing Avatar (1080p; 98:25): An in-depth look at the making of Avatar, from concept all the way through to release.

Featurettes (1080p; 91:51): A total of seventeen are included, viewable individually or as one long string with a Play All option, that cover everything from sculpting figures, designing creatures, stunts, performance capture, different camera technologies, editing, scoring, and sound design.

Production Materials (1080p; 84:25)

**NEW** Behind the Scenes Presentation by Jon Landau (1080p; 18:08): Producer Jon Landau takes the viewer on a quick look at the highlights of how Avatar got made.

**NEW** Colonel Miles Quaritch RDA Promos (1080p; 7:16): Producer Jon Landau introduces a series of promotional clips shot back in 2009 of Colonel Quaritch telling viewers of RDA’s technology.

A Message from Pandora (1080p; 20:12): An environmental pitch from the filmmakers.

Deleted Scenes: Never Before Seen (1080p; 70:31)

Scene Deconstruction (1080p; 3 Hrs 17 Mins): 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.

Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 3:32)

Teaser Trailer (1080p; 2:07)

Pandora: The World of Avatar (1080p; 8:25): A sneak peek at the attractions and land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida.

Raw Footage Production Elements (1080p; 60:32): Consisting of screen tests, rehearsals, and raw behind the scenes footage.

Pandora Discovered (1080p; 4:03): A faux travelogue of the mythical planet narrated by Sigourney Weaver.

Vudu
Avatar (2023 Theatrical Re-release) (2160p; 2 Hrs 42 mins): The 2023 theatrical re-release in 4K Dolby Vision and HDR10 with Dolby Atmos.

Avatar Special Edition (1080p; 2 Hrs 51 mins): The 2023 remastered special edition cut (with 20th Century Studios logo) in HD with 5.1 audio. Also available in 1080p with a Family Friendly Audio track in 5.1 audio.

Raw Footage Production Elements (1080p; 68:04): Consisting of screen tests, rehearsals, and raw behind the scenes footage.

Deleted Scenes: Never Before Seen (1080p; 70:31)

Production Materials (1080p; 84:25)

Direct Access to New/Additional Scenes (Extended Cut) (1080p; 33:02) Mislabeled as Collector’s Extended Cut.

Archives (1080p; 5:32): Consists of the Theatrical and Teaser trailers.

Direct Access to New/Additional Scenes (Special Edition) (1080p; 17:00) Mislabeled as special Edition Re-release.

Scene Deconstruction (1080p; 3 Hrs 17 Mins): 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.

A Message from Pandora (1080p; 20:12): An environmental pitch from the filmmakers.

**NEW** Behind the Scenes Presentation by Jon Landau (1080p; 18:08): Producer Jon Landau takes the viewer on a quick look at the highlights of how Avatar got made.

Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition (1080p; 2 Hrs 58 mins): This is the 2023 remastered 2 hour 58 minute extended cut (with 20th Century Studios logo), presented in HD and 5.1 audio.

Pandora Discovered (1080p; 4:03): A faux travelogue of the mythical planet narrated by Sigourney Weaver.

Pandora: The World of Avatar (1080p; 8:25): A sneak peek at the attractions and land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida.

Overall: 2.5/5

The digital release of Avatar: Collector’s Edition, as of December 15, 2023, is a complete mess and a major disappointment. Fans were led to believe that they would receive all three versions of the film in 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos (provided the retailer supported those formats). What we got was the 2023 theatrical re-release in 4K and the additional cuts in HD, plus a myriad of special features that vary by retailer. Worse, not every Movies Anywhere retailer is offering this release. Reportedly, the studio, Disney, is looking into this matter. My recommendation would be to wait a week for the physical media release that is supposed to offer all three versions on one disc via seamless branching, although the included digital copy will likely have the same issues as this release.

The AbyssAliens and True Lies will be available in 4K Ultra UHD for the first time ever on December 12 at digital retailers and on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc March 12, 2024. Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water Collector’s Editions will also be available at digital retailers December 12 and on Blu-ray December 19.

Todd Erwin has been a reviewer at Home Theater Forum since 2008. His love of movies began as a young child, first showing Super 8 movies in his backyard during the summer to friends and neighbors at age 10. He also received his first movie camera that year, a hand-crank Wollensak 8mm with three fixed lenses. In 1980, he graduated to "talkies" with his award-winning short The Ape-Man, followed by the cult favorite The Adventures of Terrific Man two years later. Other films include Myth or Fact: The Talbert Terror and Warren's Revenge (which is currently being restored). In addition to movie reviews, Todd has written many articles for Home Theater Forum centering mostly on streaming as well as an occasional hardware review, is the host of his own video podcast Streaming News & Views on YouTube and is a frequent guest on the Home Theater United podcast.

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Todd Erwin

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What Disney should have done here was sell all three versions of Avatar as a 4K bundle and have the MA code mapped to all 4K versions of that movie (much like what Warner did with The Exorcist earlier this year).
 

Tino

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I’m Confident it will all get sorted out soon. I hope. 😊
 

Todd Erwin

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Here is the latest report card (I have omitted YouTube/Google TV since they have made it nearly impossible to locate items in your library):

Movies Anywhere: Theatrical 2 hour 42 minute cut 4K Dolby Vision/HDR10, Dolby Atmos as main feature; all other cuts in HD and Dolby Digital+ 5.1

Vudu: Theatrical 2 hour 42 minute cut 4K Dolby Vision/HDR10, Dolby Atmos as main feature; all other cuts in HD and 5.1

Apple TV (on Apple TV device): CE 2 hour 58 minute cut in HD and Dolby Digital+ 5.1 (older transfer – has FOX logo); all other cuts in HD and Dolby Digital+ 5.1 (also older transfers – have FOX logo)

Apple TV app (on non-Apple TV device): CE 2 hour 58 minute cut in HD and Dolby Digital+ 5.1 (older transfer – has FOX logo) - Movie only

Prime Video: did not transfer from Movies Anywhere
 
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