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Why this Edition is a Better FILM.
on November 18, 2010
There is a lot of very heated discussion of this edition of "Avatar" that concerns itself entirely with either the pricing or the packaging, and while that's all quite necessary, I thought it might be balancing to discuss the very reason for another edition ... the improved film itself.
Back in the summer of '10 the "Special Edition Re-Release" was shown again for a brief period in first run theatres to "give those who missed the experience of Avatar in 3D the first time the chance to see it ". Quite frankly I don't know how anyone could've missed it the first time, having run for such a long time, becoming the largest box office success to date ( 2 BILLION dollars U.S.! ) and being a movie that really polarized a lot of opinion. The "Extended Re-Release" featured 8 more minutes of footage than the original "Theatrical Release". So now, with this package we have included the "Collector's Extended Cut" which further expands the extra footage time to 16 minutes from 8.
While sometimes these extra minutes in "deluxe editions" are superfluous or indulgent, extra padding to "justify" a fancier, more expensive release to capitalize on, THIS particular release is worth it. Here are almost 9 hours of the film, in all 3 versions, with extra documentaries, deleted scenes and all the usual "toppings" on 3 discs. And I actually like the packaging, its layout and design. So I say not bad for under 30 bucks. ( DVD )
But what really made the purchase of this product completely justifiable, and especially enjoyable, for me was the inclusion of the extra 16 minutes. For that extra quarter hour significantly raises the narrative and character development in several meaningful ways, rounding out the film and filling in gaps perfectly.
Firstly we have the story starting back on Earth, the home planet of the desparate and evil "sky people". The film opens with the original flight over mist-cloaked jungle and Sam Worthington's voice over. Then after that initial shot, we are sent back to Earth for a really striking scene that much more deeply establishes Jake Sully's character as an angry, depressed, crippled marine who hasn't got much to live for. He sees directly how predatory the human race is, how the Darwinian survival of the fittest is lived out in our species in the seemingly endless forms of cruelty we seem to come up with.
In a bar, Sully watches as a large, burly man beats up his woman and not a soul steps in to help her. He observes how the strong always persecute the weak and seem to get away with it.... until he steps in, or, rolls up. In an act that seems crazy on one level, this parapalegic, depressed marine, becomes galvanized with purpose and bravery when he decides to do something about what he is seeing. He is still a marine and a man of honour. The disgusting situation Sully is witnessing draws him OUT of his "imprisoned" personality and he becomes re-energized with his complete unwillingness to tolerate the cruelty of the stongest.
His attack on the abusive lump is both thrilling and not without a sense of humour. One of the more unique "take-downs" in film history. In the end he is tossed out into a dank alleyway followed by his wheelchair. We don't see the much bigger, woman beater being ejected, just Sully. Again, there is no justice for the weak.
As he lies there in the rain and wet garbage, Sully looks up and all you can see are the structures of Human engineering. Not a natural thing is in sight. Not a tree, a bush, a bird or even the sky. It too has been completely eclipsed by the constructions of Humanity... rapid transit trains and their trellises, towering buildings and holographic billboards everywhere. Sully is looking up at this and wondering about his wasted life and the seemingly inexhaustable capacity of people to destroy all out of self interest. It is right after this that we learn of his twin brother's death, at the hand of a nameless thug who knifes him for the change in his pocket.
This more clearly and dramatically sets up his character's deeper reasonings for what later transpires on Pandora. This scene on Earth, through the action, as well as the visual setting, MUCH more effectively and A-ffectively, sets up everything that happens in the rest of the film. The first shot of the smoldering anger and resentment in Sully's face as he waits in his wheelchair for the traffic light to change on a crowded street, lit entirely in manufactured light, surrounded by the monstrous machine of human creation and the soulless creatures he shares his species with is a powerful and quite necessary prelude to the rest of "Avatar".
There are smaller scenes too, little additions that add a smoother and deeper transition between larger gestures and strokes. They create a more elegant shape to the film and provide seemingly simple but very important insights into character and narrative that only benefits the story.
Another much more disturbing inclusion are the "school" scenes and their related references. The first comes as Grace Augustine, Sully and Norm Spelman make their initial excursion into the Pandoran jungle and they come across the ruins of the school that Grace had established years ago, where the Na'vi children called her Mother. It is sad to see the signs of teaching ... old notebooks, ruined chalkboards, little desks, all smashed up and laid to waste. As Sully walks through the wreckage he finds bulletholes peppering the outside wall of the school and asks Grace what happened. Indeed, where do bullet holes enter into childrens' education?! Later on we learn the whole horrific story of the violent murder of children by the human military in recompense for an act of rebellious vandalism lead by one of the young Na'vi. This adolescent turns out to have been Neytiri's sister.
The school story fleshes out Sigourney Weaver's character and provides greater depth and insight into the smaller scale but equally destructive activities of Humans on Pandora. These scenes also give much more weight and punch to Weaver's snap-back in an argument with Selfridge, the corporate weasel, when he says he doesn't understand why the "blue monkeys" are so violently against the Human presence on Pandora, "yeah, well that tends to happen when you use machine guns on them", she says. Now we know that she is speaking of a very specific incident which she was present for, a horror she witenessed with her own eyes, and not just giving the suits a hard time.
There are more scenes of Na'vi daily life; hunting, learning and so on, that round out the film's shape and contour. But the greatest of these is the death of Tsu'tey, the young warrior set to take over as the clan leader of the Omaticaya people. In the movie's epic final battle he is shot with a machine gun and falls off the bomber aircraft he was attacking. In the original release we see him fall and that is it. In the "Collector's Cut" we return to Tsu'tey as he lies dying on the jungle floor. He passes on the role of clan leader to Sully, who has by now more than proven his worth. Tsu'tey then asks Sully to perform the last ritual of passage for him as Sully has now achieved the role of Turuk Makto, Last Shadow, the Great Saviour. It is sad and dramatic yet it nobly completes the culture of mercy and honour that the N'avi show all life as it ends on Pandora.
These new scenes for me are more than an addition, they are INTEGRAL to the fullest expression of ideas in "Avatar" and the best realization of the broad spectrum of feelings and motivations for both individuals and the two opposing peoples. Viewing the Deleted Scenes as well opens up and deepens both character and narrative very nicely. It would've been really good to have seen Jake's "vision quest" completed and included in the film and the Omaticaya dance sequence as well. Jake's and Tsu'tey's drinking contest would have been both a very funny addition and a scene that showed the eventual bonding of the two initial rivals. The finished and deleted scenes complete "Avatar" in a very satisfying and necessary way.
It is also a very welcome plus that THIS release is much improved in its picture and sound quality. That original colour transfer of the first release left a lot to be desired. It was nice to have but I was always conscious of how much more muted and dull the colours in the first DVD were, which I found very distracting. But this release is The One. The colour is MUCH truer to the original - fuller, richer, more saturated and clear. And with a movie like this one, that is an absolute must. The sound too, is much improved.
All in all, I think that this package is the definitive edition of "Avatar".