"Avatar" Blu-ray Review
April 23, 2010 by Zach Demeter
When I sit down to write reviews, I usually take into account not only the audience size it likely had but also its distribution channels. So I’m kind of bewildered at the idea of reviewing Avatar as it’s the top grossing movie of all time--and not just by a small margin. No, the previous holder was Titanic at $1.8 billion and Avatar currently resides at a pleasant $2.7 billion. Granted, that number is extremely skewed—not only for inflation adjustment but also because the vast majority of Avatar’s sales were in 3-D…in which the tickets averaged $3-5 more per ticket (possibly more, I’m just ball parking off of what I had to pay). Still, the fact remains that this was a very, very big film and an enormous success for both Fox and Cameron (who is probably used to success by now, but I digress). So it’s of no surprise that the first release we get of this film, releasing on April 22nd (“Earth Day”…though the linking between the film and that day doesn’t really make complete sense to me), is completely and utterly barebones.
Oscar and Golden Globe winning epic is the highest grossing film of all time, taking in over $2.6 billion in worldwide box office. Director James Cameron takes audiences to a spectacular world beyond imagination, where a reluctant hero embarks on a journey of redemption and discovery as he leads a heroic battle to save a civilization. AVATAR delivers a fully immersive cinematic experience of a new kind, where the revolutionary technology invented to make the film disappears into the emotion of the characters and the epic nature of the story.
Unlike a lot of people I know, I only saw this film in theaters once. I did thoroughly enjoy myself, however—the 3D in this film was absolutely and utterly amazing. My jaw was on the floor at frequent times throughout the film and I never once questioned if the $12 I spent to see the film was worth it…as it most definitely and certainly was. So I never returned to the theaters to see it which means that this 2D viewing is only my second. I remarked to many that the story of the film was really nothing to get excited about (and that still holds true even now) as it was the action and the unique 3D elements of the film that made it such a visual feast for the eyes. Pure eye-candy and nothing more was my judgment on this movie after walking out of the theater.
And I still stand by that. It’s a technical marvel to behold but the film is little else than a retelling of a story that we’ve heard of for decades (possibly centuries) now. I’m sure we’re all aware of the 'Avatar' = 'Pocahontas' In Space note that has been circulating around the web since December or so and it’s probably one of the best examples of just how generic this story is. I mean Disney’s retelling of that film was a bit twisted from the reality of it, but nonetheless it’s scary accurate how easy it was to replace the names and locations of Pocahontas with Avatar. Of course there is also the Dances With Wolves comparison, but either way you cut it Avatar simply isn’t an original tale. It’s a “tried and true” story that adapts to just about any situation (obviously, considering Pocahontas took place in 1607 and Avatar in 2154) and as much as I could probably rant and rave on that all day I really won’t because as I said the real enjoyment of Avatar doesn’t come from the story, but the eye candy that accompanies it.
So is the film considerably less exciting in 2D than it was in 3D? Well, yes and no. Yes because the 3D elements were incredibly well done; no because the same sequences that made you tense up because of their jaw-dropping complexity are still there…they just aren’t leaping out in front of your face this time. It’s no doubt a very different experience between the two, but if you enjoyed the movie at all then you’ll likely find it as entertaining regardless of what dimension you’re viewing it in. This is due to the fact that even though the 3D was a big element of the film that everyone was talking about, the motion capture used in the film was just astonishing as well—it gets kind of eerily creepy at times, but it really does allow you to see the more nuanced performances from the actors.
I could go on and on about this two and a half hour long movie, but there’s really no point. You know what it is at this stage of the game and it’s an incredibly original visual experience to take on. For that reason alone it is Highly Recommended--the visuals are just that good. The story is definitely nothing to write home about, but perhaps we’ll get a more original follow-up with Avatar 2.
As mentioned previously this is a completely barebones Blu-ray release. It does include a DVD copy of the film (but no digital copy? Strange…), but other than that these are incredibly empty releases. This was expected; however, as there’s apparently some big ol’ super Na’vi edition coming out in November that will blow our socks off (although that edition is still not in 3D for some reason…whatever). So for now we’re in the same boat with Avatar as we were with Sin City. Whether you pick up this release now just to own it or hold off until the “ultimate” edition comes out is entirely up to you.
Video arrives in an 1.78:1 AVC encoded transfer. Yes…that is pure 16x9; an odd aspect ratio for a theatrical film, but Cameron had his reasons and it really looks quite brilliant on a big ol’ TV. It should probably go without saying that this is a definite demo-disc for your home theater, as the cornucopia of visuals, both during the day as well as the night sequences, are just jaw-dropping to gaze upon. You could say most of this film is all CGI, but it doesn’t matter—the CGI here looks so real that when everything is blended together you honestly can’t tell. And that’s quite a feat since the 1080p resolution often points out flaws that you otherwise wouldn’t notice. I will say that giving the film the entire disc to breathe did allow for an amazing transfer and as much as I miss the 3D elements I had a lot of fun just gazing upon the copious amounts of detail that littered any given frame of the film.
Audio is a DTS-HD 5.1 MA mix and while I’m sure we all would have liked a 7.1 mix, that’s not really Fox’s bag to toss on an additional two channels. I’m honestly quite satiated with this 5.1 mix anyway, as it’s got such an incredible range and amount of bass to it that an additional two channels wouldn’t have made much difference I don’t think (especially since my receiver now just matrixes it out to the additional two anyway). Every scene in the movie just drips with ambience and it is without a doubt one of the noisiest and most aurally satisfying experiences on Blu-ray I’ve ever had.
It should also be noted that this disc seems to be having the most widespread compatibility issues with Blu-ray players; it worked fine in my PS3 as well as my PC up to the point of actually trying to play the film…and then it choked, spread macroblocking everywhere and randomly sent the pop-up menu up. Oddly enough my parents $99 Insignia player that they bought on Black Friday played this thing…and that came with whatever firmware was available at the time of manufacture, as I didn’t update it when I installed it back in November (although it did have a firmware update release in February). It’s odd to me that a cheap Blu-ray player from Best Buy is playing Avatar without flaw when so many more expensive players are apparently unable. I’ve always found Fox’s anti-piracy protection to be a bit overzealous, as I seem to always be updating the software on my PC for playback…and they’re the only studio I have to do that for.
So aside from that…there’s nothing on the disc to talk about as there aren’t even any trailers (an odd experience, considering I’m so used to skipping past them). It is definitely a hell of an experience and the experience of it on Blu-ray is definitely recommended…but I’m going to withhold judgment on whether or not you should actually pick up this title as we all know that a November deluxe pack is already in the making. It really just depends on how badly (and soon) that you want Avatar on Blu-ray.
Avatar is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.