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"Avatar" DVD Review

In keeping with the (if you think about it) ironic greed of James Cameron and 20th Century Fox, the home video release of Avatar last week was a half-assed affair; a cheap cash grab with a bare-boned, extras-free DVD/Blu-ray release timed to fleece tree-huggers who can't spot the irony of buying high-tech video discs on plastic to save the planet with a tree planted with the proceeds. A proper, extras-laden (and possibly extended) version will be released around the holidays later this year, so I was planning on skipping picking it up until then, but a CVS deal which made the DVD only $5 happened, so I decided to hop on it because my girlfriend had managed to avoid it in theaters and since she can't see 3D (due to eye problems) it didn't make much difference other than the scale of the presentation.

I reviewed the movie before there was a DirkFlix, in the heat of the middle of the night after the midnight showing opening day, when the box office take was less than $10 million, with the idea it would eventually gross another $2.7 BILLION in a couple of months and become the top grossing (spare me the inflation-adjusted stuff; I know) film of all time, surpassing Cameron's Titanic and elevating his rank from King of the World to King of the Universe. I've joked that Avatar has made so much money that Cameron won't even need to use CGI for the sequel because he'll be able to shoot it on location.

But how does a film made with the latest technology for a 3D theatrical experience work on plain old DVD? Not so great. There is simply too much detail in the 2-2/3-hour-long film to have it properly rendered. It looks hella better on Blu-ray, but as The Digital Bits' review points out, even that's not quite enough. (Bill Hunt also shares my view on the DVD, "I STRONGLY discourage anyone from viewing this film in SD.")

Since I've already reviewed it, I want to discuss what is the hands-down worst-written scene in the film. Cameron's has gotten grief for his occasionally on-the-nose and clunky dialog and there's plenty of that, mostly coming from the painted-in-shades-of-black villain Quaritch. But what is truly howlingly terrible is this contender for the Basil Exposition Memorial Hall of Fame:

The only reason these two are saying the things they say is to inform the audience; they already know what they're talking about. Did Grace need to be told about Unobtainium and what its street value is? Did they have to discuss why Jake was sent for the mission? Did they have to explain about the schools and Na'vi outreach program? No, no, and no. While this was stuff the audience needs to know, it could've been more organically conveyed in another way. If Norman, the other new guy, had filled in Jake (who would be a logical audience surrogate in need of the info) with what was going on, it would've told him what had been happening on Pandora (which he would've needed to know) and set up Norman's resentment over Jake's ease at being taken in by the tribe.

As I mentioned in my original review, a handful of minor script tweaks would've greatly mitigated the most grating aspects of the movie. It still would've been a rote, predictable Dances with Thundersmurfs enviro-nitwit story, but it wouldn't have clanged so hard, making it seem worse than it was. Sure, it made a metric megaton of cash, but for all its visual splendor and groundbreaking tech, it wasn't a great example of writing - it's the worst thing James Cameron has done; worse than the end of The Abyss - and with all the time and money spent on the visuals, there's no reason a few hours on smartening-up the script couldn't have been spent.

After a second viewing and some time to ponder, I'm giving Avatar a slightly downgraded Score: 8/10. DO NOT buy it on DVD EVER, and only get the Blu-ray now if you just can't wait until the proper release comes out later this year. As it stands, the only worse way to see Avatar would be watch it on VHS taped off of standard-def TV.


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