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With AVATAR ($40), writer/director James Cameron shows once again, that he knows how to make the kind of films that moviegoers want to see. Shattering the record set by his own previous box office champion, TITANIC, AVATAR has become the highest grossing motion picture of all time. So why did AVATAR meet with such overwhelming commercial success? Was it the hype surrounding the movie? Did audiences just want to see if Cameron could outdo TITANIC? Or was it because AVATAR was made on the bleeding edge of motion picture technology? I think it was a little of everythingÖ but lets face it, AVATAR sets new standards for motion capture, photo realistic CGI and 3D presentation, which translates into a major wow factor for the movie. Having seen AVATAR in 3D IMAX, I can say that the dazzling presentation made the film much more of "an experience" than just watching an ordinary movie at the local multiplex. With that in mind, I would have to say the wow factor of the AVATAR experience, more than anything else, is what consistently filled movie theater seats during the filmís initial theatrical run.

Set roughly one hundred and fifty years in the future, AVATAR takes place on Pandora, an unspoiled, Earth-like moon that orbits a gas giant planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. With Earthís resources depleted, man has struck out into space, and the RDA Corporation has come to Pandora specifically to mine a valuable mineral called unobtanium, as Pandora's atmosphere is toxic to human life and unsuitable for other purposes. Utilizing a private security force akin to mercenaries to protect their mining operation, the RDA Corporation has also instituted the Avatar Program to bridge the gap between humans and Pandoraís indigenous population- a ten-foot-tall, blue, cat like, humanoid species known as the Na'vi. The Avatar program involves laboratory grown Na'vi-human hybrid bodies, called avatars, which are operated remotely by human drivers, whose DNA served as the template for the specific avatar.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic former Marine that is abruptly brought into the Avatar Program, after his identical twin brother was murdered, and the RDA Corporation is left with a very expensive, yet driverless, avatar body. Avatar Program head, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), has little use for the untrained former marine that has been thrust upon her by her corporate sponsors, but decides to utilize Jake as a bodyguard during scientific and diplomatic field work. Jake, oh the other hand is immediately enamored with his avatar body, which has the ability to walk and run, unlike his body, so he is happy to take on any duty that allows the use of the avatar. However, during a routine assignment to gather biological samples, Jakeís avatar becomes separated from the scientific team by an attacking animal. After the attack, a female Na'vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) rescues Jake from other predators, at which point she sees a sign from the Na'viís mother-goddess Eywa, regarding Jake. At this point, Neytiri takes Jake back to her clan, where her mother Mo'at (C. C. H. Pounder), who is the clan's spiritual leader, decides that her daughter will teach this "warrior dreamwalker" the ways of Na'vi. As expected, Jake goes native, and if you have seen DANCES WITH WOLVES, THE NEW WORLD, or perhaps, any number of westerns where soldiers are brought in to displace a native population, you should be able to guess where plot of AVATAR will be heading.

In addition to westerns, AVATAR also borrows from other sources, with Cameron even referencing his own ALIENS for one of the filmís climactic confrontations. Sure, the storyline isnít particularly original; however, it is the wow factor of the AVATAR experience, which keeps the audience from noticing elements rehashed from other movies. Of course, Cameron does place his own mark on the story, adding pro-ecology, anti-corporate imperialism and anti-war messages to his screenplay. While the message is noble, it occasionally gets lost in all the spectacle. Speaking of all the spectacle, Cameron spent a ridiculous sum to bring his vision of AVATAR to fruition, and even if the three hundred million dollar estimates are correct, every penny of that amount is up on the screen for audiences to gape at. Largely CGI, AVATAR is quite possibly one of the most beautiful looking films ever created, which only seems to get better when viewed on an immense IMAX screen. The cast of AVATAR also features Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi and Dileep Rao.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made AVATAR available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. AVATAR was created at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio for 3D and IMAX presentation, but then matted to 2.35:1 for 2D presentations. Since the Blu-ray is 2D only, one would expect a 2.35:1, presentation, but it seems Cameron has decided that 1.78:1 is now Cameronís preferred aspect ratio for viewing AVATAR. That said; the 1.78:1 1080p presentation of AVATAR is flawless. With high bit rate mastering that eats up almost all of the Blu-ray Discís storage capacity, AVATAR is "the demo disc" that goes to the top of the pile. Obviously, the three hundred million dollars that Cameron spent on the production plays a big part in making this an utterly perfect looking Blu-ray. Image sharpness, dimensionality, fine detail and texturing cannot be faulted. Heck even the texture mapping applied to the CGI objects looks phenomenal. OMG, AVATAR has got to be one of the most beautifully colorful movies that I have ever had the good fortune to playback on my home theater system. Awash is lush, fully saturated hues, color reproduction on this Blu-ray Disc is flawless and amazing. Blacks, whites, contrast and shadow detail are all beyond reproach. AVATAR is an end-to-end digital production, so there is no film grain, virtually no noise and absolutely no imperfections in the image. AVATAR is the killer app for 2D Blu-ray, and I am sure that the eventual 3D release of AVATAR will be the killer app for 3D home theater systems.

AVATAR is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. With its dazzling and totally immersive audio, AVATAR once again goes to the top of the demo disc pile. Not only the action sequences are the action sequences aggressively mixed, but also there is amazing subtlety, clarity and lifelike to be heard during the quieter passages. Sound effects are precisely placed and seem to emanate from everywhere. Also, the sound effects fluidly pan around all areas of the soundstage in an effortless manner. This is a very busy sound design, yet none of it ever sounds muddy or indistinct. Thanks to the lossless encode, fidelity is astonishingly good, both the music and sound effects are superbly reproduced with the utmost of lifelike qualities. The bottom end of the track is weighty during the quieter sequences, but provides explosive impact and ample ground shaking rumble during the battle sequences. Voices have a warm, natural quality, plus the filmís dialogue is always completely understandable. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as is an English Descriptive track and an English 2.0 Surround track. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the discís interactive menus, which allow access to the standard scene selection and set up features. No supplemental content is provided other than a SD DVD version of the film on disc two.

AVATAR is more of "an experience" than it is just an ordinary movie. While the 3D is an integral part of the AVATAR experience, the Blu-ray presentation is so phenomenally good that it is the killer app of 2D Blu-ray Disc reproduction. Highly recommended.



Avatar (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) [Blu-ray] (2009)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright © 2010 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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