On the verdant herbaceous moon Pandora, the Na'vi people live and worship atop a rich deposit of Unobtanium.
According to director/writer James Cameron, we continue to repeat history up to 2154 A.D. Like the Wild West or the Middle East, a bunch of bullies commandeer what someone else owns. Yet more depressing, this coveted mineral is needed to avert another Earth energy crisis! For 150 more years we soldier on in our pursuit of power. We'd still rather give in to greed and give away lives than to give up guzzling gas.
(Do the math. How about rerouting the 1½ century of fuel, funds and smarts to fly 4.3 light years on a spaceship carrying an über-ultra-armed small city?)
Our hero, paraplegic Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is experiencing a 1990's déjà vu. Having injured his spine in the Marines, he has been left to procure his own costly cure. To pay for it, he agrees to replace his recently deceased twin brother on a military/science mission to Pandora.
(By the by, my etymological search revealed that the word unobtanium comes from various sources: un from middle English, meaning "not", tan from early Latin tenet "to take", and ium from the late twentieth century, a "dangerous stuff", that after you take and use it, you have to safely trash it. One of those lose/lose scenarios that wars are made of.)
On the losing win/win side is Earthling Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who would rather chat up the Na'vi for permission to strip-mine under their sacred tree. Good luck.
In the wings - of the intergalactic aerocraft - Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and company man Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) have other uncompromising plans - with their shipload of weapons. We watch the save-the-tree issue morphing with racial and religious conflicts. (Will baby seals be seen in the sequel? Cameron promises a wet Alpha Centaurian Abyss.)
Meanwhile, the plot thickens when Sully, in his fully mobilized Avatar outfit, falls for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), an Omaticayan belle.
Here's where the tale dances with wolves, (as Cameron admits), and Sully feels more Na'vi than Navy. So as not to ruin the movie, I will reveal no spoilers about who triumphs in love and war. Suffice to say, it is a fair Cameron movie.
The story reflects the Cameron schizophrenia: one part loves amor; and the other adores a war, The Titanic versus The Terminator. The heavy-handed script sticks with clichés and leaves originality, innovation and invention to the art department.
Where the story snores, the artistry soars; when the warfare wearies, the effects excite; and while the romance revamps reruns, the dazzling digital wizardry revolutionizes the impending proliferation of 3D movies.
Did Cameron set out to make the biggest movie of all time? Avatar is the first movie to surpass two billion dollars at the box office. With that intake, Cameron beat himself, out-earning his own top-grossing Titanic.
(Editor's Note: In the first four days since its release, Avatar has already become the best selling Blu-ray of all time, with 2.7 million units sold in North America.)
Cameron knows how to seize success and run with it...
...which introduces the third dimension. This Blu-ray is not 3D. But when more 3D capable HDTVs are manufactured for the mass market - and very soon they will be - Cameron is already in front of the fracas.
As for the question of how much is sacrificed to see the film flush on your flat screen? Not much. Without glasses to filter the duo-dimensional version, you experience startling color. And the opulent images are equally indelible.
This crisp HD version is visibly overwhelming in its own unique way. And there is a jewel-like quality in the size. Precious like a diamond. (Corny but true.)
(Editor's Note: Since 3D polarizing glasses cut the amount of light reaching your eyes, those who have only seen the 3D version in the theaters will be pleasantly surprised by the brightness and color saturation of this Blu-ray. Also, Cameron decided to leave the screen proportion at the 1.78:1 ratio that was used on IMAX screens, which fits perfectly on 16:9 HDTV displays.)
And now for the really sad news. THERE ARE NO BONUS FEATURES. I am sure there will be someday, just as I am sure Cameron will race to the starting gate to be one of the first to sell a 3D Blu-ray.
As a confessed Extras junkie, I am still suffering withdrawal from the denial of my highly anticipated data fix. Until then you will have to conduct your own research on how computers transformed a six foot actor into a blue-skinned ten foot Na'vi.
I wanted action shots of the latest motion-capture technology for facial expressions.
I wanted to hear about Cameron's new 3D camera and the computers that spit out low-rez real-time transmutations of motion-capture live actors to fully blued Avatar and Na'vi characters.
I wanted to know why Digital Domain, (a company he co-founded and which pioneered The Titanic CG water and passenger extras), was replaced by New Zealand's Weta Digital (Lord of the Rings Trilogy) and ILM (Star Wars).
I wanted to hear composer James Horner talk about working with an ethnomusicologist and USC linguist Dr. Paul Frommer discuss the Na'vi language and pronunciation that he created. (And have Cameron utter a few phrases.) And what inspired the imagery?
I wanted to see how those gifted CG artists conjured those luminous eyes.
Since George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg visited the set to examine the new equipment in action, we know there is lots of insider info to cover.
Why depend on You Tube, when Fox could better broach Pandora's box? I, like many others who have seen the movie more than once, would buy a second DVD just for the Special Features - or better yet, the Director's Cut.
Yes, we've been outfoxed again. But bring it on.
(Editor's Note: Before you gather family and friends to watch Avatar, I suggest that you take the Blu-ray for a test spin with your equipment. Some people are reporting that the Blu-ray is not playing back in their player. Normally, this problem can be fixed by updating the firmware on your Blu-ray player.
You may need to dig out your manual, but updating is usually a simple procedure, especially if you have your player connected to the Internet. If you don't, you can still go online and download the latest firmware, transfer it to a USB flash drive and upload it to your player.
I realize that this process might seem odious, but keeping your Blu-ray player updated helps guarantee compatibility with any and all of your Blu-ray DVDs.)
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi, CCH Pounder
Length: 162 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
DTS-HD Master Audio
Dolby Digital 5,1
Dolby Digital 5.1
Dolby Digital 5.1