‘Avatar’ To Soon Face Its Toughest Audience Yet: The One At Home

Here we are, a little more than three months after the release of “Avatar,” and the hyperbole has proven to be true: the movie was a game-changer. MTV’s 3-D Week is a direct response to that; we’ve been following the growing interest in 3-D since before “Avatar” hit theaters, and studios across the board are getting behind it. A lot of the excitement around the format lies in getting people out to theaters again; high definition displays, surround sound and Blu-ray have made it all too easy to recreate the experience of going out to the movies in the home. And while at-home 3-D technology isn’t as far off as you might think, it’s going to be some time before everyone adopts it.

As a result, “Avatar” — which hits DVD and Blu-ray on April 22 — faces an interesting new challenge. The majority of tickets sold for James Cameron’s record-breaking sci-fi epic were for 3-D screenings. I have to wonder how the movie will stand up to home viewings without that added appeal of 3-D. Cameron isn’t terribly concerned.

“It’s a trade space,” he explained in an interview with MTV contributor Ryan Downey. “You’re trading one thing for another.” In this case, it’s a 3-D presentation for… what?

“The colors are incredibly vivid,” Cameron said. “The strengths of the movie are still there. The composition, the camera work, the acting, the lighting, the action, the energy, the music… all of those things are the same. The only thing you don’t have is the stereoscopic illusion, but what you get in place of that when you’re not looking through the glasses is… everything is brighter and more vivid in some ways.”

The question then becomes, will a sharper, brighter image replace for home viewers the stunning depth of field seen in the many panoramic shots of Pandora? How much does the success of “Avatar” hinge on the 3-D presentation?

Much of the movie’s praise revolved around the technological achievement. Part of that is, of course, the incredible CG work that went into bringing Pandora and its native Na’vi people to life. The lead blue-skinned aliens in particular turned in performances; they felt natural, alive. Even if 3-D was removed as a component, “Avatar” still boasts a stunning technical achievement.

On the other hand, the movie was criticized for what some saw as a derivative narrative. Writing to this point back in January, Anne Thompson pointed out that “most screenplays are derivative” in some way, and that “Avatar” feels fresher than more.

Let’s face it: a worldwide box office gross of $2.68 billion (and counting) isn’t entirely based on people thinking the 3-D looks cool. Even allowing for the added cost of 3-D tickets, the bulk of those sold for “Avatar,” that’s still an awful lot of money in the bank to pin to the digital format.

To me, “Avatar” is successful as a film for many of the same reasons that “Star Wars” was a hit. Cameron created a rich, complex universe; going into it, we feel as though we’re joining some larger story in the middle, at a crucial moment. Instead of feeling lost, we join Jake Sully as he learns about Pandora and the situation there. Through that, we come to understand the larger plot. All while reveling in the richness of the world Cameron has created.

Coming back around now to the question of how “Avatar” will fare for home audiences without the benefit of 3-D… I think it’s going to do just fine. My usual response to this kind of “bare-bones” home video release is outrage; I’m offended by what frequently feels like an attempt to bilk consumers out of money.

With “Avatar” though… really, I’m just excited. For any of its flaws, Cameron has crafted yet another far-reaching adventure, his best since “Aliens.” And this one is entirely of his own making. The sooner I can take that trip from the comfort of my couch, the happier I’ll be.