Blu-Ray Review: Avatar -- Collector's Edition

Can a man really have too much Avatar? If your answer is no, then the Avatar Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition Blu-ray is for you. This beautifully packaged collector's set is the be-all and end-all of Avatar sets, swimming in so many special features that you cannot possibly sit through them all in a single sitting. It is a disc meant to be enjoyed through the years, offering a wealth of information and additional footage that radically expands the world of Pandora and the heroes we've come to know who tread upon it.

The first and most important thing you get in this set are the variants of the film. This comes complete with the original Theatrical Cut (what you saw in theaters) with a gorgeous, beautiful transfer that is honestly one of the best-looking Blu-rays I've ever projected on my system. On top of that you get the recent theatrical Special Edition Re-Release, with eight minutes of additional footage. And finally, you get the Collector's Extended Cut, a version of the film with 16 additional minutes. These additional minutes aren't merely an added scene or two -- they are spread throughout, sometimes proving to be an extra 10 or 20 seconds that flesh out a scene and further expand upon the story or character. There is an expanded opening that spends some time with Sully on Earth, a sequence inside of the Na'vi school, and scads of information on the backstory of Neytiri's interaction with the earthlings. All told, the final version runs two hours and 51 minutes without credits. And in one of the smartest moves I've seen in a genre film release, the disc comes with an additional Optional Family Audio Track, which scrubs the movie clean of any objectionable language that might otherwise keep families from sharing the film with younger audience members.

Supplementing all this is 67 minutes of additional deleted scenes -- only a small portion of which is contradictory. These scenes are generally unfinished and come prefaced with a three-minute explanation on all the various stages of completion that those unfamiliar with watching a workprint will encounter. Some sequences are barely rendered, still have their green screen, or, in a small number of cases, are nothing more than the actors in their CG modeling rig, acting out scenes that were never rendered in any way whatsoever. But almost every bit of extra footage is fantastic. There are some incredibly interesting scenes that hit the cutting-room floor, including Sully's psychedelic "Dreamhunt," a hallucinogenic trip into his mind's eye, where he connects with Eywa and is born again; a fight with Tsu'tey before begin awoken by the Colonel; and expanded character integration with the storyline. Both Michelle Rodriguez and Joel David Moore find their work restored for the audience, including an entire romantic storyline between them that was cut from the final film. The rumored sex scene is nowhere to be found in this footage. Almost everything here is pure gold, and I wouldn't doubt that once Cameron has his shop up and running again for Avatar sequels that he tasks a few of his guys to finish all this footage for an ultimate four-hour cut of Avatar to be released far in the future. (If he made it, I'd buy it.)

And finally, if four hours of Avatar isn't enough to slake your thirst, there is an expansive hour-and-a-half making-of -- a crash course in making an epic science-fiction film that interviews everyone from the sculptors and seamstresses to Cameron and compositors. The making-of is one of the deepest and most intensive that I've seen. Most making-ofs of this length have long patches of watching sequences being shot and focus on the director's method. Instead, this is a rapid-fire movement from department to department, showing how everything came together from script to design to finding the actors, making the props, and getting the CG and 3-D just right. Additonal materials include a series of production featurettes, scene deconstruction, more photos than you can shake a stick at, and a message from Pandora -- a short plea for ecological harmony.

All in all, I spent the better part of the weekend swimming through all of this and loved every minute of it. This is the must-own Blu-ray of the season. The Collector's Edition cut, like most of Cameron's director's cuts, is the definitive edition, and I can't imagine watching the theatrical cut ever again unless it is in a theater at a retrospective in 3-D.

Avatar Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition is available now on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox.