Avatar (Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition) (2009)

Actors: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Format: DVD, Special Extended Version, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
Language: Portuguese (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Surround), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles: English, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 3
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: November 16, 2010
Run Time: 162 minutes

Special Features (this extended collector's set includes more than eight hours of bonus features):

Disc 1:

  • Three Movie Versions Original Theatrical Edition (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
  • Special Edition Re-Release (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
    Collector’s Extended Cut with 16 additional minutes, including alternate opening on earth

Disc 2:

  • Filmmaker's Journey Over 45 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes
  • Capturing Avatar documentary
  • A Message from Pandora
  • Screen tests, on-set footage, and visual-effects reels

Disc 3:

  • Pandora's Box Interactive scene deconstruction: Explore 17 scenes at three levels of production
  • Pandorapedia: Comprehensive guide to Pandora and Avatar
  • Original script and screenplay
  • BD-Live extras (requires BD-Live-enabled player and Internet connection--may be available a limited-time only)


Avatar lives in a cage of its own devising. Having grossed more money than any movie in history, having fundamentally reshaped the Hollywood landscape, having been hailed as an unparalleled masterpiece almost before the prints were dry, it sets the highest of all possible standards to live up to. (Granted, The Hurt Locker rightfully ate its lunch at the Oscars, but that doesn’t diminish the accolades.)

By extension, when it fails to live up to those standards, it elicits a far harsher condemnation than it would had it possessed humbler goals. If you shoot for the moon and miss, it’s a long way down. Now that Avatar has moved to the home video market, that plummet may have finally begun.

The new extra-special DVD version gussies things up with new footage, an extended cut and other details designed to induce fans to shell out another $30 (because it clearly didn’t make enough in the theaters). The new material immerses us further in the world, which certainly holds a fair number of joys, but also compounds the fact that the film has nothing else to offer. Characters are poorly developed, the dialogue is clunky and obvious, and director James Cameron’s not-so-subtle political message carries the condescending grate of a smarmy activist who thinks he knows much more than you do.

Avatar’s villains are slimy and duplicitous, its heroes noble in the most pandering manner possible. Take away the visual grandeur and it leaves a very shabby skeleton in its wake.

None of that registered at the time the film came out because the world itself was so overpowering. The 3-D format and meticulous attention to detail paid off in the vistas of Pandora, which Cameron used to swallow his audience whole. To it, he added a good sense of pacing (no small feat in a film this long) and a number of exciting action sequences that work very well on a very point-and-click level. In summer blockbuster terms, that constitutes a decent film. We eat our popcorn, cheer the good guys, boo the bad guys and accept the fact that the joys on display are ultimately transient. Had Avatar been presented to us in such terms, it would have succeeded admirably.

But Cameron wasn’t interested in just another blockbuster, and in his ambition pushed the film farther than it had the ability to go. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new expanded version acting as the main selling point for this DVD. It includes some additional character development - notably Grace’s (Sigourney Weaver) back-story and a brief opening sequence on Earth - but most of it involves expanded and enhanced scenes of life on Pandora. They develop the world, but not the story, which probably explains why they were cut in the first place.

More importantly, the lack of 3D in the home video format hamstrings Avatar’s biggest asset. Without the sense of perspective that the magic glasses bring, the foreground images blur into the background. The lush, verdant jungle becomes a tangle of colors; the detailed cliff faces obscure the characters flying in front of them. We no longer move through this environment; we just try to parse the important images from the glut of Busy™ so we can tell what the hell is going on. With a stronger narrative, that might not be fatal… but believe me, you don’t want to listen to these characters talk without something to distract you.

Again, fans will likely eat it up - and with 48 extra minutes of material, you can’t accuse it of double-dipping - but it largely compounds the sins of the theatrical release. Weaver does her best to redeem the proceedings, but the remainder of the cast needs more than the script is prepared to give them . The final impression lacks the wonder and freshness of the new experience, leaving behind the uncomfortable question of what so many people saw in it and how they could have missed such glaring shortcomings.

Another film could be forgiven for that; not this one. It is The Game Changer. It is The One That Started It All. It is The Extraordinary Motion Picture Event of Our Lifetime. And the closer one looks at it - especially on DVD - the more hollow those accolades sound. Its marine protagonist can tell you not to talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk. Avatar thought it did and a lot of people agreed. Don’t go into the DVD unless you’re prepared to have those illusions shattered. The emperor’s clothes are starting to look decidedly threadbare … and that’s not likely to improve as time goes on.

THE DISC: For those who love the film, the disc itself certainly justifies the expenditure… though it’s organized a little differently than most DVD collections. The set contains three discs, and three different versions of the film: the original theatrical release, the “special edition re-release” which contains 16 extra minutes (and saw a brief theatrical run this summer), and the collector’s extended cut with a total of 48 extra minutes. Disc 1 contains the first half of all three films, Disc 2 contains the second half of all three films, and Disc 3 contains all of the deleted scenes in an easy-to-access format with cues before and after to show you when they appear in the complete film.

Disc 3 also carries a huge number of flat-out cut scenes (many with unfinished effects) and a 90 minute, four-part documentary on the making of the film. Disc 2 also contains “A Message from Pandora,” covering a visit Cameron took to the Amazon and his efforts to help preserve the environment there. It has its heart in the in the right place, but Cameron’s ego and self-centeredness end up getting in the way of the larger message.

Finally, the theatrical and special edition re-release versions each contain an alternate “family” audio track --with harsh language removed for people who want to watch with their kids. The whole thing is packaged in a good-looking book format, complete with sturdy cover and some nice glossy pictures from the film.

WORTH IT? For the suggested price, it’s a steal… assuming you like the film more than I do, of course. (And I grant that there are a whole lot of you out there.)

RECOMMENDATION: Movies like these always sprout multiple DVD releases to suck up as much cash as they can. If you already own it and have no interest in extra footage, you can probably give it a pass. Otherwise, this is definitely the one to buy, and while they’ll doubtless produce more versions, this one attains the right amount of completeness without overwhelming you in superfluous extra features.

- Rob Vaux



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