Avatar (Extended Collector's Edition) dir. James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovani Ribisi, Stephen Lang
By Alan Bacchus
There’s nothing really special edition about a Collector's Edition of Avatar, which comprises of 16 extra mins added to the original film, bringing it now to a near 3-hour running time. It’s not very special when the film came out not less than a year ago, with absolutely no time to let it even breathe and have it’s scenes, characters, motivations, special effects, and it’s individual moments of anger, sadness and comedy become etched in cinema history. It’s $700million take notwithstanding, is the film that memorable enough (yet) to justify having new footage added in?
It’s not like Lord of the Rings where there’s the books whose characters and events are already entrenched in pop culture and with an already loyal fanbase who desire to see such excised portions reinstated. And so, watching the new Avatar, I couldn’t even feel a difference in the two versions. Sure, I know the opening scene is different, because it takes place on earth, but, it took me an internet search to figure what exactly these other extra scenes are.
Why didn’t Mr. Cameron, and the fellows at Fox, wait, till say, the second and third Avatars come out before rewarding us with this special edition? Well, it surely maximizes the revenue possibilities releasing this just prior to Black Friday and at the beginning of Christmas shopping season. Or maybe it’s because secretly the filmmakers know that the film might have a shorter shelf life than it’s box office take might suggest?
I doubt the latter is the case, but I do believe 10 years from now Avatar will seem like a fun fantasy adventure, a disposable and forgettable slice of entertainment from the bygone era of 3D hyper and over-exuberance.
Looking back on the film, a third time, twice on Blu-Ray and once in 3D on the big screen, my opinion on the film has changed little.
The plotting of Cameron’s sci-fi version of Dances With Wolves borrows characters, dramatic arcs and story beats are all rooted in familiar storytelling, in addition to Wolves, films like Braveheart, Last of the Mohicans, The Matrix and a number of westerns all contribute to Cameron's screenplay. Although I’ve heard Mr. Cameron expound again and again that ultimately, ’it comes down to story’, it’s all BS because clearly story here takes a backseat for special effects and spectacle. So let’s leave the story as that - a functional skeleton for Cameron to hang all his fantastical creations.
The creatures are all rendered as perfect as can be compared to other CGI films. The blue creatures look almost real. But of course they can never look 100% real, because there is no such creature as a Na’vi. They run just like humans, can shoot guns and arrows just like humans and embrace and kiss just like humans. Everything works as good as it can. But their computer generated facial expressions can never substitute for the expressiveness of the humans - though Cameron would argue against that as well. And so, true immersion into the material comes down to whether you don’t mind watching nine-foot talk blue people interact and act like humans. ‘Titanic’ had worse dialogue and worse characters, yet when Jack was saying goodbye to Rose as her lifeboat was being lowered into the water the moment hit us in the gut because Leonardo Di Caprio was a real person and Kate Winslet was a real person. Avatar does not have that luxury and thus these moments never quite work as well.
The action is a marvel and mind blowing. The final twenty minutes, Transformers-like army vs. army battle, the kind of battle which could have easily been a wash of random swooshing imagery, quick cuts and incomprehensive movement is executed with typical Cameron panache. Even after 15 years, Cameron it appeared to me he hadn’t lost a step in that department.
And yet, after I saw Aliens again, I think he has. The organic feeling we get from the action between physical humans and physical aliens (puppets, of course, but animate objects no less), can not be fully substituted with CGI. And this is where Avatar never reaches it’s full potential, no matter how hard Cameron has tried (and believe me, on the accompanying documentary, he tried really really hard), he just can’t make me feel true emotions for these characters and buy into their journey.
A humble but grumpy curmudgeon.
'Avatar (Extended Collector's Edition) is available on Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment