Starring: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron
Runtime: 162 min
Release Date: December 18, 2009
Avatar is arguably the most hyped, and now most successful movie ever created. The brainchild of James Cameron, Avatar was nearly 5 years in the making though the script was written as early as 1994. The film begins soaring above a rainforest – Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is dreaming while in cryostatic suspension on his way to Pandora, a moon of another planet approximately 4 light years from earth. Pandora is covered almost entirely by rainforest and is populated by a ten foot tall humanoid species called the Na’vi. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Jake is a paraplegic, injured during his military service. Jake’s identical twin brother, a scientist, was selected for an expedition to Pandora to “drive” an avatar, a genetically engineered hybrid of Na’vi and human DNA. When Jake’s brother is murdered, representatives of the corporation sponsoring the expedition contact Jake – his genetic similarity to his brother will allow him to take his place as an avatar driver.
After a shuttle takes him to the surface of Pandora, Jake dons his oxygen mask. Humans are unable to breath Pandora's atmosphere but are unaffected by the weather otherwise. The officer in charge of military affairs on Pandora, Colonel Quaritch, is warning new arrivals that life on Pandora is harsh, that those who do not “cultivate a strong mental attitude” will not survive.
Jake is then introduced to Norm Spellman, also a scientist and avatar driver, Norm takes Jake to the science lab where he sees his avatar for the first time. Approximately 10 feet tall, the avatar is blue skinned with flecks of silver on his skin and has a long tail. Jake is surprised to find out the avatar looks like he and his brother, Norm explains this is a result of the human DNA he and his avatar share.
We are then introduced to Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) who greets Norm cordially and then proceeds to lash out at Jake – making it plain she does not want him on Pandora. The following morning Jake is taken to enter his avatar body for the first time. He awakens on a medical bed as human technicians check his avatar bodies’ stimulus response and motor skills. Jake wiggles his toes – ecstatic that he can feel his legs once more. He climbs from the bed, tears the monitoring leads from his new body and staggers outside into the compound before breaking into a sprint, exhilarated at his ability to run once more. Later Jake must meet with Colonel Quaritch who asks Jake to be his operative – to gather intel on the Na’vi during his missions in the event military action is one day required. In return Quaritch will see to it that Jake undergoes the costly medical procedure to repair his spine upon his return to Earth.
During Jake’s first mission in his avatar body he is attacked by a large predator called a Thanator, as he attempts to escape Jake is separated from Grace and Norm. Jake finds himself alone as the light fades with a large pack of predatory dog-like animals stalking him. The creatures attack Jake relentlessly, just before Jake is injured a female Na’vi emerges from the jungle, dispatching the creatures and sending them scampering into the forest. After he follows her, Jake is able to learn her name is Neytiri, and that she is angry with him for forcing her to kill the animals. As Neytiri runs through the bioluminescent forest, Jake attempts to follow – Neytiri is about to force Jake to let her leave when a cloud of glowing jellyfish like creatures surround Jake’s body. These creatures are the seeds of Eywa, the great tree and deity of the Na’vi.
Neytiri interprets this as an omen and decides to take Jake with her to Home Tree. On their way to Home Tree Jake is captured by a war party of Neytiri’s people and is dragged back to the village. Neytiri’s mother (the seer of the village) will decide if Jake is allowed to live. Jake requests to learn about the ways of the Na’vi and after consideration of his request she allows Jake to live – and decides that he must learn the ways of the Na’vi under Neytiri’s tutelage.
Much of the middle of the film centers around Jake’s training – his journey towards understanding the Na’vi people and how they live. During this Jake begins to respect the Na’vi and to fall in love with Neytiri. Inevitably, the human forces on Pandora are unable to mine their precious unobtanium without the Na'vi relocating. Jake is faced with the prospect of alienating both the Na’vi for his unwitting betrayal, and his human superiors through his desire to redeem himself with Neytiri. Rating
Avatar has a PG-13 rating for violence and some profanity. Overall the profanity is not terrible in this film, while there is some scanty clothing it is not portrayed as sexual. Video
This Blu-Ray, much like the film has been widely anticipated. James Cameron himself has come forward and explained that he has a deal with Fox guaranteeing no extras, previews or "crud" on the disc when the film grosses more than a billion dollars - he wanted the disc to have all the space available for maximum video quality. So - of course you are all wondering, just how good does it look?
The back cover of Avatar states an average of 29 megabits per second for the AVC encode - which for a movie of this length is incredible. The result - in a word - spectacular. Avatar has some of the most varied and vibrant colors ever to be in a film - along with night shots to die for. Blacks are inky and shadow detail is impeccable - with ultra fine gradations in contrast and gray scale. Colors pop with the same surreal quality they had in theaters. Despite this being a 2D release - all the 3D eye candy such as holograms and camera overlays literally pop off the screen in a way no 2D film has ever managed before.
Avatar's groundbreaking CGI is no less impressive on a TV or home theater projector than an IMAX screen with fine detail that is nothing short of amazing. With much of the film digitaly created - it's hard to compare this to other live action films - however the few non-CGI scenes do have a certain smoothness to them that may be construed as DNR. When watching this film in theaters in 2D I recall noticing the same effect - this is something that must have been a decision made by Cameron when editing the film in post and thus I will not critique it. That minor nitpick aside - the vast majority of this film is after all, CGI, and this is some of the finest CGI ever produced. Avatar actually looks so good on Blu-Ray that it has exceeded my expectations. No studio tricks or digital processes have been applied to this glorious transfer - it is absolutely pristine.
On the basis of video quality I would rank Avatar as the singular demo title for my collection as of today. No Blu-Ray I have seen to date compares to the quality of this video presentation and it truly sets a new standard for the format. Is Avatar reference quality? Absolutely! Once we are able to get screepcaps of this film I believe it can be established that this film is not only reference quality, it may be THE new reference.
Screencaps may be found Here Audio
In an uncharacteristic but appreciated move - Avatar's audio has been remixed for the home environment - for optimal nearfield listening. The result is a sublimely balanced and visceral audio experience that doesn't disappoint in the slightest. The surrounds are used to great effect and are exceptionally well blended with the LCR producing a wall of sound much like the IMAX experience. Bass is prodigious and accurate with no shortage of ultra low LFE extension in the scenes where the human gunships bombard home tree. The final battle of the film was enjoyable in theaters, but at home it is the finest 25 minutes of demo material you could ask for. Bullets and overlarge arrows thrum past your head with tangible speed and force, gunships nearly deafen you as they make a hard bank and screeching creatures reel around the room making the surrounds fully realize their potential.
Dialogue throughout the film is exceptionally clear and lacks any harshness or mic noise. No matter how loud a scene gets dialogue sings clearly from the center channel and keeps the story going. Many audio mixes fail to take into account the environment depicted - but the echoes of the cave as Jake is about to get his first flight are surreal they sound so accurate. There can be no doubt that this entire film's audio mix is reference quality. However high your hopes may be for this release, prepare to have a smile on your face. Important Note:
For one of the finest audio demo's you have ever heard, watch the credits all the way through for an awe insipiring THX demo featuring 33mbps video and nearly 5mpbs audio - 30 seconds of pure awesome. Extras:
This film has no extras whatsoever - Cameron has chosen to release the film with the full disc dedicated to optimal quality. The upcoming 3D release is rumored to have a second Blu-Ray packed with extras. Overall
Avatar is a monumental achievement in film making from a technical standpoint, it is the first film to use 3D to its maximum potential, and if I may go out on a limb, one of few films to showcase Blu-Ray's full potential as well. While the story in Avatar is “contrived and recycled” in the words of many critics, I chose to watch this movie without preconceptions. If you allow yourself to enjoy the experience that is avatar without dissecting the plot as you watch, I think you will be marvelously entertained. Avatar is an emotional and engaging film in many ways because you as the viewer feel so immersed in each scene. While the story may not quite measure up to the spectacle – the spectacle is something special to behold.
As a Blu-Ray release Avatar has yet again proven that it must be better than the competition. The release has raised the bar for audio and video quality on all future releases and is a truly special experience in the home theater.
To paraphrase my box office review:
Whether you see Avatar for the eye-candy or the audio, the story or the cinematography, one thing is guaranteed – love it or hate it, Avatar is a Blu-Ray you just have to see.