by Tony Dayoub
Sorry I've been scarce, but I've been contending with the nastiest cold, plowing through end-of-the-year screeners and some voluminous Blu-ray gift sets, all while caring for our youngest son as we prepare for a vacation. Before we part ways for the Thanksgiving holiday, however, to follow up on the ones reviewed here last week (and in anticipation of Criterion's amazing 70s-era set "America Lost and Found: The BBS Story", which is so thick with supplements I haven't yet gotten past disc 2 of this 6-disc set since receiving it this past Friday; I'll make it up to you with an in-depth look into the stunning package soon) I wanted to fill you in on another wonderful Blu-ray package well worth your time, Avatar Extended Collector's Edition Blu-ray.
If we were simply discussing extras, then this would just be a nice little gift set for those fans in your family who threw on blue paint and ran around half-naked this past Halloween, boasting a substantial collection of featurettes on the order of those Lord of the Rings Extended Editions which each contain enough ephemera to intimidate the casual fan. This set includes: over 45 minutes of deleted scenes; a short featurette presenting the magnificent production art in chronological order with dialogue from the movie played over it; the screenplay in several different stages; a whole host of production shorts; an interactive scene desconstruction; and an environmental message short (which I deem a little too self-congratulatory) where Cameron and various members of the film's cast and crew visit a native village in Brazil in danger of being run out by developers. My favorite feature, though, is the feature length documentary, "Capturing Avatar".
For someone like me, whose time is too limited to explore all of the minutiae offered in this considerably large set, "Capturing Avatar" is a welcome alternative. It distills all of the raw footage available throughout the rest of this package to provide an intriguing, and at times even suspenseful, account of how this technological marvel of filmmaking came into being. Those who see Cameron as a filmmaker who exploits his ability just to capitalize on it (a la Lucas) may leave here with a different impression, one of a perfectionist willing to share his innovations with the rest of the filmmaking community in order to advance the art for everyone. Insights like Sigourney Weaver's—in which she expounds on her contrarian theory that performance capture is actually a boon to actors, opening the doors for someone her age to play the character of a little girl, for example—lift this documentary above the usual promotional puff pieces reserved for a DVD's special feature section.
The actual extended version of Avatar, the film itself, transcends the typical problematic "director's cut" indulgences which have marred classics like Blade Runner. What a difference an additional 16 minutes makes. Maybe about half of those are devoted to establishing the hopeless life our disabled hero, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), leads back on Earth. The other half is broken up into a line here, a line there, threaded throughout the movie. Unlike the previously mentioned Lord of the Rings extended editions where extra dialogue referring to unseen locales and characters seemed more like an unnecessary luxury aimed at servicing the movies' cult of fans, this lengthier Avatar better establishes the motivations of its characters. We find out where Grace (Weaver)&ssp;gets her hardness, why the at times unguarded Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) is so invested in her people's struggles under the oppressive invaders strip-mining Pandora, and more. True, something is lost without the 3D; there is something particularly pertinent about the effect in a film where an incapacitated hero immerses himself in a new reality where he can run, soar through the skies, and lead a small revolution. But Avatar looks even more handsome at home than the sometimes blurry 3D effects allowed it to theatrically.
So as Black Friday approaches, this is one set worth keeping an eye on for those film lovers on your gift list less inclined towards the profoundly cinephilic and more in the direction of the eye-popping movie experience. Avatar Extended Collector's Edition is a gorgeous set sure to attain the status of, if not absolutely essential then at least, vital addition to any Blu-ray collection.