Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Video review: "Avatar"

So what kind of video release do you give the newly minted top-grossing film of all time?

One full of oodles of never-before-seen insights and peeks behind the scenes? An interactive pop-up commentary with auteur James Cameron? Exclusive interviews with the cast? Dare we imagine 3-D presentation to take advantage of all those expensive new televisions with this feature?

For "Avatar," the answers to these questions are: No, nope, uh-uh and fugeddaboutit.

The cinematic sensation is being given an absolute bare-bones video release on April 22 (to coincide with Earth Day). It's arriving with zero extras, whether you choose the DVD version or the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack (though the latter does at least include a digital copy).

Cameron is known for waiting to deliver the real goods with a special edition that usually includes a longer director's cut (see "Terminator 2," "The Abyss"). I believe that's what we can expect with "Avatar."

So if you want all the goodies a watershed film like this demands, content yourself with just renting for now.

Like "Titanic," James Cameron's other much-loved and -loathed epic, "Avatar" is a film whose flaws become more apparent after you've left the cinema. The clunky dialogue, derivative plot and downright silly sci-fi gobbledygook (Unobtainium?) tends to pile up.

But while you're in the theater, sitting there in the dark, it's a thoroughly engrossing spectacle of the first order as we witness the plight of the blue-skinned alien Na'vi and their paradise planet of Pandora, which is steadily being encroached upon by greedy humans plundering it for ore.

Whether or not that experience will translate to your living room television, with the dog barking and the kids clamoring, is a good question. I wish I could answer it for you ... but I can't. The studio declined to provide review copies prior to the release date.

(I suppose with $2.7 billion in ticket sales, they figure they don't have to spend any dough to promote it.)

My guess is that "Avatar" will diminish somewhat on the small screen. Some films -- "Lawrence of Arabia," "Ben-Hur," "Saving Private Ryan" -- need a big canvas to envelop you. But it says something that "Avatar" belongs among those titles.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 1 star

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