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Avatar Blu-ray + DVD Review

Avatar (2009) movie poster Avatar

Theatrical Release: December 18, 2009 / Running Time: 162 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington (Jake Sully), Zoe Saldana (Neytiri), Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Grace Augustine), Stephen Lang (Colonel Miles Quaritch), Joel David Moore (Norm Spellman), Giovanni Ribisi (Parker Selfridge), Michelle Rodriguez (Trudy Chacon), Laz Alonso (Tsu'tey), Wes Studi (Eytukan), CCH Pounder (Moat), Dileep Rao (Dr. Max Patel), Matt Gerald (Corporal Lyle Wainfleet), Sean Anthony Moran (Private Fike), Jason Whyte (Cryo Vault Med Tech), Scott Lawrence (Venture Star Crew Chief), Kelly Kilgour (Lock Up Trooper), James Pitt (Shuttle Pilot), Sean Patrick Murphy (Shuttle Co-Pilot)

Buy Avatar from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD Combo • DVD

By Kelvin Cedeno

Avatar. That title alone inspires a myriad of reactions from people. It's getting more and more difficult to find someone who hasn't seen the film, and your chances of finding someone who hasn't at least heard of it are minimal. This public awareness is hardly unexpected. Audiences had been waiting for James Cameron's post-Titanic feature film for twelve years. Now that it's arrived, it's grossed a staggering $2.7 billion worldwide, becoming the number one movie of all time (when the list isn't adjusted for inflation, anyway). Experts have been trying to pinpoint just why Avatar has become such a runaway success, but that's not such an easy question to answer. There are several possible reasons for this.

The story itself has a wide, mainstream sort of appeal. It deals with former Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), now a paraplegic, who is chosen to participate in a research project. This project examines the foreign moon of Pandora and its tall, blue inhabitants called the Na'vi. As it turns out, the real purpose of the research is to mine Pandora for rocky material rare enough to be worth millions.
Several team members, including Jake, are given avatars with which to gain the trust of the Na'vi and make exploring easier. These avatars, a hybrid of human and Na'vi DNA, are shells that look just like the blue creatures, but are controlled by a sort of transplant of the human mind.

Now able to walk via his avatar, Jake accidentally runs into the Na'vi tribe known as the Omaticayas. A female member called Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) reluctantly takes him in partly to see if he could fit in with her people and partly on the advice of the local nature spirits. Jake finds himself torn in several different directions, unsure of who he is and what he should do. Research leader Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) drills him to find out more about the Na'vi culture and Pandoran environment. Meanwhile, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) has Jake act as a spy to learn what it will take for the Na'vi to relocate and allow mining of their resources. On top of all this, Jake struggles to fit in with the Omaticayas and learn their ways. The deeper he finds himself in their world, the harder it is for him to carry out his intended mission.

As Jake (Sam Worthington) is introduced to his avatar by Norm (Joel David Moore), the eerie similarities between the two are noted.

The most common criticism of Avatar is how ordinary its story is. Such thoughts aren't without merit as the plot does feel like a blend of Dances with Wolves, FernGully: The Last Rainforest, and Pocahontas. Because of that, the story quite frankly offers no surprises. Every plot point is anticipated well in advance without a single twist.

It can also be said that there's pretty much no character development outside of Jake. Aside from a few quick expressions of guilt, none of the other humans seems really changed by this experience. As for the Na'vi, only Tsu'tey (Laz Alonso) shows any sort of arc. The rest of the cast remains the same from beginning to end.

In a more specific story issue, it's unclear how much the Na'vi know about avatars and humans. The film toggles back and forth between Jake at the facility with his human colleagues and Jake in his avatar self with the Omaticayas. Whenever one of these personas sleeps, the other awakens. That raises the question of what the Na'vi think when they see Jake the avatar unconscious while Jake the human is awake elsewhere. The logistics are a bit fuzzy since he's shown in all times of the day in either body, sometimes seemingly for days on end. It might be assumed that the Na'vi are aware of how the technology more or less works since it's mentioned that a school was built to teach them English and various human customs. If that's the case, though, why do the few instances of the avatars blacking out surprise and confuse the Na'vi? It seems like either this wasn't fully thought out, or there was deleted material that clarified it.

Such setbacks are present in a great deal of films today, even highly praised ones. One can only assume that the faults become more noticeable due to all the hype. In fact, that might be Avatar's biggest problem of all. The film's release has been touted as the second coming of cinema for so long and has broken so many box office records that it's virtually impossible to take it at face value. While this, of course, isn't the film's fault, some of the blame can be laid on director James Cameron. Cameron isn't exactly known for his humility and has no problem creating his own hype and proudly touting his works. He promised an experience unlike anyone's ever seen before, so it stands to reason that audiences will feel slighted to get an often-told story with a new face.

Female Na'vi Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) first comes upon Jake in the forest, bow ready.

However, what a face it is. If there's one thing people can agree upon, it's that Avatar is gorgeous to look at. The concept of computer-generated backdrops for live actors is nothing new. It's been done before with Episodes II and III of the Star Wars prequels along with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and 300. The differences here are that the land of Pandora is more convincing than the aforementioned films' settings, and the motion-captured Na'vi have more screen time than the live actors. Both the characters and their universe are tremendously rendered. The environment never has the digital sheen of other films' CG backdrops, always looking crisp and natural (even when the sights are anything but). The characters move more fluidly than those found in earlier motion capture films like Robert Zemeckis' The Polar Express and Beowulf.
It's all pure eye candy unlike anything shown on screen before. Whether or not this, coupled with the 3-D, was the main reason for the film's success is unclear. Cameron may be lofty in his announcements, but one would be hard-pressed to say he didn't deliver on a visual level.

That's not to say the story or characters fail. On the contrary, even with such obvious archetypes and plotting, the film is easy to invest in. Having recently reviewed Armageddon, the comparisons between Michael Bay and James Cameron are interesting. Both are well-known action directors whose films appeal to the masses. The two couldn't be more different, though, in terms of presentation. When Bay runs into a story clichι, he approaches it half-heartedly as if he's unsure of how to work through it, all too eager to get to the next action set piece. With Cameron, even his run-of-the-mill elements are treated in a way that feels right. He knows what the audience wants and expects, and he gives it to them, careful to make that work in the narrative. He also shoots his action more impressively than Bay. Bay relies too heavily on the editing process, overdoing it to the point where one can go into seizure if not prepared. Cameron's handling of action is far more graceful and filled with scope and grandeur.

Grace (Sigourney Weaver), wanting to preserve Pandora, runs into major conflict with Parker (Giovanni Ribisi) and Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who intend to destroy the Omaticaya's Hometree.

It's easy to overlook the cast in something so technically-powered, but all do convincing jobs in their roles. The two standouts are Zoe Saldana as Neytiri and Stephen Lang as Quaritch. The two couldn't be more different, which may be why they stand out so much. Saldana's character doesn't have much to her other than to act as Jake's tour guide and love interest, but even with all of the CG, the actress's nuances come through in the performance. She makes something very alien relatable and believable. Lang, on the other hand, has obvious fun chewing the scenery. His villain is in some ways refreshing in that he's classically evil. Hollywood has been so determined to give villains depth (a commendable practice, to be sure) that they tend to drain the characters of their fun. Here, the one-note characterization of Quaritch allows Lang to go all out in his demeanor, giving the audience someone they love to hate.

Most people have already formed some sort of opinion on Avatar. It's hard not to when it's become such an unavoidable pop culture icon. For this reviewer, the film is neither cinema's savior nor a stale, overrated rehash. The story may be familiar, but finding completely original tales is increasingly challenging, and even the most beloved films of all time follow noticeable patterns. What matters most is how the story is told, and it's here that Avatar succeeds. Even at two and a half hours, it's remarkably well-paced and offers a good balance of different elements. The technology on display is truly groundbreaking, standing on its own even without the much-touted use of 3-D. Few films are as breathtaking as this one. It may not be Cameron's best, but if one can get past the overblown hype, there's much to admire and enjoy about this production.

Buy Avatar: Blu-ray + DVD from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

BD: 1.78:1 Widescreen; DVD: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
BD: DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese),
Dolby Digital 2.0 (English, Descriptive Audio)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (English, Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish; BD-Only: Portuguese
Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 27, 2010
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase with Reflective Slipcover
Also available in Standalone DVD

The nighttime landscape of Pandora comes alive all around Jake Sully, providing illumination of two different sorts.


Avatar comes to Blu-ray in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. That ratio may be a source of debate amongst fans since the film was actually theatrically exhibited in two ratios. The 3-D version was presented in 1.78:1, while the 2-D was shown in 2.35:1 (technically, 2.39:1). Of the two, James Cameron prefers the 1.78:1 version, as he found the 3-D more immersive in that ratio. Of course, this initial release of Avatar arrives without such depth effects, but apparently Cameron still wanted it framed in 1.78:1.
One can't help but wonder if this was done because he knew the title would sway many DVD buyers to Blu-ray, and a reference-quality disc that fills the entire screen is more attractive to new buyers than one with empty black space. Regardless, the ratio seems fine. There's noticeable space above and below the onscreen elements, but it's not a distraction. Some may lament the lack of a scope presentation, but considering the widely-attended 3-D version was thus framed, it makes sense to carry that over even to this standard presentation.

No matter what, though, there is only one word to describe Avatar's transfer: perfect. New releases from various studios have often looked impressive, but few have been as flawless as this one. That isn't surprising considering the film's digital nature and the way that this disc is devoted entirely to the feature presentation, but it's still astounding. Colors are so vivid and details so intricate that images nearly pop off the screen. There are, of course, no print flaws to be had, nor are there any digital defects. Cameron promised an immaculate image, and he has by and large delivered one of the best looking Blu-ray transfers of all time, if not the best.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is of equal quality. From the ambience in the labs and jungle to the ferocious roars of creatures and sharp gunfire, the sound effects completely take advantage of the surround field. All of these elements are involving without becoming overbearing. Dialogue is crisp and (when in English) understandable, often mixed with directional effects. James Horner's lush score also adds scope and atmosphere, making itself heard, though not overtly so. There are absolutely no qualms to be had with this excellent soundtrack.

The planet that Pandora orbits, Polyphemus, is shown with additional moons and stars surrounding it on Avatar's main menu.


In order to create the best presentation he could, James Cameron chose to release Avatar first without any supplements. It seems he's determined to make this a reference quality set that entices people over to Blu-ray, especially with its inclusion of a DVD copy.
His plan seems to have worked as this release has shattered records left and right not unlike its theatrical precedent.

In a commendable move, Cameron and his crew have already given buyers warning that an elaborate re-release is coming in November. That edition is supposed to offer an extended cut of the film and a two-hour documentary, among other things. An aggravating practice on DVD, double-dipping has already started to seep its way to Blu-ray. Therefore, it's refreshing to give consumers (the savvy ones, at least) notice of options before they've already committed to one, especially with a reasonable window in between the two.

The main menu of both the BD and DVD are identical, showing a montage of scenes with only three simple selections on the bottom. The BD's pop-up menus open upward and feature the logo font. The DVD's submenus each feature a different static cast member headshot.

Both discs are housed in a blue, eco-friendly (of course) keepcase. A leaflet with a code for the online Avatar program (where supposedly some of the Ultimate Edition's features will start to appear) is included along with a coupon for a Panasonic home theater system. The case is held in a cardboard slipcover with minor reflective qualities.

Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) embrace each other before the impending war on their home.


Avatar's success has been both a blessing and a curse for it. It brought back the concept of an event film not based on a pre-existing property, and it gave people a reason not to wait for home video thanks to its currently irreproducible 3-D technology.
On the other hand, the hype now makes the feature more closely scrutinized. Beyond the outstanding visuals, the story and characters don't really break free of familiar molds, but they're presented in a way that still entertains.

This film will probably do for Blu-ray what The Matrix did for DVD in that many consumers adopt a new format because of it. That's not without reason, for the BD's image and sound are absolutely flawless and will undoubtedly be used to demonstrate what fully-equipped systems can do. The forthcoming extended cut re-release shouldn't affect the presentation considering how much space Blu-rays have, so it's all a matter of supplements. Those who enjoy bonus material will probably want to wait a few more months lest they're simply impatient. For those who don't care, this no-frills release earns a hearty recommendation.

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Pocahontas (10th Anniversary Edition) • Smurfs: Season One, Volume One
Directed by James Cameron: Aliens of the Deep • Ghosts of the Abyss
New: Armageddon (Blu-ray) • Tombstone (Blu-ray) • Defendor • Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s • Doctor Zhivago (Anniversary Edition)
2009 Best Picture Nominees: District 9 • Up • An Education • A Serious Man • The Hurt Locker
Christmas 2009 Hits: Sherlock Holmes • Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel • The Princess and the Frog
Sigourney Weaver: Galaxy Quest (Deluxe Edition) • WALL•E • Vantage Point • The Village • The TV Set • Holes
Giovanni Ribisi: That Thing You Do! | Stephen Lang: The Men Who Stare at Goats | CCH Pounder: Orphan
Joel David Moore: The Shaggy Dog (2006) | Laz Alonso: Miracle at St. Anna
Best Visual Effects Oscar: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button • Forrest Gump

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Reviewed April 29, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Screencaps from DVD. Images copyright 2009 Twentieth Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment, and 2010 Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.