Release Date(s)2009/2010 (November 16, 2010)
Studio(s)Lightstorm/Fox (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: This Blu-ray set does not include a 3D option for any of the available cuts of the film. However, the theatrical version of the film has since been made available (see this link at Amazon) in a Blu-ray 3D/2D Combo for those who may be interested.]
I’ve reviewed James Cameron’s Avatar on Blu-ray previously, so I won’t delve too much into the film itself here, except to say that while I enjoyed the story as seen in theatres, like some of you I wasn’t really blown away by it. However, having now seen the new Extended Collector’s Edition cut of the film, I think it’s definitely a richer and more complete experience.
This Blu-ray includes, in fact, three complete versions of the film: the Theatrical Cut, the recent Special Edition Re-Release version with 8 minutes of additional footage, and the Extended Collector’s Edition that adds 8 more minutes of footage for a total of 16 additional minutes. When you put Disc One of the set into your player, the set-up menu allows you to select which version of the film you want to see via seamless branching. You also get an additional option on Disc One as an extra, which is the ability to watch the new scenes from the longer cuts on their own, so you can go right to them and see what’s been added without having to search for it. There are several new scenes and moments that really add to the story. First, there’s a terrific new opening where you see Jake on Earth, getting kicked out of a bar and learning that his brother was killed. This is fascinating for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the chance to see what life on Earth at this point in the future is actually like. (Not particularly great seems to be the answer.) There are also new scenes in which you see Jake learning to hunt with the tribe, and you see Grace’s abandoned school for Na’vi children – important because you also learn that Neytiri had a sister who died in a skirmish with Quaritch’s mercs. That history of bad blood really informs the whole story. There are also a host of little moments – scene extensions and the like – as well as the long version of Jake and Neytiri’s love scene (which really isn’t explicit in any way, so I’m not sure why it was cut other than time). Speaking of explicit, in addition to the usual audio offerings on Disc One, there’s an Optional Family Audio track. (This works on both the Theatrical Cut and Re-Release cuts but not the Extended Collector’s Edition). Basically, Cameron took all of the alternate, sans cursing dialogue recorded by the original actors (that will eventually be used to create a TV version) and mixed it into a new dialogue track. It’s not quite seamless, but it’s close enough if you have small kids and want to watch the film with them.
Video-wise, it’s clear to me that Fox has continued to work very carefully on the compression and encoding for the film since the original Blu-ray release, because the 1080p video looks just as good here as it did on the previous disc. In fact, it almost seems a little more natural looking, with just a hair less compression artifacting in the most detailed scenes. The differences aren’t enough that I felt the track deserved a higher grade than the previous edition, but it’s quite an achievement considering that this new cut has 16 additional minutes of footage to contend with. As before, the film is presented in its original 1.78:1 IMAX aspect ratio. Colors are bold, the blacks are nicely deep and there’s abundant texture and detail in the image. As I said with the last disc, I’d still love to see a version of this film on Blu-ray that would allow it to be split over 2 BD-50 discs with an intermission break. I know that’s a big red flag for most viewers these days, but if you think this video image looks terrific – and it does – I’m betting that with even less compression it would be just that much better. Nevertheless, I doubt any but the most extremely picky enthusiasts will find fault here. I’m watching it on a 110-inch projection system and, even at that size, the image holds up extremely well. Audio-wise, the film includes the same excellent 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless mix as before. You’re just constantly immersed in a smooth, big and enveloping soundstage. As you watch the film, you’re rarely tempted to twist your neck around in reaction to some cheesy surround effect whispering past your ear. Instead, you simply feel like you’re there, completely sonically-immersed in the visual space. Clarity is outstanding and there’s great low-end reinforcement in the LFE channel. In addition to 5.1 DTS-HD track, there’s also an English Dolby 2.0 Surround mix, the Family Audio track, Spanish, Portuguese and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes and an English 5.1 Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese, as well as English SDH.
Disc Two of the 3-BD set includes the Filmmaker’s Journey features. These are broken into 4 sections: Deleted Scenes, Capturing Avatar, A Message from Pandora and Production Materials. The first of these, Deleted Scenes, is just what it sounds like. There’s 67 minutes of footage in all, encompassing some 45 minutes of actual deleted material. The level of completion in these scenes varies from fully finished to partly to very rough. A viewing guide explains how to watch them and what you’re seeing. Nothing that’s here is extraordinary, and I can understand why most of it was cut, but again the little additional glimpses of plot and character you get here really add to your appreciation of the overall story. For example, you see that Jake’s final test before he became a member of the tribe was a toxin-induced vision quest. You see that after the tribe’s big hunt (newly added to the longer versions of the film) there was a feast involving much dancing and character interaction. You see that that Colonel Quaritch has pretty clearly gone power mad by the time he launches his attack on the Na’vi, and that he’s been manipulating events all along. During the big battle, you see the other human "avatar drivers" using their avatars to attack the RDA Command Center. And at the end of the film, you see the starship leaving orbit for Earth... as well as a couple of shots that pretty clearly hint at Jake and Neytiri’s new life together on Pandora. All of this is in HD, but it’s presented a little more compressed and in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Moving to the next section, Capturing Avatar is special edition producer Laurent Bouzereau’s 4-part documentary on the making of the film, from the origins of the idea and the start of pre-production and the long technological development effort, through filming and post-production to the film’s debut. It runs about 98 minutes in all, and there’s fascinating stuff to be seen throughout. This is clear right off the bat, when you get to see a bit of the test footage Cameron created for his aborted Brother Termite film project – footage that was effectively the first test for the motion capture process used on Avatar. A Message from Pandora is a 20-minute featurette in which Cameron talks about his life-long interest and involvement with the environmental movement, culminating in the making of Avatar and personal visits to the Amazon to assist indigenous peoples there fight a dam project (more at Amazon Watch.org). Finally, Production Materials includes a wealth of actor screen tests, VFX test reels, VFX progressions, the Brother Termite test in full, a crew film and even Cameron’s speech to the cast and crew at the start of filming. Again, it’s all in full HD. Unfortunately, the documentary featurettes on Discs Two and Three do not include English SDH subtitles. Fans who need them will surely find this disappointing.
Disc Three is called the Pandora’s Box, and it includes my favorite of this set’s bonus content. First, there are fully 65-minutes worth of Scene Deconstructions. Essentially, Cameron and his team have taken some 17 different scenes from the film, and compiled them here with 3 different synched HD video streams. Using your player’s remote, you can switch on the fly between the Final Film with PIP (the Red button on your remote), the Template stage (Green button) and the Performance Capture stage (Yellow button). Switching on the fly is easy – there’s about a 2 second delay while the switch happens, but it worked perfectly for me on the Oppo BDP-83. The disc also includes some 17 Production Featurettes – again all in HD – on various aspects of the project, from the 3D Fusion Cam to the sound design to the creation of the Na’vi language and even the development of the flying vehicles seen in the film. I’ll let you discover all this for yourself, but it’s good stuff. Disc Three also include the set’s BD-Live Portal, which I have yet to try but which Fox, Cameron and Landau promise will be used to add content to this set over time. Finally, my favorite section is the disc’s jam-packed Avatar Archives. This includes the film’s trailers, Cameron’s original scriptment and final screenplay for the film (in full!), the incredibly elaborate Pandorapedia (also in full!), the English text of all the Na’vi songs in the film and - last, but definitely not least – a gorgeous archive of art galleries containing big-screen, high-def HD looks at hundreds of pieces of production artwork, CG renderings, background paintings and set/prop photos from the film. (Some 633 in all according to the packaging!) These are broken into categories, and you can choose to manually advance through them with your remote, or let the player move through them for you automatically. Did you, like myself, wish to know what propulsion method the starship at the beginning of the film employed? No problem – all that detail (and much more) is here in the Pandorapedia. After reading all of it, you can jump over to the galleries to see high-resolution images of the starship’s various sections too. This is the kind of arcane detail sci-fi fans absolutely go nuts for, and you can truly spend hours sifting through it all here.
Other than subtitles for the extras, about the only key thing that’s not included on this Blu-ray (and that I wished was here) is a couple of really good audio commentary tracks with Cameron, producer Jon Landau and members of the creative team. I’d particularly have loved to listen to a writers’ track on the story and the world. Having seen and heard Cameron talk about this film in person a few times now, it’s clear he’s just got a lot to say and he’s really fun to listen to. Cameron could easily talk for a couple hours about this film and still only scratch the surface. TV spots and poster art concepts might have been nice to see as well. Perhaps a live commentary event, SDH subtitles for the featurettes and other marketing materials can be added in the future via BD-Live? In any case, given the many hours of content that IS included on this set, (and with the exception of the SDH) these are minor omissions. I should note here that the set’s packaging is similar to that of Fox’s Alien Anthology Blu-ray. You get a hardcover book style case, and the 3 BD discs are held in sliding cardboard trays in its pages. The book in turn fits into a sturdy slipcase. The overall package is attractive, standard BD-case sized so it will fit on your video shelf well, and it holds the discs securely while letting you get at them fairly easily.
After watching all of the content on this set, what you quickly begin to realize is that Avatar’s stunning 3D presentation is almost the least impressive aspect of the production. With MAJOR leaps forward in the performance capture process, and the newly-developed Virtual Camera and Simul-Cam technology, James Cameron and his creative team have transformed and reinvented the filmmaking process in a way that will reverberate long into the future. They’ve done this, in fact, in much the same way that George Lucas has pushed the film industry in new directions in the past. Ultimately, this new 3-disc Blu-ray allows casual fans of Avatar to gain a much deeper appreciation of all this, while encouraging already diehard fans to love the film even more. It includes nearly everything viewers might want to see, know or learn about the film and its well-imagined world... and then some. The set definitely raises the standard for new release titles on Blu-ray. This is heady, fun and dazzling stuff – a must for any serious Avatar fan.
- Bill Hunt
FILM RATINGS (THEATRICAL/SE/ECE): B-/B/B+