Blu-ray Review: AVATAR

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Avatar has been an incredibly long time coming. The genesis of the project begun in the mid 1990’s with an idea from James Cameron. Deciding that technology was not evolved enough to see his vision come true, Cameron shelved the idea and made a small film called Titanic. You may have heard of it. Whilst pursuing other underwater documentary projects such as Ghosts of the Abyss, Cameron was evolving technology to see the creation of Avatar, finally starting production in 2005.

However, by the time of the film’s release in December 2009, it was clear that Avatar was something special. Audiences instantly connected to it and as they flocked to repeat sessions, subsequently bringing their family and friends along, the film grossed higher and higher week after week, soon surpassing Cameron’s own Titanic in worldwide revenue (at the time of print, around the $2.6 billion (U.S.) mark), and becoming the highest grossing film of all time whilst pushing 3D as cinemas next technological breakthrough. 

Avatar is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with AVC MPEG4 compression. This is a deviation from the 2D theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but results in more vertical information. This is James Cameron’s preferred aspect ratio.

Technically, the transfer is perfect. It’s crisp, clear, beautiful and breathtaking; almost every positive adjective that one can think of.

No matter what your opinion, there can be no denying that it’s pushed the art of CG into new territory, and that its innovative 3D production and presentation has altered the visual landscape of film, probably forever. I suspect, when we look back a decade or two from now, Avatar will be considered as influential on the cinema as Star Wars was in its day, both technically and in the sheer number of young people it will inspire to become filmmakers and effects artists themselves.

And you also can’t deny that the film has made huge amounts of money, so it’s certain to trigger a ton of copycat 3D-fantasy epics, and possibly even its own sub-genre. 

Part of Avatar’s success is that it’s a simple, visual story and its message appeals to a wide variety of audiences – perhaps less so here in the US but certainly around the world. And its IMAX 3D theatrical presentation is nothing less than a near irresistible roller coaster ride. Even if you dislike the story, it’s hard not to want to take the ride at least a couple times. My own take is more straightforward: I saw twice in IMAX 3D and enjoyed it both times. The story is fine for what it is, and holds up a couple times, but this is NOT a film I’m likely to watch again very often – especially in 2D only.

For the initial release of Avatar on Blu-ray, Twentieth Century Fox have elected to release a completely bare bone disc and then for the holiday season of 2010, release a special edition loaded with additional content, including deleted scenes with completed visual effects.

Avatar’s story is not original, but it is not trying to be. It is trying to present an archetypal tale in a new way. For that, it succeeded greatly. Its script may be lacking, but its 3-D visuals are so phenomenal that they render all other problems negligible. Now we have the film’s visuals downgraded to 2-D, and its problems become more prominent. I’ve heard detractors of 3-D filmmaking say that they found no benefit in Avatar being a 3-D movie. I would challenge them to watch it on Blu-ray and see if they feel the same way.


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