Avatar (UK - BD RA/B)
Our Marcus paints himself blue and infiltrates the natives on Blu-ray disc...
2154. After the death of his twin brother, paraplegic former Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is inducted into the Avatar program as he provides a perfect DNA replacement for his brother.
Travelling to Pandora, Sam’s consciousness is transferred into an alien host body and he’s assigned a mission to learn as much as he can about the native ten foot tall Na’vi alien race as he can. Walking a tightrope between helping the science researchers, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and providing insider knowledge to the head of security Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), Jake’s priorities become increasingly blurred, especially after meeting native Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and discovering the beauty of this new world that his people are slowly destroying.
It seems like a million years ago since I wrote up my thoughts on the fifteen minutes Avatar Day cinematic preview back in August and weirdly it seems ages ago since I saw the actual movie before Christmas. It was exciting times for a while there, what with the return of James Cameron to our big screen, the first proper presentation of 3D and a showcase of what it could do and of course the movie just exploded across the box office, not only making money, but becoming the highest grossing film of all time, even surpassing Jimmy C’s last movie Titanic. You might say that Avatar is a certified triumph, you might even say that it’s an instant classic, but for the life of me I can’t really say that my feelings towards it get much higher than lukewarm.
From the get go, Avatar feels like a James Cameron movie. His effortless ability to make his worlds feel lived in and believable is as sharp as ever. The moment you arrive on Pandora you know the landscape, you have a feel for the technology at hand, and you know the characters and the parts they have to play. This is all done with minimal detail but Cameron just draws you in with charm and sets you off on his adventure.
For me the movie really comes to life when Jake takes the first steps in his host body. The feeling of freedom the character displays (after all let’s remember this is animated, albeit via performance capture) is astonishing and is a great piece of uplifting cinema to get you on the side of our hero. His interactions with Dr Grace also add a lot to the development of the character and the feeling that he’s achieving something comes with a warming change of attitude from Sigourney’s character as the movie develops. But of course the real heart of the story takes place in the rain forests and with the arrival of the mesmerizing Neytiri.
If there was ever an argument for how much of a success the step forward in technology—especially when it comes to animated characters— Avatar has achieved, it’s with the combination of Zoe Saldana’s performance and the subtle work within the animation of her character Neytiri. Literally from the first moment you see her, she draws you in and when she starts interacting with Jake, I dare anyone to say they weren’t captivated. Her voice, her movements and the character's grace is one hundred percent believable and for me the heart and soul of the movie.
However, it’s also Neytiri's arrival that highlights what frustrated me about Avatar. We knew from the get go that the movie was much akin to Dances With Wolves and others dealing with similar themes. After the first trailer hit, there was a lot of online debate and generally it was a fun little joke in the build up to the movies release ( South Park even got in on the gag with a Dances with Smurfs episode).
Unfortunately and surprisingly for me, the similarities to movies past really held back my thorough enjoyment of Avatar as I couldn’t help drawing parallels. Everything just felt too close to Pocahontas (specifically Disney’s version of it) and I don’t mean the obvious stuff like Neytiri's family set up, the douche bag tribe warrior who should be marrying her but won't now because of Jake, her going to talk with a tree, the relentless zero compassion bad guys on the rampage to make money for the company or the fact that the lead character seems to be voiced by Mel Gibson (sorry Sam Worthington—you do sound a lot like him in this movie though). I mean that it got to the point where I kept expecting Neytiri to burst in ‘Just Around the River Bend’ and start hanging out with a hummingbird and a raccoon.
Okay that’s probably a little overblown, but I did find myself constantly thinking that James Cameron isn’t going to stick to this. He’ll throw us a curveball or take us somewhere different, but for me those storytelling curveballs never came and despite the big visuals, the alien world, the military war, the mecha suits the luminescent flowers, the Pandora wildlife, and the giant dragons (of which, I can’t believe only five Na’vi ever worked out how to tame), nothing about this story or indeed its characters felt fresh to me and despite enjoying the movie, my connection to these characters was distanced because I’ve met them too many times before and just felt as if I was constantly a step ahead when it came to knowing how all this was going to play out.
Watching the movie again (that’s right, I never went back to the cinema for more of the 3D goodness), I have to say I felt the length of the movie more this time out. It’s all running smoothly but around the point where we get the dragon flying montage (they look an awful lot like the ones from Evolution don’t they?) I just kept thinking how much more there was until the end and how much we have to get through before the big ‘ol battle commences. I also have to say that I didn’t miss the 3D at all. There were moments where I remember a richer experience on the big screen (like the insects filling in the air in forest) but generally the tried and trusted 2D experience was just as impressive but more on that in the next section.
Whatever your reference quality disc is for Blu-ray, move it aside. Avatar looks incredible throughout and the more vivid your TV settings are the more it seems to thrive. From the slightly new 20th Century Fox logo until the film’s title kicks off the end credits the transfer is astonishing, filling the screen with eye popping colour, incredibly sharp detail, perfect black levels and lighting that shows off an HD TV’s flashy and subtle abilities.
Of course, the argument will be that Avatar is essentially an animated movie and all computer generated animated movies looks great. That argument is a valid one but not all animated movies are made by James Cameron and there isn’t an animated movie out there that’s presented a landscape like the forests of Pandora. Literally from the moment that helicopter ship thing sets down in the woods you will be dazzled by the wash of texture, detail and colour on the screen. Every blade of grass has a presence, every beam of sunlight and insect makes the image feel alive and when the action kicks off, it just keeps getting better.
Explosions glow, reflections off of surfaces look incredibly natural, the Na’vi can feel 3D with their level of realism (especially in the scene with Neytiri and human Jake towards the end) and the layers of objects within some of the shots looks amazing. I also found that the special effects hold up well too. There’s the odd dodgy composite when real actors inteact with CGI and some of those Pandorian beasts look decidedly game like, but this is all in the filmmaking because nothing's going to take the sheen off of this transfer.
As you can tell, I was impressed and I’m glad to say that I for one got the transfer I expected from James Cameron’s new movie without any disappointments. Avatar on Blu-ray is pretty much flawless and you won’t believe how many times it keeps reminding you of the fact.
Other than the distracting score with opening beats sounding too much like ‘My Heart Will Go On” and the Toy Story sounding bit when the wildlife turns on the army in the forest, Avatar once again delivers the goods.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is as subtle as it is aggressive. One moment you’ll be wowed by the atmosphere the track creates in the quiet forests the next have your doors rattled by a dragon’s roar or an explosion. The track pretty much covers the entire spectrum and all of it well.
Surprisingly, I actually found the dialogue to be one of the most impressive elements of the track. It’s wonderfully clear as you’d expect but it seemed to come with a little bit extra power than a lot of other discs (or it could be I’ve been watching a lot of small dramas lately).
I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was as impressive or as much as a step up as the video transfer was, mainly due to the score sometimes feeling a little lost in the action, but it’s still up there with top end audio tracks and more than hammers homes the goods.
Well unless you count an added DVD copy as an extra feature or access to the Avatar Program online (which I don’t) we get jack. Of course we all knew this up front, same as we all know the special edition will hit at the end of the year. It’s weak, but this movie was so huge that they could have probably gotten away with selling it without a box... Don’t get any ideas studios!
I know I threw up a few negatives in my review, but I still enjoy the majority of Avatar. Against the odds James Cameron has made another movie for the masses and as always has done it his own way (outside of a lot of the ‘paints with all the colours of the wind’ story elements and a few too many overly clichéd characters). As a long time fan, I’d probably place this in the lower end of my favourite Jimmy C movies (just above True Lies), but again I don't mean that as a negative thing, because a lesser James Cameron movie is still ten times better than most.
Whether or not you opt for this bare bones edition is going to come down to how patient you are for the end of year mega edition, but if all you really care about is seeing the movie with a glorious transfer and a fine audio track, you’re going to be one happy Avatard. That’s what’s the hardcore fans are called right?
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 25th April 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-MD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Surround 5.1 English, Dolby Surround 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Surround 5.1 French, Dolby Surround 5.1 Portuguese
Subtitles: English HOH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
Extras: DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy and Sci-Fi
Length: 155 minutes
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