I’ll be honest, at this stage in the game, it’s kind of hard to talk about Avatar. The film is pretty much a year old and what can really be said about it that hasn’t already been said before? Unless you’ve literally been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve heard of the film and even if you don’t know it by the name Avatar, I’m sure you’ve heard of the ‘blue people’ movie. The impact it had on not only the filmmaking world, but society as a whole was massive. It grossed over 2 billion dollars and revolutionized the way movies are made. It started a 3D trend and inspired numerous filmmakers.
All that being said, if you are one of the five people who haven’t yet seen the film, I’d like to direct you to Metacritic as you will find more than enough reviews there. Rather then waste your time by having you read a review on a film that you’ve no doubt read plenty of reviews on, I’ll give you just a quick recap of what I thought about it.
Having seen the film three times (twice in theaters and once on Blu-Ray), I’ve still never been overly impressed with it. From a technological and filmmaking standpoint the film is astonishing, I’m not denying that. But as a movie, on the whole, it’s not terribly impressive. I like to think of the film as more of a technological showcase, showing us what movies can be and what the future of film holds for us. And on that front, it more than succeeds.
Between the ham handed environmental messages and the ‘make peace not war’ motto that follows the film throughout, Avatar‘s story comes off as cheesy and uninspired, not to mention it’s practically a rip off of Dances With Wolves or Pocahontas. The dialogue is clumsily written and the characters are just so poorly crafted, especially Jake Sully. Avatar is all about the technology. If someone else had made the film, and hadn’t used all the nifty and fancy effects that Cameron did, the movie would have turned out to be very different, it would have got panned by critics. Avatar‘s selling point is the impressive technology and it’s important that you realize this. In fact, the story and characters are near irrelevant, it’s all about the special effects here. And while they are damn impressive and easily awe-inspiring, they can’t carry the entire film.
It’s immersive and definitely well worth a watch, at least once, just so you can be dazzled by the effects, but after an initial viewing, it really isn’t worth watching again, aside from maybe putting it on as demo material for your home theater. The cheesiness, dull characters, far too long runtime and just the general blandness of the plot, makes this nothing more than a technical showcase.
It’s hard to find a bad looking Blu-Ray nowadays, especially in regards to major films. That being said, some do look better than others but the majority of them look pretty solid. Now while most films look good on Blu-Ray, some go above and beyond the regular expectations, Avatar is one of those films. Like a few other Blu-Rays this year, most notably Toy Story 3, Avatar dazzles on Blu-Ray. In both the audio and video departments, this is a home run.
As mentioned before, this is most certainly demo material. The world of Pandora springs to life here and it looks absolutely fantastic when played on a big screen. At times, you are so immersed in the world of Pandora that you can almost forget about everything else that’s wrong with the film. Boasting pristine detail and vibrant colors that hop off the screen, the video quality of Avatar is flawless and very flooring.
While most may be so enamored by the visuals that the forget to take in the audio, I urge you not to do so. The audio is equally as good here. What really shines is the superb score by James Horner. It’s even better than I remember it in theaters and it sounds equally as good. Some of the big battle scenes also stand out, specifically the fights at the end. Effects like gunfire rumble through the room the noise of trees crashing sound so real you may be jumping out of your seat if you have surround sound. Dialogue is mixed flawlessly and ambient sounds are added in fittingly, all coming together to provide quite the aural experience.
When it comes to special features, thankfully this collector’s edition lives up to its name. Boasting three discs, we are treated to quite a nice array of features. Firstly, there are three versions of the film here, the theatrical release, the special edition re-release and the collector’s extended cut. On the first disc, we get a nice/useful feature that allows us to have direct access to any of the new scenes, whether it be on the special edition re-release or collector’s extended cut. You can choose to watch them one by one or you can choose the play all feature.
Disc two kicks off with deleted scenes. Boasting over an hour’s worth, a lot of it is throwaway and there isn’t anything really significant here. It’s like with most films, watch them if you’re a hardcore fan of the film but if not, skip it. Also on the second disc is a very good behind the scenes documentary. Running at an hour and forty minutes, this can be watched in four separate parts or all together.
This is the real meat and potatoes of the Blu-Ray. It is here that you’ll really gain a new appreciation for the film. It shows us all the stages of production and just how much work went into the film. For those unfamiliar with filmmaking and for those who may not realize just how massive this film really is in terms of scope, this is worth a watch. You really appreciate the film a lot more after sitting through this. We are literally taken right from the start when Cameron came up with the idea all the way to the film’s release. It really gives us a good idea of the technological struggles that Cameron and crew had to overcome. Even if you hated the film I suggest you watch this, you’ll have a new appreciation for it.
Rounding out the second disc is some junk documentary called A Message To Pandora. It talks about environmentalism and Cameron’s activism in the field. It’s essentially worthless. Finally, we get some production materials that run just under an hour and a half. While none of it is as interesting as the behind the scenes documentary, if you’re a fan of the film you should check it out. The list is as follows:
- The 2006 Art Reel
- Brother Termite Test
- The ILM Prototype
- Screen Test – Sam Worthington (Raw Footage)
- Screen Test – Zoe Saldana (Raw Footage)
- Zoe’s Life Cast (Raw Footage)
- James Cameron Speech: Beginning of Live Action Filming (Raw Footage)
- ILM VFX Progression
- Framestore VFX Progression
- [Hy.Drau’lx] VFX Progression
- Hybride VFX Progression
- Prime Focus VFX Progression
- Look Effects, Inc. VFX Progression
- Crew Film: The Volume
Finally, on disc three we are treated to a few nice features. First is scene deconstruction, where for certain scenes you can toggle between three views. The way it looks in the film, the template and the way it looks in motion capture. It’s interesting to see how some of the scenes looked during motion capture and it’s worth checking this feature out, if not just for a few scenes.
We are then treated to even more featurettes, which all run for a couple of minutes each, and of course, we get the necessary promotional material.
So, at the end of the day, where does this leave us? Would I recommend a purchase? Yes, I would. Despite not having loved the film, the sheer technical advancements that the film displays, mixed with the flawless transfer and above average special features, makes this worth a purchase. Some may say that while Avatar may be a special effects festival, it’s enough to carry the film. I’m not sure I agree. While it certainly isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That being said, it’s definitely worth watching once and due to the transfer, special features and demo worthy material you’ll be getting here, you should probably consider a purchase.
Avatar is a stunning technical achievement and the Blu-Ray is demo worthy on both the audio and visual fronts.