Written by Diane Tillis
The world of Avatar has been a part of James Cameron’s dreams for over a decade. When he initially approached studios to pitch the concept, they denied him the opportunity, citing the huge budget that would be necessary to create the film. Thus Cameron had to wait for technology to catch up with his vision. Flash forward a decade with the advancements in capture-motion cameras and 3D technology; Cameron finally saw his opportunity. With an amazing crew of visionaries, Cameron broke several boundaries in the film industry and created a cultural phenomenon. In early April 2010, the theatrical version of Avatar was released on DVD with only the feature film and no special features. Now in November 2010, the extended collector’s edition of Avatar is released with tons of goodies. The collection includes three versions of the film: the original theatrical version, the re-release version with eight minutes of deleted scenes, and the extended collector’s version with sixteen minutes of deleted scenes. The collection is divided into three discs. The first and second discs have the three versions of Avatar, each split in half. Thus, when you watch one version, an hour and a half later you will have to switch to the second disc to continue the movie. The third discs has all the deleted scenes from the films collected for instant viewing, forty-five minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes in various stages of production, and a ninety-eight minute behind-the-scenes featurette.
Avatar is an epic science-fiction film set in 2154 when humans have extended their reach into space. Behold the planet Pandora, which from space looks very similar to Earth, but it couldn’t be more different. Pandora is covered with rainforests, gigantic trees, and floating mountains. Every type of animal has six legs. At night, plants glow with bright fluorescent colors. Pandora is inhabited by the Na’vi; six-foot, blue skinned people with cat-like features. The Na’vi live by the laws of nature.
The RDA Corporation has come to Pandora to mine a very valuable mineral called Unobtanium from the soil. After mining, they sell it back on Earth for billions of dollars. Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) is in charge of the RDA base on Pandora. It is up to him to negotiate with the Na’vi so they can mine the mineral. However the Na’vi are less than pleased with the alien humans who have come to pillage their planet. A team of scientists led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) are in charge of RDA’s Avatar program. This program allows humans to control a body of a genetically altered Na’vi spliced with human DNA. The hope is that these Avatars will be able to win over the natives, learn their ways, and help to limit the hostilities between RDA and the Na’vi.
Avatar is told from the perspective of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former Marine. His twin brother was a scientist with the Avatar program, but was murdered on Earth before leaving for Pandora. Since Jake’s DNA is a close match to his brother’s, RDA invites him to replace his brother and train as an Avatar pilot. The opportunity to earn money to fix his spine, to travel to a new planet, and to keep living the military life entices Jake to accept the offer. The captain of RDA’s security team, Miles Quaritch (Stephan Lang) recruits Jake to represent the military perspective amongst the scientists. He asks Jake to gather information on the Na’vi that will help RDA get rid of them. In return, Quaritch will help Jake get the surgery he needs to fix his spine free of cost.
In Avatar form, Jake bonds with a female Na’vi, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Neytiri teaches Jake how to live as one of the Na’vi. He learns to hunt, to read the signs of the forest, and to be a member of the tribe. Jake’s love for Neytiri and the Na’vi change his perspective. He begins to see the humans as the invading aliens who destroyed their planet and the Na’vi as the protectors of their planet. Together with the help of Dr. Augustine, fellow scientist Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore), and military pilot Trudy Chaco (Michelle Rodriguez), the Na’vi wage a war against the RDA military campaign for Pandora.
From the storytelling aspect, Avatar is unremarkable. It tells the story of a heroic character who is torn between two worlds, but ends up siding with the one that is less technologically advanced. In the case of Avatar, the humans are the aliens who are trying to destroy another race of beings. Their technological advances have made humans less in-tune with nature and the needs of their planet. They travel to another planet to discover a race of beings that believe in the opposite and have no desire to change. Naturally humans have to show that they are the superior being and choose to do so by force. This story arc has been approached time and time again. Cameron fills the pages of Avatar with clichéd characters, situations, and outcomes that add no originality to his version of the arc. It is easy to determine the outcome of the film within the first thirty minutes.
The story may be boring, but audiences across the globe keep watching Avatar because it is visually stunning. Cameron’s mission was to create a new world and to make it look are real as possible with the technology available to him. The attention to detail in Avatar from the Na’vi character designs to the rainforests of Pandora look so real you could believe for a moment that Pandora does exist. From a visual standpoint, Avatar is one of the best films ever produced.
The video aspect ratio is 1.78:1. There is no possible way to dispute the brilliant video quality of Avatar. The seamless integration of computer-generated creatures/environments with live-action actors/sets is perfect. The colors of the extended collector’s cut are stunning, possibly too perfect. They pop on the screen with great precision and clarity. Each version of the film seems to have the same visual quality; thus one is no better than the others. Let’s face it; Avatar was all about the visuals!
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, language choices of English, Spanish, and French with English or Spanish subtitles. Like the video quality, the audio quality is pristine. My only complaint is the volume level of the action or battle sequences seem to be greater than the dialog-only sequences. However, if you like watching films on the highest volume, you will be impressed with the range of sounds that are emitted from the film. From water droplets falling on leaves to the roar of battle cries, each sound is distinct and clear to the ear.
The extended collector’s edition includes the Optional Family Audio Track for the theatrical and special edition re-release editions of the film, but not for the collector’s cut. This track omits all the objectionable language from the film. There wasn’t a lot of cursing in the film to begin with, but for those families with younger children this feature will make is easier for them to censor the film, although it doesn’t remove any of the visual content, so the violent images and adult situations are still present!
The special features for the collector’s extended edition of Avatar are contained on the third disc. These features include the deleted scenes added to the re-release and collector’s editions separated from the film, forty-five minutes of deleted scenes in various stages of production, and a ninety-eight minute behind-the-scenes featurette.
The special edition re-release contains eight minutes of deleted scenes. The collector’s extended edition contains the same eight minutes of deleted scenes from the re-release plus an additional eight minutes of deleted scenes. These deleted scenes included in the two additional versions of the film are final cuts removed from the theatrical cut of the film probably for time’s sake, but they do serve a purpose. Several of these scenes expand on plot lines, further develop characters, and introduce a Pandoric creature, the Sturmbeests. The scenes are:
Earth / Herd / The Schoolhouse / Purple Moss / I Don’t Even Know Your Name / Sylwanin / What Does Hold Them Up? / Alternate Montage With Grace’s Story / Neytiri’s Flyby / Sturmbeest Hunt / Extended Love Scene / Drums Of War / They Bulldozed A Sacred Site / Tsu’tey’s Fall / Sturmbeest Attack / Extended Thanator Fight / The Last Shadow
The new opening sequence “Earth” is one of the more interesting scenes because it gives the audience a visual comparison between the forested Pandora and the technological Earth. The story of Neytiri’s sister Sylwanin and the schoolhouse is revealed by Dr. Augustine. The Stumbeests could be compared to Earth’s buffalo blended with the horns of a rhinoceros. There is a hunt scene with the Na’Vi and the Sturmbeests that is interesting to watch. The “Extended Love Scene” is not explicit. Jake and Neytiri connect their braids along with the original make-out session.
The third disc of the collector’s extended edition contains forty-five minutes of never before seen deleted scenes cut before the film was finished. Before you watch the scenes, there is short introduction that describes the various stages of production each scene may be in and what is missing from the scene. There are twenty-eight scenes, most of them serve little purpose and add nothing to the plot. These scenes are:
Stingbat Attack / Pandora Rules / Jake Meets Norm / Jake Sees Decanted Avatars / Norm Is A Living God / Breakfast With The Scientists / You’re In My World Now / Grandma’s Teylu / Pied Piper / Going To The Mountains / Interspecies Booty Call / Norm’s Attitude Improves / Learning Montage Section (Early Cut) / We’re Buying Time / Hunt Festival / Driving Range / The Dreamhunt / The Challenge / The Drums Of War (Full Version) / Escape / The Eye Of Eywa / You’re A Long Way From Earth / Battle Camp / Kick Some Blue Ass / Wainfleet Kill’s Norm / Neytiri Kills Wainfleet (Alternate Wainfleet Death) / The Avatars Attack / New Life
The “Interspecies Booty Call” scene is humorous. The “Dreamhunt” scene in which Jack goes on a drug trip is trippy. Each clip is presented with a bit of the feature before and after the deleted scene. This gives the audience some context as to where it would have been in the film if Cameron didn’t cut it.
Then there is the ninety-eight minute behind-the-scenes featurette, Capturing Avatar. This documentary is intense and comprehensive. It quickly goes through Cameron’s journey from the film’s conception to the design stages into shooting and post-production. You learn about the writing process, casting, getting the green light, and the difficulty of working with the advanced technology employed for the film. Obviously there is a lot of focus aimed at the technological side of Avatar. I thought the segments that discussed the evolution of the character/creature designs and costume designs were the most interesting.
It is difficult for me to put into writing how I feel about Avatar. On one hand, I do think it is visually breathtaking. Sometimes I had to remind myself that Pandora and the Na’vi characters were truly computer creations. On the other hand, I am a writer and firmly believe that films should have a great story to capture their audience. Avatar was lucky in that it had the amazing visuals to make up for a poor story and clichéd characters. I can only hope for the future sequels that Cameron will work on the story as much as he works on the visuals. For fans of Avatar or people who simply enjoyed the film, I recommend buying the extended collector’s edition. This edition comes with the best version of the film, lots of deleted scenes, and a great behind-the-scenes featuret