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Avatar: Extended Collector's Edition

1/10/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Avatar: Extended in the USA - or Buy Avatar: Extended in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: 20th Century Fox 5068101000. Original film: 155 minutes. Special Edition: 163 minutes. Collector's Extended Cut: 170 minutes. 3 DVDs with extras. Price: about GBP 7.00 (UK) if you know where to look). stars: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang.

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All right, so I’m a bit late reviewing ‘Avatar’ but with three versions of the same film felt safer to wait just in case a fourth one suddenly sprung up. As it turns out, I only wanted to watch the extra long version, feeling it would encompass the other two versions. It isn’t difficult to avoid reading about a film if you know what to do. However, in this instance, I’m going to assume most of you have seen the film already so apologises if I skip anything and go for the chase - literally. From the extras, the reason for the different lengths was more to do with leaving out things for the theatrical release and to ensure they completed on time for the theatrical release. Speaking of which, director/writer Jim Cameron explains that the planet Pandora is essentially his teen-age SF world. Analysing this, it isn’t difficult to surmise some of the novel influences he had from back then and why so much of this film felt familiar ground.

Director/writer Jim Cameron borrowed a lot of different elements. The avatar aspect owes a lot to Poul Anderson’s story ‘Call Me Joe’, but then his was the first and only avatar based story for a long, long time. Whether making Sully a paraplegic like Ed Angelsey was a tip of the hat to Anderson as a homage or not is debatable but the film moves away from Sully’s inability to walk when you would think the freedom of being a Na’Vi would have been a better dividing factor of choice of life. It’s a shame more wasn’t made of this to contribute to his choice of body. Of all the avatars, he had the most to gain from the transition.

The film’s ecology and attacks on the native species owes far more to how the original American settlers attacked the Native Americans for their territory than anything. Indeed, the preservation of any ecology is a pressing issue of this film. Assuming you haven’t stopped the film at the credits at the end of the second DVD, there is an interesting take on this. Jake Sully’s own story is essentially a fish out of water adapting to new circumstances. One point Cameron inadvertently made out of all of this is that any survey team should have people from a variety of disciplines than just one. If Cameron had a more religious bent when young, we might have ended up with missionaries rather than scientists involved here.

There is one enormous flaw in the story. No matter the time period, no matter the species or planet, only a good old-fashioned violent war seems to settle differences. Granted that this is still a Hollywood film, expected to get bums on seats, but it would be nice to show that even in a future setting that perhaps other effective solutions could have been sought and not just use SF trappings to achieve the aims, even if the suppressed ultimately win here. Considering that Pandora appears to be a moon around a gas giant, you would have thought this mineral, unobtainium (what kind of scientific name is that?) might have been located on other planets in that star system.

Another puzzle is just what did the Pandora human colony do for the decade it took for the supply ship to arrive. Logistically, one could envisage them making repairs after the failure of the school but can you honestly see the military under Miles Quaritch sitting on their hands for so long?

Technology wise, it seems odd that in the future there wouldn’t be any advances in wheelchair design, especially when you compare to what is available today, although it is explained that it would have been expensive to restore the use of Sully’s legs even with a military pension. Cameron’s desire to have practical looking technology makes for some interesting flying vehicles on Pandora although considering the number of sky islands, I would have wondered if metal would have been affected by any of the planet’s magnetic effects.

Then again, I did ponder on what was so lethal about Pandora’s atmosphere. Considering that Sully’s burning spear kept going so long tends to suggest a decent supply of oxygen and in that case, any other gases would be a lot slower. As Miles Quaritch kept breathing without his mask, it does make me wonder how bad toxic the air really was.

I did ponder on how the humans got hold of the Na’Vi DNA, let alone splice it to human DNA the way they did as the two species are so diverse. Two centuries into the future, I guess that’s probably as possible as being able to induce personality transfer into its form. Saying that, you would have thought that having encountered them before, the Na’Vi would have seen these avatars collapse when their personalities returned to their original bodies and destroyed these hybrid bodies as being something not belonging to their planet, let alone their tribe. Considering their synchronicity with nature, you would have thought the Na’Vi would have felt uncomfortable with this tinkering. Shame there was no indication of the time lapse of night to day although I suspect it was probably a bit longer for the Pandora night and the Na’Vi aren’t night owls. Even with motion capture and I hate saying this after viewing the extras, the Na’Vi were still mostly humans walking than a truly arboreal species. Then again, without certain human-like characteristics and emotions, would humans be able to relate to an alien species? I suspect in a couple more generations of CGI, humans won’t even be needed. I would also have felt that their loin clothes were a bit on the long size but as an Na-Vi avoid miss stepping on each other’s tails, maybe they didn’t see it that way. The entire ecology of Pandora seems dependent on co-operation of all species together. Oddly, I didn’t think the Na’Vi were at the top of the food chain but we only had a sampling of the species and even other tribes at the end.

Now here’s an oddity from the extras. All the Pandoran species are based on six limbs, so why do the Na’vi only have four, tails don’t count. Even if they were nascent or lost, you would at least expect nascent limbs along their ribs. Likewise, their blue colourisation is also not carried over from the other species on this planet. It can hardly be seen as true camouflage and without examples of their blood, just how translucent their skin is. Considering Jim Cameron’s desire for mechanical practicability, one would have to address the biology problem. As I’m supposed to be scheduled to be looking at one of the vaults shortly, maybe I’ll see the answer to those two particular questions there.

That’s me in the critical mode. It’s easy to appreciate how well done the special effects were done and take for granted considering the number of companies used to bring it all together. Considering the budget for ‘Avatar’, to fail would have been a massive disappointment. Oddly, the story was more plot driven than characters with little fleshing out from my point of view. Then again, had Cameron done that then there would have been another hour added to the film. Considering the rare interactions between humans and Na’Vi, one also tends to ignore the size differential between them. Considering there was some emphasis of this at the beginning of the film, it tends to be forgotten for most of it.

Seeing ‘Avatar’ on a plasma screen gives it a three-dimension effect by the way regardless of the TV’s age. I can understand why Camerson sees the film as ground-breaking in so many ways and it will be interesting to see if future film-makers will go the same route, although I suspect they will only choose it for films that won’t look like ‘Avatar’. Unlike Cameron’s ‘Terminator II’ and ‘The Abyss’ where he introduced CGI effects for general consumption, it was there for others to learn and apply the technique rather than let it dominate the film. Any other director going the ‘Avatar’ way will always be compared to this film. An interesting experiment but I bet a lot of directors will hope the price will drop before going a similar route.

GF Willmetts

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