Avatar [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (17th May 2010).
The Film

James Cameron is a master of showmanship, pushing visual directorial boundaries each time he steps into the directorís chair. Heís created some of the greatest boat sinkings, car chases and ďAliensĒ (1986). With ďAvatarĒ (2009) though he was ready to make the great leap forward, finally pushing the boundaries beyond the screen with a brand new, inventive form of 3D technology that delayed the release of the film just for the sake of getting more theatres that could even dream of projecting his vision. But hereís the hubris. While elevating the gamesmanship of the film medium, pushing spectacle and visual wonder to the next level, he has regressed the narrative dialogue of the film with a simplistic storyline with a fairly hamfisted message. Basically, ďAvatarĒ functions on style far above and beyond substance.

With supreme visual splendor, Cameronís ďAvatarĒ is a story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) a Marine who has lost the use of his legs and canít afford to have his spine repaired. After his brother is murdered, Sully accepts an offer from a corporation mining on Pandora to join their Avatar program which blends human and Naívi (Pandaora alien) DNA into a giant remote controllable body. On arrival Sully starts getting used to his new, giant, blue avatar legs, learning from Dr. Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and going on his first field mission until he gets separated from the group and lost in the jungle where he is rescued by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Over time he ingratiates his avatar form into Naívi society, falling in love with Neytiri, until the true clash between company interests and Naívi interests becomes apparent.

This sort of environmentalist, colonial story has been told before in other films and I wonít bother with comparisons, itís obviously a story that people like telling. At its core the movie bores deep into the heart of white liberal guilt and aspirations over United States colonialism. Well intentioned whites from earth become part of a noble, though deemed savage, race of natives who have a deep environmental connection. ďAvatarĒ manages to blend a number of stereotypes over U.S. indigenous peoples with a number of environmental stories about connection that weíve been hearing from Disney since ďLion KingĒ (1994). More than just becoming one with the people, it is crucial that these interlopers must save the natives who are incapable of saving themselves on their own.

The sort of grand narrative that rules the plot elements of ďAvatarĒ arenít only distracting, but offensive considering the amazing medium that Cameron has to paint with. New canvas, but just a slightly less racist rehashing of colonizerís guilt merging European colonization of Africa and North America into one big hamfisted mess. After the first section of the film Cameron has a chance to salvage the mess, turning this grand narrative into a potential for counter-storytelling by engaging the impossibility of Sullyís desire to fully integrate with the tribe, but no, he just takes the same old path and makes it happen.

Iíll go a little more in depth with the visuals in the video section, but this movieís CG and motion capture is on such a larger scale than anything weíve ever seen, itís amazing. Iím a die hard fan of practical effects, but the quality of motion capture in the film is of an incredible standard. As a passionate fan of Zoe Saldana, Iím a little biased, but observant. With this motion capture job you can tell by every body movement and little facial gesture when she talks is natural, not bizarre and forced like that of Robert Zemeckis' films of recent years. They did an amazing job of capturing Saldanaís acting and translating that into a great looking world that was pure marvel in theatres despite the tragic shortcomings of the plot.

But where the actors make strides is impressive. Worthington and Saldanaís motion capture work is impressive and Saldana might be one of the best screamers in motion picture history. They do a good job given their material, and the bits of background dialoguge that are supposed to be comedy. The supporting cast is well put together from Cameron regulars like weaver to Michelle Rodriguez who is actually a good actor and does a good job in the movie (though I may be biased again since Iím one of 100 people that actually liked her character on ďLostĒ (2004-2010)).

What the film truly comes down to is a grand science fiction version of "Last of the Mohicans" (1992) with all itís problematic aspects still intact with more mysticism, space travel and mechs involved. A shiny new cover, designed and drawn by a master, for an old, tired, story that generates dialogue through itís lack of engagement rather than itís critical or progressive looks. But for all the splendor that the movie brings visually, you canít help but feel a downgrade moving from the theatre to the home screen, at base in size alone considering the average person doesnít have a theatre sized screen. And when you loosen the hold of the visual marvels of the film, all the narrative gaps take hold. All the baseness and problematic aspects of plot just start to consume the experience, downgrading what is one of the most innovative visual productions in movie history to just another retelling of old colonizer tales with a heavy hand of environmentalism backing things up. But of course with the British Petrolium spill still floating around in the Gulf of Mexico, hopefully some take the environmentalism to heart, however heavy handed it may be.

Video

Itís no digital 3D but the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p 24/fps with AVC MPEG-4 encoding is serviceable, but underwhelming compared with the experience that should be had. The transfer here is nice and all, but has the feel of being a little rushed, there isnít a crispness in depth of field like the 3D created and the downgrade down to 2D and the small screen. Yet the colors still look nice and the CG doesnít break when itís transferred to the Blu-ray, even some of the human scenes with CG technology look better with the more flattened look of the film. Honestly Cameronís full system for the filming of ďAvatarĒ almost makes Blu-ray feel like a lesser home video format.

Audio

Add in the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit and you have something still impressive. The sound has a great movement and feel for the space of the film, all the effects feel nice and the score matches the tone of the movie. It borrows notes and tones from some of James Hornerís other efforts as well as using instruments and chords that evoke the idea of native/tribal cultures within U.S. cinema to really get their message across. The transfer is great, resonates through the room and does everything right for the look of the film keeping pace, but holds up a bit better in itís impressiveness considering the format change is slightly less drastic.
The disc also comes with English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround as well as Spanish, French and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks with English for the hearing impaired, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

Whoa, what an obvious double dip situation to have one of the highest grossing movies of all time released first as a bare bones edition, granted itís a double-disc combo pack, but nonetheless bare, is a travesty.

DISC ONE: Blu-Ray

Do scene selection and animated menus still count as special features?

DISC TWO: DVD

There is an "Anti-smoking" public service announcement targeting smoking which runs for 34 seconds.

Thatís it.

Packaging

Packaged in a 2-disc Blu-ray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The idea of doubly releasing films just to tack on special features and pull more money out of people is bad enough, but this movie made three times the gross domestic product of Liberia (Liberiaís 2009 GDP: $876,000,000. "Avatar" Box-Office Gross: $2,718,037,195).

Come on guys. Not on Vet benefits. Not in this economy.

While I have problems with the film and it may still look fairly good on the disc, I feel obligated to fail the overall disc on principle, because I know there is more coming from ďAvatar,Ē this disc is as bare as bare could be and Iím frankly disgusted by the greed of a film that made more from itís theatrical run than the entire country of Sierra Leone does in a fiscal year. Damn.

The Film: D+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: F Overall: C-

 


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