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(Extended Collector's Edition)

When the initial bare bones release of James Cameron’s boxoffice champion AVATAR ($55) appeared on Blu-ray a lot of fans were disappointed that they would have to wait for the full featured collector’s edition, which was already in the planning stages. Of course, the wait proved worthwhile with the superb three disc Collector's Edition that provided fans with just about everything they could ever want, including two additional extended cuts of the film. Via seamless branching, viewers have the option of watching the Original Theatrical Release, the Special Edition Re-Release or the Collector’s Extended Edition version of the film. The Special Edition Re-Release added an additional eight minutes to the film’s theatrical re-issue, while Collector’s Extended Edition adds sixteen minutes of footage to the Original Theatrical Release. I will say that the additions do flesh out the story and are certain to please fans, although Original Theatrical Release of AVATAR is a tighter, leaner and better-paced version of the story.

As I have stated previously writer/director James Cameron knows how to make the kind of films that moviegoers want to see. THE TERMINATOR, ALIENS, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, TITANIC and finally, AVATAR have all been tremendous box office successes, and each groundbreaking in some way. AVATAR itself is presently the highest grossing motion picture of all time and has shattered the record set by Cameron’s own previous box office champion, TITANIC. There are those that have questioned why AVATAR met 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? My answer has been that it was a little of everything… In development for more than a decade, James Cameron has stated that he had to wait for the technology to be created for him to achieve his vision for AVATAR. AVATAR is truly a film that takes synthetic filmmaking to the nth degree and truly makes it all believable. AVATAR sets new standards for motion capture, photo realistic CGI and 3D presentation, which translating into the film’s superior visual wow factor. In its initial release, I saw 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. There is no doubt in my mine that the wow factor of the AVATAR experience, more than anything else, is what consistently filled movie theater seats during the film’s 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 Earth’s 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 Pandora’s 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 own 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, Jake’s 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'vi’s mother-goddess Eywa, regarding Jake. Because of the sign, 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 film’s climactic confrontations. Sure, the storyline isn’t 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 the Extended Collector's Edition of 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. As I stated above, all three versions are provided via seamless branching. So does the extra footage, that brings the running time to nearly three hours, impact the visual quality of AVATAR in high definition, even though more compression may have been required to fit the additional data on the disc? The answer is no. AVATAR looked perfect the first time around, and this 1080p presentation still looks perfect. Once again, AVATAR goes to the top of the demo pile. Many of my observations about this presentation and the previous release remain the same. Chief amongst those is the fact that the three hundred million dollars that Cameron spent on this production plays a big part in making this an utterly perfect looking Blu-ray. The image is wonderfully sharp, rich vibrant and highly dimensional. Texturing and fine detail are exemplary, even on the computer rendered digital elements. I will also say this again; AVATAR is one of the most beautifully colorful movies that I have ever had the good fortune to playback on my home theater system. AVATAR features lush, fully saturated hues and attractive flesh tones that are always flawlessly rendered. Blacks, whites, contrast and shadow detail are all absolutely top of the line. AVATAR was and is an end-to-end digital production, so there is no film grain, virtually no noise and absolutely no imperfections in the image. AVATAR remains the benchmark for 2D Blu-ray.

AVATAR is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Nothing about the quality of the audio has changed since my assessment of the barebones release. Sure there are new sequences in the movie, but they sound just as good as everything else. AVATAR features stunning, totally immersive audio that is a perfect complement to the visuals, which earns this soundtrack a place as the top of the demo disc pile. All of the action sequences are aggressively mixed to take full advantage of all the discrete channels. 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. In addition, there is amazing subtlety, clarity and lifelike to be heard during the quieter passages. 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 film’s 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, an English 2.0 Surround track and an English Family Audio Track that replaces all the offensive language. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across this set. Starting things off on disc two is Capturing Avatar a nearly one hundred minute, three part program that looks at the film’s production in detail. Disc two also features an extensive wealth of Deleted Scenes that run sixty-eight minutes in total. The Deleted Scenes feature a brief introduction by James Cameron, and appear in various stages of completion. Of the sixty-eight minutes, forty-five comprise unseen material while the remainder places the footage into context within the film. Next up is A Message From Pandora, a twenty-minute program promoting the conservation of the Amazon rain forest. Production Materials runs a total of eighty-five minutes and features the following brief Featurettes: 2006 Art Reel (three minutes), Brother Termite Test (two minutes), ILM Prototype (one minute), Sam Worthington Screen Test (six minutes), ZoŽ Saldana Screen Test (four minutes), ZoŽ Saldana Life Cast (three minutes), James Cameron Speech On First Day Of Filming (six minutes), ILM VFX Progression (three minutes), Framestore VFX Progression (three minutes), Hy-Draulx VFX Progression (two minutes), Hybride VFX Progression (two minutes), Prime Focus VFX Progression (three minutes), Look Effects Inc. VFX Progression (one minute) and Crew Film: The Volume (thirty two minutes). AVATAR is also BD-Live enabled (requires a Profile 2.0 player).

Moving on to disc three one will find seventeen Interactive Scene Deconstructions, which run over an hour and give one the ability to view individual sequences at various stages of completion, from original motion capture through template animation and to fully rendered final image. Featurettes and other programs include the following: Sculpting Avatar (four minutes), Creating The Banshee (ten minutes), Creating The Thanator (three minutes), The Amp Suit (five minutes), Flying Vehicles (five minutes), Na’vi Costumes (four minutes), Speaking Na’vi (seven minutes), Pandora Flora (six minutes), Stunts (five minutes), Performance Capture (seven minutes), Virtual Camera (three minutes), The 3d Fusion Camera (four minutes), The Simul-Cam (two minutes), Editing Avatar (seven minutes), Scoring Avatar (six minutes), Sound Design (eight minutes) and The Haka: The Spirit Of New Zealand (five minutes). Other supplements include The Art Of Avatar (fifteen galleries), Avatar: The Songs (lyrics), Pandorapedia (four hundred ninety nine page planetary encyclopedia/dictionary/bible), James Cameron’s Original Scriptment (early draft script/treatment), James Cameron’s Screenplay (three hundred pages), a Teaser Trailer and a Theatrical Trailer.

As I have stated in the past, AVATAR is more of "an experience" than it is just an ordinary movie. The Blu-ray presentation is benchmark. Short of 3D, this edition of AVATAR has everything and is a must have for fans. Absolutely recommended to AVATAR fans or those who want state of the art discs in their collections.


Avatar (Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition + BD-Live) [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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