In the short four months since it hit cinemas, James Cameron’s visual spectacle Avatar has broken all box office records to become the highest grossing film of all time – knocking Cameron’s own Titanic into second place on the list. Indeed, so many people have seen the film during its theatrical run that the marketing campaign for the DVD and Blu-ray release invites audiences to ‘return to Pandora’; so assuming that this would be the second (or third, or more) time of watching the film for many of those who choose to buy it. That it will break home entertainment sales records over the coming week seems to be a pretty safe bet.
So, why all the furore? In short, Avatar is like nothing you’ve ever seen on the big screen before. Projected in digital and experienced in RealD 3D it is an awe-inspiring, immersive experience, an ever-changing canvas of lush landscapes, exhilarating action sequences and an attention to detail that has captivated audiences around the world. It’s the first film to really embrace and use 3D in such a sophisticated and natural way, and is perhaps the greatest event film in recent history, which is why audiences have been won over in the droves.
But – and it’s a big but – once you delve beneath the groundbreaking effects and amazing visuals, Avatar is pretty standard fare. The story of humans travelling to a distant lands – in this case, the planet of Pandora – and attempting to stamp their authority on the landscape and the indigenous people for their own ends is nothing new in cinema;indeed, it is a well-worn narrative seen in everything from Disney’s Pocahontas to Kevin Costner epic Dancing With Wolves. And seeing as the film has been released in 2D only, there’s less to detract from the weak story, ropey dialogue and cast of characters that, despite their CGI loveliness, are rather, well, two-dimensional. Their behaviour, like the story, is utterly predictable from start to finish; in fact, the film is a by-the-numbers, cardboard cutout Hollywood action-adventure-come-love-story that only stands apart thanks to its cutting edge visuals. And we haven’t even started on the suffocating moralising that Cameron has packed into his film, which preaches equality, tolerance and environmental awareness with such a heavy hand that it leadens the pace of the whole film.
Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of people who have taken Avatar to their hearts, and who have proclaimed it to be the greatest film ever made. And it’s they who will be clamouring to take the film into their homes as soon as possible; which is perhaps the worst thing about this DVD and Blu-ray release. Both formats include only the 2D version of the film, with absolutely no extras. Of course, Fox have released this vanilla disc as early as possible – the film is still playing in some cinemas – to cash (cow) in on its huge popularity, and will release an all-singing, all-dancing extra laden version later in the year in the hopes that some people will buy both versions. And as much as we can suggest that you might want to wait for that version before you give yet more of your cash to this behemoth of a film, we know we may be fighting a losing battle. (2.5 stars)
Stars Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver
Director James Cameron
Format DVD & Blu-ray
Distributor Twentieth Century Fox
Released April 26