If ever there was a movie that should need no introduction, then Avatar is it. The movie currently stands at the top of the (unadjusted) box office with a worldwide gross now topping a phenomenal $US2.72 billion. That's no a bad effort from director James Cameron who held the previous record with Titanic at $US1.84 billion. In a pretty amazing turn of events, and perhaps as a sign that piracy is taking its toll, the Blu-Ray release has occurred as the movie is still making money in cinemas around the globe - a phenomenal 18 weeks after release. So here it is...
For the three of you that haven't seen this movie Avatar sees mankind mining a distant planet called Pandora. Unfortunately an indigenous tribe of the Na'vi live right above the largest deposit of Unobtanium (yes, we know, stupid name) and its up to marine Jake Sully, controlling an avatar of a Na'vi, to convince the natives to leave the area. Should he fail then there can only be bloodshed.
In terms of actors naturally it's Australia's own Sam Worthington in the lead role that steals the show. Is be the be-all-end-all of actors? No, I don't honestly think so (not yet at least), but he's believable, and likable. Support cast too are pretty impressive and seeing Sigourney Weaver back in a big-budget sci-fi movie as Dr. Grace Augustine is a joy. Zoe Saldana is great as Jake's love interest Neytiri - although she is a Na'vi and we never see her except in CG form. Finally Avatar's cast is rounded out with Stephen Lang as the "asshole" Colonel Miles Quaritch, Giovanni Ribisi as the corporate pencil pusher Parker Selfridge (think Paul Reiser as Carter Burke in James Cameron's Aliens) and Michelle Rodriguez as the chopper pilot Trudy.
I love Avatar. I could watch this movie over and over and never tire of the spectacle and even in this 2D form it's still a superb, gorgeous movie. If you don't have any plans to buy an expensive 3DTV for quite a while then this Blu-Ray is more then up to the task (although if you want some extras on your disc, you may want to continue reading).
As we mentioned in the movie summary above this disc only includes the 2D version of the film, so that is what we're reviewing here. James Cameron has opened out the image so it now fills a 16:9 TV. You're not losing anything, but have actually gained image at the top and bottom of the screen. While some may argue differently, I have absolutely no issue with this at all, and the picture quality here is so stunning you won't even notice. The picture has been encoded with the AVC MPEG-4 codec and this 50GB disc, even with a 2 hour 41 minute runtime, has a bitrate that often hovers somewhere between 25 and 35Mbps depending on the scenes involved. Colour reproduction is superb, and shadow detail is impressive.
Why then does the video only get 9.5/10. It didn't lose a mark due to the loss of 3D - I can live with that - its that there are some scenes that look like they were made for 3D, but in 2D they look a little strange and, perhaps too much like things were made for 3D. There are points when things stick out towards the screen - and it's apparent that it's mean to poke out but with 2D it looks forced. Does that make sense? There were also a couple of scenes that looked ever so slightly out of focus and blurry - perhaps that was a result of the 3D to 2D conversion, I don't know. Very, very minor issues in an otherwise nigh on perfect transfer.
Equal to the task is the superb DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (24-bit/48Khz) which is every bit as we had hoped for. It's loud, bombastic, thrilling and yet subtle all at once. Sound design in this film is nigh on perfect with clear dialogue and aggressive use of surround sound and LFE channels. You really do get the sensation of being on a distant, alien, planet. Rounding out the audio is the great score from James Horner and while it isn't quite up there with his best (we put Titanic and Aliens up the top), it's not far off.
Again, where does this film lose half a mark? Well technically the track is nigh on perfect, the only improvement we would love to see would be a bump up to 6.1 or 7.1 audio which would just add that little bit of immersion.
There are several other audio tracks on the Avatar Blu-Ray. First up is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 224kbps, and English Descriptive Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448kbps, as well as French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks encoded at 448kbps each as well. Each of these is superb, but one has to wonder why these tracks weren't dropped in order to bump up the video bitrate slightly, or throw in a couple of brief extras such as a Pop-up Trivia Track or some minor added value.
As we have known for some time this a bare-bones, movie only, disc. There are no extras at all here, not even a trailer. Fox have been very upfront however in confirming that there will be a Special Edition released close to Christmas which will include multiple discs, and extensive amounts of content.
Review By: Dave Warner