The highest-grossing worldwide box office film of all time flies home to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. After a lucrative re-release in theaters, James Cameron’s remaster of Avatar soars in 2160p HDR with an often stunning transfer that gives the excellent 3D Blu-ray a run for its money and a robust Atmos audio track to match. Some new bonus features have been added to the mix but those who still have their Collector’s Edition will still want to hold onto it. For Pandora fans, it’s a no-brainer pickup - Highly Recommended
How does a director follow the highest-grossing movie of all time? They do it by directing the highest-grossing movie of all time topping said highest-grossing movie of all time. In an age where there weren’t DCEUs or MCUs sucking up every theater screen, James Cameron’s Avatar ignited a box office storm. Everyone had to see Cameron’s long-gestating passion project. As those ticket sales kept rolling in, the film also reinvigorated the long-ago castoff experience of seeing major motion pictures in three dimensions while pioneering new techniques in motion-capture filmmaking. Soon, every major motion picture had to be in 3-D, either shot that way or with an after-the-fact post-conversion (with often mixed results). While 3-D may not be as strong an attraction today - it hasn't disappeared. There are still some great post-conversions - Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 being one of the best recent releases in that arena.
Over ten years between sequels - how does the original Avatar hold up? Depending on who you ask, your results will vary, but for this reviewer, I’d say pretty well. I’ve never thought Avatar was a particularly amazing film. Visually yes, it’s a gorgeous-looking film, but the story is simplistic with equally simple dialog to match. On that spectrum, Cameron has always been on the nose, as much as I love T2: Judgement Day, Sarah Conner's narrations aren’t exactly Shakespeare. That follows here with Sam Worthington’s Jake Sulley filling in the narrative gaps with voice-over. Sometimes it works and feels organic, other times it’s just damn clumsy. The conceit is we’re supposed to be hearing his log files, but it never really sells. The two extended versions help fill some narrative gaps and do play better overall, but they don’t help the fact Avatar feels more like a proof-of-concept that Cameron’s crazy ideas could work rather than serve as a fully-realized feature film. Faults aside, I easily get wrapped up in the drama and conflict and again Cameron accomplished some next-level universe-building for his little opus.
Fourteen years after that first (of several) theatrical viewing, I still get a kick out of Avatar. It plays like a wild pulpy Edgar Rice Burroughs novel and that’s what I enjoy about it. Akin to the Princess of Mars stories, we have a human hero traveling to a far-off planet to lead a rebellion while integrating with an alien culture. It’s not a new story, it’s just a creative (albeit mostly visually) spin on sci-fi’s greatest hits. I also appreciate that Cameron and his team spent so much time creating a new language, culture, and a jungle full of exciting creatures to observe. He may have quite literally gotten lost in the woods with it, but it proved there’s enough meat on the bones of this universe that’s worth exploring for future adventures. And by the future, that’s quite literal as Disney has readjusted their release calendar pushing Avatar 5 all the way back to 2031… I just hope I’m still alive then because I’m looking forward to the sequels.
For some less-than-positive alternate views on the film, read our past coverage:
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
After a successful return to IMAX theaters in 2022, the remastered Avatar arrives on home video with a three-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital release. The 4K is pressed on a BD-100 disc with the 1080p scoring a BD-50, and another BD-50 disc for bonus features. Since it seems to be a thing that needs doing now to make sure, flipping region settings on my Oppo, all discs are Region-Free. The discs are housed in a sturdy multi-disc case, the 4K disc came stacked on top of the bonus features disc. A stylish white slipcover is also included with raised features. Each disc loads to a language option before moving on to a static image main menu. The digital copy is Movies Anywhere compatible and will port to all supported services.
Note - all images are pulled from the 1080p Blu-ray, we haven't been able to pull 4K disc-sourced images yet, but hope to soon.
Back in the day, Avatar was originally finished with a 2K digital intermediate and that was good enough for early generation Blu-ray discs. Obviously times and standards for theatrical and home video have changed. To meet that demand, James Cameron and company remastered the film for a new 4K digital intermediate and the results are simply jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Whatever this new AI-upsampling tech they’re using and how it works is a bit of a mystery to me, but the results speak for themselves! Maxing out the disc space, the film enjoys a healthy bitrate throughout showcasing immaculate details in all physical practical objects and human actors. Even the CGI-rendered characters and critters look like they’ve been given an extra veneer of fine detail exposing new textures in skin, hair, and other extra-bodily appendages. It was weird but I kept feeling like I was seeing more cleanly defined individual hairs on people’s faces or arms. Strange thing to pick up on, but there you have it.
Presented with HDR10 (digital and Disney+ get Dolby Vision), the image picks up even more visual enhancements with stronger black levels and richer colors. The film always had that teal-skew that Cameron loves so much, so it’s no surprise that’s maintained here, but now blues look a little more steely-toned than before. The blue tone of the Na’vi’s skin also appears to have more shading than the previous 2009 and 2010 discs. Oranges haven’t been pushed, skin tones are still healthy and base primaries yellow and reds are still clean. Spectral highlights are also immaculate. As an ardent 3-D aficionado, I was really impressed with the feel of dimensional depth in the image compared to the old 1080p discs. Not enough to completely replace the 3-D experience, but it really made me wish Disney/20th Century had also given us a new remastered 3-D Blu-ray - for now in 2-D, this 4K UHD is easily the best Avatar has looked on home video.
Avatar has also been given the Atmos upgrade for 4K and the results easily outpace that rather anemic DTS-HD MA 5.1 track of old. That track certainly wasn’t the worst, but for such a big visual film it paled in comparison to other big blockbusters of the era. This new Atmos track does need a little punch in the volume, but only a couple of notches. It’s nowhere near the worst offending Atmouse mixes out there which is a big relief.
The soundscape is rich and active making full use of the height space either with rain effects, the sounds of rustling leaves, and really opens up for the big final battle. Dialog is clean and clear throughout without issue there. Surrounds are often fully engaged giving you a near-constant stream of audio info through the side and rear channels. My only slight gripe is I felt LFE could have used a little more rumble. It does come up for jet blasts of the arriving landing craft, some explosions, or the woosh of the flight scenes with the ikran giving some extra rumble in the subs but it could be more. Small nitpicks aside, this is an excellent mix for the film. Not reference quality, but damned good.
Not too surprisingly, Disney/20th Century didn’t opt to include all of the expansive bonus features from the 2010 Extended Collector’s Edition set. So if you have that, you’ll want to hold onto it. First up is the Memories from Avatar which feels like an extended promo with the cast sharing their memories of casting and shooting the film. The Avatar: A Look Back special is more EPK-style talking head segments that are relatively hollow compared to other extras. In the good news category, the excellent Capturing Avatar feature-length documentary has been carried over. It was the best extra on that Collector’s Edition set so it’s good to have it here. After that, we pick up all of the additional featurettes that may only briefly touch on various aspects of the production but they’re interesting and informative. All told you have over three-and-a-half hours of content here, maybe not the five-plus hours of the big set, but it’s quite a lot to dig into and worth the time.
While I don’t think Avatar is the greatest film ever made, I do think it’s damn good pulpy sci-fi entertainment - that happened to be made with hundreds of millions of dollars by a visionary director. James Cameron’s little universe of Pandora may finally be coming to fruition with The Way of Water and three more sequels scheduled into 2031, but it all started with this film. With an eye for detail, Cameron arguably sacrificed story for universe-building, but the film still captures your attention and imagination enough to get emotionally involved with the characters and their alien world.
On 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, this newly remastered presentation with HDR10 grading easily leaves behind previous home video releases. The razor-sharp details, beautiful colors, image depth, and engaging Atmos mix make it the best home video experience to date. While not offering all of the past bonus features, it gives fans over three hours of new and archival content to dig into. While it’d been great to have the alternate cuts remastered on 4K as well, or even a remastered 3-D Blu-ray, this set is certainly something fans will be happy to add to the collection. Highly Recommended.