Avatar Blu-ray review

The movie with blue people is out on Blu-ray disc. So what will Mark, an Avatar-virgin, make of James Cameron's blockbuster?


I going to admit something unthinkable: that I never saw this movie at the cinema! I know, I’m a film reviewer and yet, I never saw it on the big screen. My way of paying that particular piper was to order the Blu-ray, which duly arrived the day of official release.

Having watched a movie that took more money at the box office than any other in history (including Titanic) my take on this overly long sci-fi epic is a degree of minor frustration.

In here is the potential for a truly amazing movie that could have redefined cinema for a generation, and drawn comparison with the works of David Lean. Yet, what I was drawn to conclude is that, once production really got going, Cameron just got lured into the candy store of the visual splendour his effects team was unleashing, never to come out.

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Some of these faults existed in Titanic, I recall, and, like that film, Avatar is visually stunning. In fact, it’s beyond stunning in places, where the line between reality and the synthetic gets smudged like charcoal under warm fingers. Some aspects are so gorgeously designed and executed that I’ve watched them a dozen times since, and they still leave me with a sense of awe.

The problem is that, beyond what’s an impressive fa├žade, there is very limited substance in both the characters and the story. Given how well James Cameron worked with characters in the earlier part of his career, it seems odd that within 20 minutes of watching this I couldn’t remember any of their names, where I can still remember all of those in Aliens (1986). Most of them just don’t get any screen time to develop, which, considering the 2 hours and 42 minute running time, is ridiculous.

The classic example must be Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine, who starts promisingly, and then disappears for vast chunks until she’s required to return to bite the bullet. But then, during the climactic battle, a good number of characters die, and I’d formed very little empathy with them by then.

This left me with an oddly disconnected feeling after the final reel, like I’d turned up to see the greatest rock concert in the world, but through a scheduling mistake, I’d missed it by a few hours.

Had they bothered to give this a less than by-the-numbers plot and some characters you could have rooted for, this could have been an amazing film. But instead it’s pure spectacle and relatively little else.

Perhaps in the two sequels they’ve planned they might try a narrative where you can’t easily guess what’s going to happen next, and some dialogue that didn’t sound like George Lucas masterminded it.

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The best performances in here are the computerised ones, which must be worrying for the Screen Actors Guild. Avatar is entertaining and enjoyable, but it could have been significantly more.

The Disc

Those expecting to be impressed with long documentaries about how James Cameron thought this whole thing up and then inspired computer geeks the names of whom we’ll never know to create this visual magic, will be disappointed.

Because there are no extras on the Blu-ray whatsoever, zilch, nada.

Instead, the whole 50GB disc is taken up with the movie and its audio options, which don’t even include a commentary track. The movie is presented in the IMAX presentation 1.78:1, which is close enough to 16:9 that there is almost no border. There are three English audio tracks, one in DTS HD and the two other in Dolby Stereo surround, one of which is a descriptive track for the visually impaired. Dolby 5.1 tracks are provided in French, Spanish and Portuguese, plus subtitles in Portuguese, Spanish, English and French.

With all that space used on the movie, it looks stunning, for the most part. Although I noticed that, if you freeze frame on some of the scenes with live action humans integrated into the Pandora jungle, you can identify the depth layers within the shot. It’s in those big long shots of Pandora from the air that it really sells itself. They’re incredible.

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The sound, on both DTS and Dolby is very good, indeed, if you’ve got the hardware to unleash it, but then with a production that cost as much as Avatar did, so it should be. Included in the pack is also a DVD, which you can give to the guy next door who insists 8-track will make a comeback soon.

Part of me thinks that having the movie take up the whole disc is a brassy decision that punts for the best possibly quality with no compromise. Yet, it also comes over as a choice that’s aimed more at making things more difficult for file sharers, as the bit rate is actually more than was necessary to deliver what you actually see.

In this form it also allows Fox to get a second bite of the cherry later in the year (November, I’m told) for the all singing and dancing release with extras to die for.

If you just want the movie, as I did, then that’s exactly what I got here, and not a jot more.


3 stars

Avatar is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

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4 out of 5