DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Avatar, Blu-ray 3D (2009/2012)

Still the best 3D feature film so far when viewed on 3D Blu-ray in the home.

Published on January 30, 2013

Avatar, Blu-ray 3D (2009/2012)

Director: James Cameron
Actors: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang
Studio: 20th-Century Fox [10/16/12] (2 discs: 2D/3D Blu-ray & DVD)
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color 3D
Audio: English & Navi DTS-HD MA 5.1. DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Length: 162 minutes
Rating: *****

Avatar is responsible for the current 3D craze—which, depending what comments you are reading is either only that or a permanent addition to movie-going and viewing—and it is still probably the best feature film in 3D around. Panasonic had it sewed up for awhile; you could only get a 3D copy of it when you purchased a Panasonic 3D display. After that ended I purchased a Panasonic 3D display and for more than a year you couldn’t obtain Avatar in 3D except at Amazon for $120! It seems absurd that the 3D promotional effort chose to make it impossible for most owners of 3D displays to reasonably purchase a copy of its most talked-about feature for all this time!

And to get this one I had to also purchase it at Amazon, believe it or not. Two little details: first, this is the theatrical version of the feature, with no extras.  Later this year, supposedly, an extended version (16½ minutes added) that was released to the theaters will be made available on 3D Blu-ray with some extras. So some can be pushed into buying it yet again. Second, I thought I wouldn’t even be able to review it in 3D because when I clicked on the 3D option on the menu screen it said my Oppo 3D player was not properly hooked up. In desperation I finally tried the 2D option and then got the 3D version on the same Blu-ray. So the navigation is reversed. Don’t know how many copies this occurs on; such navigation screw-ups are fairly constant on some Blu-rays and DVDs.

James Cameron spent a dozen years thinking about his sci-fi epic in 3D meant to trump all previous sci-fi classics. When the technology got to the point he thought it could do it properly, he went to work on a script that swipes from some previous sci-fi writing about a distant planet named Pandora, where the life forms are all connected in some way. It is basically a rather simple story about the greedy Sky People (the soldiers, corporate mining people, and scientists from Earth) who throughly mess up the lush and effective tribal world of the native Navis on Pandora. The scientists have created nine-foot-tall avatars which can pass as the very unusual natives of the planet, into which they insert certain humans who lie in a special chamber, to find out more about the Navi and how the exploiters can rip off a valuable deposit of “unobtainium” from them without too much resistance. (I wish Cameron had created any other name for the mineral; I’m sorry but that’s just too much!)

The main human who is given a different life as a functioning Navi is Jake Scully, a paraplegic Marine who is given the job because his brother who was originally doing it got killed. Naturally he takes to the situation of not only the exciting life of the Navis, but also having his legs back again and able to fly all over the place in the lower gravity of the planet and his nine-foot frame. He’s intended to report back everything he learns about subduing the Navi to the general who’d like to destroy the entire planet. Instead, he becomes a significant part of the Navi tribe and falls for the feisty girl Neytiri, daughter of the chief. When the final armed attack on the giant tree that is at the center of this Navi’s tribe’s life begins, it is clear that Jake will have to somehow save them. Sigourney Weaver also has the important role of the chief scientist who at first fails to accept Jake but finally assists him in fighting the corporate and military powers that want to decimate Pandora.

Avatar is packed with amazing plants, creatures and growths. One joins Jake visually in being fascinated by the various extraordinary flora and fauna of the jungle. They visit the Hallelujah Mountains, which are giant clumps of land which float around, including waterfalls that fall off into space. The rampant CGI and motion-capture is just perfect in every way. There is an interesting procedure in that all the Navi have a long braid down their backs, and when they joint the end of it to the tips of braids on various horse-like and bird-like creatures they interconnect and can then ride them. The best scenes for me are those of Jake and Neytiri riding the banshee flying creatures.

The Blu-ray and 3D transfer is terrific, and those who saw the IMAX 3D version of the theatrical film say the quality on disc is just about as good as that was. The 3D fits in perfectly with this trippy new world all around one, and you never get the feeling that some effects are overdone in 3D just to get a rise out of you (such as the familiar spear in the eye). All the high-tech machinery, which really comes up during the attack on the Navi, makes a fine contrast to the so-called primitive-level attributes of the Navi. Cameron loves these big destructive battles, but you must admit it all seems to work. I think Avatar will hold unto its status as the ultimate home-viewing 3D film for some time.

—John Sunier




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