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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Avatar: Extended Collector's Edition

November 14th, 2010

Avatar: Extended Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

This is the second time Avatar has been released on the home market in roughly six months. Normally this is far too short a time between a regular edition and a special edition. Indeed, there appears to be quite a backlash against this release on the user reviews. However, I would consider this more inline with the Lord of the Rings releases, since the special edition was announced before the regular edition was released, it is not a cheap gimmick to grab additional money from fans. That said, is the Extended Collector's Edition worth the wait? And is the DVD or Blu-ray worth picking up?

The Movie

First a quick note. This is less of a review than it is an update. I reviewed Avatar back when it first hit the home market, and while there are substantial additions to the movie, there's not enough to really change my opinion overall. This is a good thing, as I recommended watching, and re-watching, the movie the first time around.

The basic plot... The movie tells the story of Jake Sully, a former marine who was paralyzed as the result of being wounded in combat. He travels to Pandora, a distant planet, where he is to inhabit the body of an Avatar in order to mingle with the indigenous people, the Na'vi. He is being paid by a mining company to get as much information about the Na'vi as possible, so the company can send its army in to remove them from a valuable mineral deposit. If he succeeds, the company will pay for his surgery to fix his spine. However, the more he learns about the Na'vi, the less inclined he is to help the military and the more he is on the side of the Na'vi.

So what's new with the extended edition? Plotwise, we don't get much. There's an extended opening, plus a scene in an abandoned schoolhouse on Pandora and another on what happened there. However, it is mostly extended shots of Pandora and the wildlife. I understand both the cuts and why they make great additions. The first time you see the movie, you want to get to Pandora A.S.A.P., so shortening the opening makes sense. However, the second time through, the emotional notes help. Also, I liked seeing a wider array of creatures, including very small animals, like insects. It makes the world seem more real. Plus, they explained how the mountains float. (It's magnets. And now I have that stupid Insane Clown Posse song stuck in my head.) And yes, there is an extended sex scene, but don't buy the Blu-ray just because you want hardcore Na'vi sex, because you will be disappointed. Personally, I was worried that the sex scene would have been the largest single addition. Fortunately that is not the case.

Finally, with the new additions, the total running time is just a couple minutes shy of three hours. That's long, but its manages to keep up the pace throughout.

The Extras

I only have the Blu-ray, so I'm not sure what extras are and are not exclusive to the Blu-ray. Some are obvious (Picture-in-Picture, BD-Live) while others are not.

Extras on Disc one include three or four versions of the movie, depending on your definition. There's the theatrical run, re-release, and the newest version. There is also a family friendly audio track option, which is nice to include, but not a real selling point for me. The only other extra is the ability to watch just the new scenes, which is a godsend for critics who don't want to watch the movie three times trying to figure out what is new to each edition.

Over on disc two we find more than an hour or deleted / extended / alternative scenes. I'm not kidding. It's a three-hour movie, and there's an hour more footage. Granted, this doesn't mean they could make a four-hour cut of the movie, as a lot of scenes only add a bit of new footage to a longer existing scene. They are in various stages of production with a lot of special effects missing. An intro explains these stages and why the scenes look the way they do. I would be surprised if many people reading this don't understand the green screen process. Next up is a four-part, 100-minute long making of documentary, which starts way back in Canada with James Cameron's childhood. We see the film being created from building the world of Pandora, as well the technology needed to create it. A Message From Pandora is a 20-minute featurette on the environmental concerns James Cameron has had for most of his life and specifically about the Amazon Rain Forest. Finally, there are 84 minutes of production materials. This includes screen tests, concept art, Zoe Saldana getting her body cast done, etc. That's more than four hours of total extras on disc two.

Disc three starts with an hour of scenes that can be viewed three ways. There's Picture-in-Picture with final film and motion capture session, early animation, and the motion capture session. Next up are 17 featurettes of various lengths about many subjects that were touched on in the major documentary, like the scene of some of the animals, but here we get more focus. Avatar Archives has stuff like the script, an encyclopedia, etc. Plus, disc three has the BD-Live portal.

Moving onto the film's technical presentation, it's just as good as the original release. In other words, it is arguably the best looking live action Blu-ray I've reviewed.

As for the price, that depends on which price you are talking about. The list price for the Blu-ray is $55, which is rather high. Yes, you get a lot for that money, but it is still pricey and it might scare away all but the most hardcore fans. On the other hand, has the DVD for just $20 and the Blu-ray for just $25. That's beyond a bargain, especially considering how much this movie shines in High Definition.

The Verdict

If you were able to hold off buying the previous release of Avatar, then the wait for the Extended Collector's Edition was worth it. If you bought the featureless DVD / Blu-ray, then this edition is still worth the upgrade, especially given the price on Amazon for the DVD or the Blu-ray. My only concern is the inevitable 3D version, which will likely come out relatively soon, perhaps as early as this time next year, and certainly before the sequel hits theaters in 2014.

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Filed under: Video Review, Avatar