Avatar Blu-ray Review
As I've already mentioned in the main review, this release has a different aspect ratio to what you would have most likely seen in the theatres. Personally, I think this has a noticeable impact on your enjoyment of the film - seeing it in 2.35:1 would have been the preferred choice across the board (and certainly for any of the 2D versions). Still, this is what the Director eventually settled with, a 1.78:1 image that arguably shows more footage (top and bottom) than the Director originally intended when he shot the movie for 2.35:1 presentation. You can see the difference when you notice the placement of the subtitles (too high up into the picture) and the timecoding during the video diary segments (again, too far into the body of the picture). If you have the option to zoom the image in to something along the lines of 2.2:1 then that would probably be worth trying to see if you prefer it.
The video presentation itself is technically flawless. Irrespective of my gripes about it coming to us in 2D, the result is still a presentation which is innately simpler to compare to all its predecessors. And it beats them all. The Bond movies, the Nolan Batman movies, Bay's robot flicks, Iron Man, they were all examples of the best that 1080p High Definition Blu-ray had to offer. But Avatar still manages to reach that little bit further to become the definitive title in terms of video presentation. There is literally nothing to be critical about with this rendition, it is so good that you get lost in it (visually) as much as any 2D title has ever enabled you to do on image quality alone. It is breathtaking, with increasingly wondrous and imaginative spectacles to behold, and you can definitely tell that they spent something like 47 hours working on each individual frame (24 of which you get per second of viewing time). It is perfect.
To accompany this benchmark release title we get a technically high spec DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that tries its best to keep up with the immaculate, standard-setting video presentation. It's an immersive offering that presents the material in a nicely nuanced and well-observed way that avoids the totally blunt bombast that might have been angled for instead. Which is not to say that the track is without power, just that the dialogue and more subtle effects don't get unnecessarily drowned out in the furore. The effects come in all shapes and sizes, from the ground-pounding, and extremely satisfying thump of the armoured suits to the shuffling and creeping of the smaller Pandoran wildlife. The surrounds get a full workout and appear to be constantly in use, providing a great atmosphere which immerses you in this other-world environment, and they also offer up some keen directionality, where appropriate, the gunships making their natural transition across your living room. The bass is, not surprisingly, pervasively active too, adding to the power of the experience, and really coming into its own during the more explosive battle segments. Perhaps this track does not quite meet the unprecedented standards set by the video, but it is a superior, almost-perfect offering nonetheless.
There are absolutely no extras for this release. The 4-disc edition is due November-ish, although even that won't be the end of it as a 3D release later down the line may offer up even more extras too! The only thing that they have strangely included is a second disc which is merely a SD-DVD copy of the film. Whilst this is arguably a nicer offering than a Digital Copy, it's only use is probably as a donation to your nearest or dearest who most likely haven't upgraded to Blu-ray yet.
James Cameron's latest effects-laden beast is currently pummelling its way through the Box Office for the second time, and this is the first of the two known home cinema releases due this year. It is a marvellous, visionary effort, literally picking you up and dropping you off on a whole new planet. Sure the story is hackneyed, the dialogue clichéd, and the characters encompass just about every stereotype in the book (the cast trying their best with paper-thin roles that are occasionally, and pretty ironically, quite one-dimensional), but the visuals - particularly in 3D - go a long way to keeping you enthralled and entertained nonetheless. However, the cheap shot at the US's warmongering tactics is thinly veiled, and ultimately this is a production that will never stand up alongside the likes of Cameron's Aliens or Terminator 2, except in one respect: effects. The sci-fi blockbuster Director has once again pushed the boundaries with his use of technology, and the 3D 'novelty' of Avatar (literally) adds a whole new dimension to the movie, and - frankly - makes it much more watchable.
Personally, I hope that 3D and overuse of CG remains prevalent in certain genres, and is relegated to just massive blockbusters, because - in an old fashion kind of way - I like the idea of the classic filming style enduring on (and, really, are we all going to sit around watching movies at home with 3D glasses on?). Similarly I hope that CG versions of actors do not become commonplace, at least not for another decade or so. In reality, though, the success of Avatar may really change everything - old films, new films, they could all become 3D'd eventually, and we could find a whole extra dimension added to our film-viewing pleasure. Watch this space (as it gradually reaches out of the screen and touches your nose).
With its first Blu-ray release (Region Free in the UK) what fans basically have is a beta-copy of the movie to play with, with perfect video and excellent audio, but no extras. And still only in 2D. In my opinion it is thus an unfinished work. Considering the ground-breaking popularity of the movie I'm not surprised that this has already been a record-breaking release, but personally I think fans are being a little duped. A superior (although again, no doubt, not 'ultimate edition') version of the movie is due in November, reported as being a 4-disc box set, potentially with a 3D option, and perhaps even coming as an extended cut. And fans will be compelled to upgrade. And, if that is not in 3D, there will be an upgrade again further down the line. You've heard of double-dipping, well Avatar may even beat LOTR in terms of 'dipping' (it has the potential: 2D, 2D 4-disc edition, 3D theatrical cut, 3D Director's Cut 4-disc edition). So I'd suggest waiting. But since I know few will be unable to wait, and since the title is actually quite reasonably priced because of internal market price-wars, this release still gets a recommendation. And it makes one hell of a High Def showroom title. It may not be the awesome spectacle that is 'Avatar in 3D' but it is a very enjoyable other-worldly experience nonetheless, and is probably the best-looking title that has ever been released.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £33.99
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