Review: ‘Avatar’ (Special Edition)

Yes, you’re reading that correctly – Avatar is back on the big screen, just a few short months after its original release.  James Cameron’s 3D epic, which was still being screened in some places as recently as last month, has been given a hasty re-release, in a ‘Special Edition’ form. An extra nine minutes of previously unseen footage has been added to sweeten the deal and it is being shown exclusively in 3D.

A lot of questions surround what could quite fairly be described as a rather pointless re-release.   Let’s start with this: it’s officially the biggest film ever – surely everyone’s seen it by now?  Unless you are a member of an Amazonian tribe uncontacted by Western civilisation, you must have already seen this epic tale of love, war and futuristic blue aliens.  Is it really worth you spending another tenner, after such a short amount of time?

And with this in mind, does Cameron really need the money?  After all, this is the man who has already held the record for Highest Grossing Movie Ever (for Titanic) before beating his own record.  Avatar’s stats are an explosion of superlatives:  the largest opening gross for a non-franchise film; biggest IMAX film ever; highest Martin Luther King weekend gross; first film to gross over $700m in North America, first film to gross over $2bn…  It’s a safe bet that Cameron ain’t a pauper.

Indeed, the lure might not be enough for some – nine minutes of new footage is a fairly insignificant drop in the ocean of the original two and half hour running time.  Cameron has loudly claimed that each minute of new footage cost $1million – though in Avatar’s grand terms, $9 million is relative pocket money.  There’s an extended hunting scene, more on the death of Naa’avi leader Tsu’tey, and yes, the much hyped alien sex scene (not since Team America: World Police has an unseen sex scene caused so much excitement).  But none of the new sequences change the composition of the film dramatically.

And many might ask the question: does this film really warrant a repeat viewing?  Avatar did get some negative reviews on release, mostly criticising its heavy reliance on cliches, its occasionally stiff acting and the rather dodgy script.  If the story – Pocahontas meets Dances With Wolves in space – was any more derivative, Cameron would be accused of plagiarism.  Many felt Avatar was an explosion of style over substance, from a filmmaker concentrating more on his technical achievements.  Story, it seemed, had given way to spectacle.

But by God, what a spectacle!  It’s very easy to go into re-watching Avatar with the above questions rattling around in your head, but they are quickly silenced when Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Dr. Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) first arrive on Pandora and encounter its incredible alien wildlife…or when we first see the floating ‘Hallelujah’ mountains…or when Jake makes his first flight on the Banshees…or the final, epic battle…

Against all odds, Avatar feels as fresh and exciting as it did nine months ago, and has lost none of its razzle-dazzle.  It is perhaps the most technically impressive film yet made, and still somehow irretrievably drags you in to its world.  For all his faults as a cliched storyteller, Cameron remains an extraordinarily talented filmmaker, an artist with an insatiable eye for attention to detail and an incredible knack for immersing you totally into this expansive universe that unfolds in front of your eyes – or the 3D glasses in front of them, at least.

The added nine minutes, as has been acknowledged, are fairly inconsequential, and ludicrous motion-captured CGI sex scene aside, you may not even notice them.  It’s quite understandable if you’d rather spend your money on the DVD or Blu-Ray.  But even the smartest of HD tellies will pale in comparison to the marvel of 3D on a big screen.  Forget about the ‘special’-ness of this edition, take this as another opportunity to catch the greatest cinematic spectacle of the decade on the big screen again, as it should be seen.  And if you’re one of the half a dozen Amazonian tribe members yet to see Avatar, it’s time to leave your cave and see what the hell you’ve been missing.

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