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June 3, 2010
Avatar Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
17/12/200929/4/2010FoxJames Cameron
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MSam Worthington

THE MOVIE
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Jake Sully (Worthington) does his video diary.

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.

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Never before have we seen CG characters like the Na'vi in Avatar.
Admittedly this movie doesn't have the most detailed, complex, or plot-twisting storyline. Without providing spoilers though there are a few shocks, including what happens to Hometree, and plenty of moments of great exhilaration. What makes this movie such a sensation is how James Cameron really has created another planet filled with unique flora and fauna - as well as gorgeous landscapes. There is no doubt that this movie is very CG heavy, but we're going to say that there has never been a movie which uses CG with such finesse as Avatar. You simply have to look at the Na'vi who, after the first 5 minutes, you won't even look at as motion captured CG characters. They are just Na'vi.

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.

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Some scenes in Avatar are breathtaking.
Certainly one of the biggest reasons Avatar became such a juggernaut in the cinemas was due to the movie being filmed, and presented, in 3D and it truly was an experience. This Blu-Ray release however only includes the 2D version of the film. Why? Well there are a couple of reasons the primary one certainly being the lack of 3DTV's and the lack of 3D Blu-Ray players on the market (the PS3 firmware update isn't due until later this year). The second reason is more of a technical one - with the Blu-Ray 3D format so new there are plenty of technical issues and testing to resolve before discs, and indeed the format, are mature enough to provide a suitable, brilliant experience that the movie deserves. Finally, it will likely be a triple dip (the first being this release, the second the Special Edition at the end of the year, and then the 3D version - that's a lot of money).

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Visual effects in this movie are sublime.
Given that something like 80% of admissions to this film at cinemas were for the 3D presentation a lot of you are probably asking how the 2D version compares. Well having seen the 3D version twice at cinemas we were keen to see this for ourselves and indeed the film does appear "flatter". It's still a great film visually, no doubt about it, and the visual effects are probably the best ever, but without the 3D some of the "wow" effects are gone - think the arrows sticking out of the trucks wheels when they land on Pandora, the plants that shrink to nothing, or those little spinning flying creatures.

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).

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Someone has been taken out in the fight!
VIDEO
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.

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Pandora's jungles are absolutely massive.
AUDIO
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.

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Visual effects are absolutely gorgeous.
EXTRAS
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.

OVERALL
We've given this disc a 8/10 overall but that mark also takes into account the complete lack of extras. If you're only after this movie then the nigh on perfect video and audio should give you no reason not to pick this up - and Fox must be commended for the lower then normal retail price. A great movie, and great transfer is all we could ask for, and it's exactly what we get.

Review By: Dave Warner

THE MOVIE
9/10
THE VIDEO
9.5/10
THE AUDIO
9.5/10
THE EXTRAS
0/10
OVERALL
8/10

Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Fox. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.