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Avatar (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 24, 2010 by  



James Cameron’s “Avatar” is the best looking film on Blu-ray since the release of  films on Blu-ray.  Although, this is not the ultimate release of “Avatar” and does not include any special features, in terms of picture and audio quality alone, “Avatar” has not only broken box office records, it has raised the bar on what perfection looks and sounds like on Blu-ray.  Highly recommended!

Image © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Avatar DURATION: 162 Minutes BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Description Audio, Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese COMPANY: Twentieth Century Fox RATED: PG-13 (Intense Battle Sequences and Warfare, Sensuality Language and Some Smoking) RELEASE DATE: April 25, 2010

Written and Directed by James Cameron

Executive Produced by Laeta Kalogridis, Colin Wilson

Produced by James Cameron, Jon Landau

Co-Producer: Brooke Breton, Josh McLaglen

Associate Producer: Janace Tashjian

Line Producer: Peter M. Tobyansen

Music by James Horner

Cinematography by Mauro Fiore

Edited by James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivkin

Casting by Margery Simkin

Production Design by Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg

Set Decoration by Kim Sinclair

Costume Design by John Harding, Mayes C. Rubeo, Deborah Lyn Scott

Starring:

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully

Zoe Saldana as Neytiri

Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine

Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch

Joel Moore as Norm Spellman

Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge

Michelle Rodriguez as Trudy Chacon

Laz Alonso as Tsu’tey

Wes Studi as Eyutkan

CCH Pounder as Moat

Dileep Rao as Dr Max Patel

Matt Gerald as Corporal Lyle Wainfleet

Sean Anthony Moran as Private Fike

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.

“Avatar”, the largest-grossing movie of all time and has cemented James Cameron’s status as a writer and director who has been able to surpass his original box office record with his 1997 film “Titanic”. Created with an outstanding budget of $237 million, needless to say that James Cameron has laid it all on the line with this film.  It would become a financial disaster or a goldmine.  And sure enough, “Avatar” has become the latter.  The film has grossed over $2.7 billion and with this Blu-ray and DVD release, during the first two days of its sale, it has sold over $5 million copies. Needless to say, this is the easily James Cameron’s masterpiece.  Avoiding anything that resembles sci-fi kitsch with the use of its CG and becoming just eye candy, “Avatar” is a fantastic film that deserves to be seen and this is coming from a reviewer who was more than caustic towards this film before reviewing this Blu-ray release. “Avatar” takes place in 2154 on the planet of Pandora.  The RDA Corporation has their eyes set on a mineral called unobtanium.  The corporation’s administrator Parker Selfridge (played by Giovanni Ribisi) wants that unobtanium and has hired the private security force known as Sec-Ops.  As the humans have observed and have done their research on the planet, especially the inhabitants known as Na’vi, a tribe that is 10 feet tall, blue, similar to humans and are in tuned to the nature surrounding them.  The problem for the RDA Corporation is that the unobtanium lies in the area where the Na’vi are living and want to relocate them. Dr. Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver) is the head of the Avatar program and Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former Marine is asked to join the program after his brother, a scientist who trained as an Avatar operator was killed.  Augustine and crew have been able to grow Na’vi hybrid bodies called avatars and can be controlled via mental link by humans.  She, Sully and anthropologist Norm Spellman (played by Joel David Moore) use the avatars to learn more about Pandora and the Na’vi, the head of Sec-Ops, Colonel Miles Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang) has different thoughts. Quaritch promises Jake that he will receive new legs if he gives him the intelligence he has collected from Pandora and the Na’vi that would become useful to Spec-Ops in forcing the Na’vi to co-operate and relocate. While Jake Sully is on a mission in Pandora, he is separated away from his partners and through having to survive in Pandora alone, is rescued by Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana), a female Na’vi.  Neytiri is able to speak English but she also shows anger over Jake’s gung-ho nature in the forest.  But when she sees the Eywa surrounding Jake, she realizes that he must be special.  She takes him to her clan, the Omaticaya and introduces him to the clan and if he is a “warrior dreamwalker”, he may be special.  So, her mother Mo’at (played by C.C.H. Pounder) makes her daughter Neytri show him the way of the Na’vi and also the ways of the planet. Through training and seeing the surroundings, Jake is conflicted because he is starting to fall in love for Neytri and feeling a sense of purpose with his avatar in accomplishing things he is unable to do in reality but knowing he is betraying them by feeding the Spec-Ops with intel on the Omaticaya. And unfortunately, all the inside information Jake has fed to Spec-Ops, has given Colonel Quaritch all he needs in giving the RDA Corporation a chance to now take the area of the Omaticaya by force. Can Jake, Dr. Augustine and crew save the Na’vi from the RDA Corporation?  What will happen when the Omaticaya find out that Jake and Dr. Augustine are not real beings but are Avatars working for the humans and giving them the information to destroy their home?

VIDEO: “Avatar” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:78:1) and is the true definition of reference quality video.  Detail and colors are just amazing.  The close up of the CG work looks so realistic and are so remarkably detailed that it looks as if Cameron and crew have achieved CG perfection.   You see skin pores, the application of the pain on the skin, the sweat glistening on the characters.  How do they do that?  There is amazing detail in land of Pandora as each step and each touch produces this light around a plant or surrounding and the colors just glow and look fantastic in HD. And it just doesn’t stop there.  There is detail everywhere.  From the mecha vehicles that Spec-Ops command, the large vehicle units, the creatures on Pandora are shown with a large assortment of colors. This is the best looking film on Blu-ray that has come since the first release of Blu-ray discs.  I know this is a statement that is hard to believe especially with so many fantastic reference quality releases on BD but “Avatar” has set the bar up high of how gorgeous a film can look on Blu-ray.  Incredible! AUDIO & SUBTITLES: “Avatar” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Dolby Surround, English Decruption Audio, Spanish, French and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital.  And you think that “Avatar” has raised the bar for picture quality, the audio for “Avatar” is equally fantastic! Immersive.  This is the word I describe this film as the DTS-HD Master Audio lossless audio track takes control of your soundscape and sound is coming from the front and center channels, surround channels are active throughout the film. May it be the forest ambiance, creatures rustling in the leaves, large animals heard flying above and of course, the pulse-pound action as the LFE is fully engaged.  Expect your subwoofer (and literally all channels) to go on over-drive as the film, especially during the second half of “Avatar” makes those scenes come alive.  The vehicles flying and the rotors blowing the trees, missiles firing and causing destruction and trees falling everywhere and the scream of the Omaticaya’s as they are losing their home. Again… Incredible! As for subtitles, “Avatar” is presented in English SDH, Spanish and Portuguese.

SPECIAL FEATURES: “Avatar” does not come with any special features but more than likely we will see a ultimate edition coming out later this year. EXTRAS: “Avatar” comes with a slipcase and a DVD version of the film.  The DVD is presented in Widescreen 1:78:1 and Dolby Digital 5.1, English, Spanish and French Dolby Surround.

When “Avatar” was released in theaters, I admit that I took a caustic approach to the film. It’s not that dislike James Cameron films because I have enjoyed many of his films but it deals with my feelings of technology and films infused by CG that the more I see a sci-fi film utilizing it to the nth degree, I look at these films as becoming kitsch.  Granted, I’m not expecting the return of thousands of talents and epic filmmaking along the reigns of D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” but when I saw the trailer for “Avatar”, I was sensing CG eye candy ala “Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen”. With so many films being released on 3-D (which I have been told that “Avatar” must be seen in 3-D), in some ways, I just want to watch my movies straight.  It’s not the 3-D that makes me excited, it’s the good ol’ fashioned form of cinema.   But with today’s technology, for a sci-fi film, I’m expecting a beautiful scenery in this new world, unique characters, good acting, well-paced and a well-written storyline and most of all, because it’s James Cameron who has raised the bar with “Titanic”, I expect the best and not sci-fi kitsch. Of course, “Avatar” has gone on to breaking records and fan anticipation of the Blu-ray and DVD release are high (despite the first release being barebones) and upon receiving my review copy, I admit that I was curious about the film.  What will James Cameron bring to the big screen in terms of character development, storyline and what message does he have for the viewer.  Without it becoming an all eye candy film. Well, let’s just say that after I watched “Avatar”, I was blown away.  Yes, “Avatar” is eye candy but it’s pleasing eye candy that has a strong storyline behind it.  Films such as the “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” films have been able to take the viewer and let them believe they are away from reality and you know these worlds.  That is why so many decades later, people still know the settings, the surroundings of these films and the same can be said about “Avatar”. Like those films that will forever be etched in the minds of movie fans, “Avatar” will do the same as people will remember the lush world of Pandora, it’s creatures but most of all the Na’vi.  Technology is to the point where creatures or other life forms do not need to don a rubber suit or wear excessive make-up to make one think that being is from another planet.  Somehow the wizards were able to take the likeness if Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoey Saldana and make the characters of Jake Sully and his avatar, Neytiri and Dr. Grace Augustine come alive. The detail of this film is amazing.  On Blu-ray, it’s fantastic!  The detail and vibrant colors come alive in full effect.  The characters on both the human and Na’vi side are believable and the acting is not forced.  I admit that very early on the film, I thought about the character of Jake Sully (and no offense to Sam Worthington) but we were going to get something similar to Channing Tatum’s Duke (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) and deal with a character that was concerned about his own virility and place as a soldier on Pandora but that is not the case.  Worthington’s Sully is a man is a disabled man who has found new life using his Avatar, the ability to take part in lifestyle of the Omaticaya, embrace it and find love with Neytiri, the planet and its inhabitants. The chemistry between the characters of Jake Sully and Neytiri is natural but works extremely well.  And for fans of James Cameron films, to see Sigourney Weaver in “Avatar” is a nostalgic blessing.  She may not be as forceful as her character of Ripley in the “Alien” films but her role as Dr. Grace Augustine was well-done. In fact, I felt the movie and it’s pacing for a longer film was well-done, the viewer is immersed in the world but also gets to see political corruption and greed come to play and how Cameron is able to work this film and make it exciting and believable underneath all the CG is quite amazing.  What the “Star Wars” films were to me back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, “Avatar” was a film that captivated my attention throughout its 162 minutes and made me appreciate what sci-fi films today can accomplish (granted, not many films will ever get the budget that Cameron was able to achieve with this film). But as this film has received mostly positive reviews, I was surprised to read “Salon” critic Stephanie Zacharek’s opening paragraph of her review.  Zacherek writes, “The problem with taking 15 years to bring audiences the future of filmmaking is that someone else is bound to get to the future before you do. And while there are certain technical effects in James Cameron’s “Avatar” that aren’t quite like anything we’ve ever seen before, the movie is hardly a historical event, or even a grand achievement. It is  a very expensive-looking, very flashy entertainment, albeit one that groans under the weight of clumsy storytelling in the second half and features some of the most godawful dialogue this side of ‘Attack of the Clones’.” I disagree with Zacharek’s comment of the movie is a grand achievement.  The film has broken box office records worldwide and now has its place in the record books as the #1 earning film in the world.   Granted, for critics…many probably didn’t think early on that James Cameron could repeat his box office success that he did with “Titanic”, let alone beat that record with a sci-fi film.  But he did and if that is not an grand achievement, I don’t know what Zacharek was expecting. Even if you remove yourself from the earnings, the CG work is amazing.  The cinematography is amazing and just the amount of detail on the characters at this time is phenomenal.  And when you think about its competition during the Oscar year, “Avatar” was deserving in winning “Best Achievement in Art Direction”, “Best Achievement in Cinematography” and “Best Achievement in Visual Effects”. She goes on to say that the film was under the weight of clumsy storytelling in the second half and like many sci-fi films, there must be action.  You know early on that there is a war coming between the humans and the Na’vi.  It’s expected, it’s going to happen and yes, you are going to lose some of that emotional connect through those sequences.  And the “godawful dialogue”, I did mention this earlier on in my review that I felt that the character of Jake Skully was getting near Channing Tatum’s Duke but for “Avatar”, it works. Skully is introduced in the beginning as someone completely opposite of his intellectual brother and it shows. But similar to Zacharek, I was surprised that “Village Voice” critic J. Hoberman would feel the same about the second half as well.  Hoberman writes, “For the first 45 minutes, I’m thinking: Metropolis!—and wondering how to amend ballots already cast in polls of the year’s best movies. Then the 3-D wears off, and the long second act kicks in.” I found the comment to be quite interesting and for the most part, I can see where Hoberman is coming from in comparisons of both films.  Where the Fritz Lang epic featured a man from the upper-level associating with and underground woman in which the underground has been subjective to corporate corruption to its highest level, I see the connection but at the same time, comparing “Metropolis” and “Avatar” is comparing apples to oranges.  Where both films feature a revolt, “Metropolis” denizens have lived their monotonous life the same every day and are not warriors.  In “Avatar”, the Na’vi are losing their homeland, their planet is being destroyed and they have either the choice to give up and move to another area or fight.  And what kind of film would “Avatar” be if we watched these warriors being displaced? The second half needed that battle and like “Metropolis”, where Freder joins Maria in the grand fight, Sully joining the Na’vi was just right!  That battle needed to be epic and for an audience who have sat that long at the theater for something grand to happen, this was their pay off. Yes, the film is pragmatic but for a sci-fi film, it works and definitely not kitsch. So, I came away enjoying “Avatar” much more than I expected.  The Blu-ray delivered in picture and audio quality.  Special features are none but similar to “Sin City” which came out with a near barebones DVD release was then given a magnificent Blu-ray release much later and it’s expected the same will happen to “Avatar”.  I am sure like the video releases of “Titanic” and “Terminator 2”, Cameron has a lot of planned for the upcoming ultimate or special edition of “Avatar”.  This release was just to satisfy the masses who have enjoyed the film and definitely looks and sounds incredible in HD. I know many people may hold off until the better version of “Avatar” is released on Blu-ray but for now, if you want to enjoy “Avatar” now, you can.  James Cameron’s “Avatar” is the best looking film on Blu-ray since the release films on Blu-ray disc.  Although, this is not the ultimate release of “Avatar” and does not include any special features, in terms of picture and audio quality alone, “Avatar” has not only broken box office records, it has raised the bar on what perfection looks and sounds like on Blu-ray. Highly recommended!

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