Riding with the Blue People

For the generation in high school or entering college in 2009, beginning to realize the Iraq war was a bogus invasion, Avatar hit the beats it needed to. Deliberately, forcefully. Lines referencing “shock and awe” (the Pentagon’s PR approach to the war in 2003), and villain Miles (Stephen Lang) directly stating, “Fight terror with terror,” clicked into the zeitgeist of the time. No wonder it worked at the box office – plus the advertising campaign.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) was the perfect hero for the era, and under the veil of sci-fi, Avatar created a hero who represented a disgusted populace. A loyal Marine, Sully turns when he sees moral and war crimes happening for the sake of “Unobtanium,” a ludicrous name, and obvious stand-in for Middle Eastern oil.

Avatar, in 2009, spoke for that moment

Sully also inhabits a new body, given a fresh start inside a genetic experiment with a brain link. There, he can be who and what he wants, leaving behind the tightly structured military for something organic, peaceful, and pure. Without the influence of money and/or the economy, Sully’s turn happens naturally, a hero both fighting against destructive war and climate cataclysm.

Avatar isn’t original. “It’s just Dances with Wolves!” shouts the internet. And yes, it is. So too was The Last Samurai, but Avatar’s difference is in not speaking historically; Avatar, in 2009, spoke for that moment. It wasn’t asking viewers to feel guilt for distressing American history (not that it’s unimportant to do so), but rather to take action and change what they can.

US cinema typically adores the gruffly masculine military spectacle. Avatar dared to question that ideology, directly in the face of an ongoing conflict. While hardly the only film to do so, Avatar chose a technically beautiful (if now aged) visual palette, something to keep people away from their phones for a few (too many) hours.

What’s bizarre about Avatar and its success is how little its themes and messages resonated long term. Director James Cameron and Fox’s marketing team made this about digital images, not their meaning. Titanic was everywhere during its record breaking theatrical run – entering a store without hearing Celine Dion or seeing a display of Titanic-based books was impossible – Avatar made its money and left the public consciousness after shattering Titanic’s run. People only saw the spectacle, not the purpose. Seems like a waste.


Appearing similar to the Blu-ray, Avatar hasn’t aged well in terms of pure visuals. The digital composites and their artificial, smeary aesthetics weaken the UHD’s prowess. Ringing and edge enhancement further mar the end result. Avatar’s sharpness is unnaturally harsh, lacking the purest definition and limiting those otherwise gorgeous wide shots on Pandora.

Stephen Lang’s intro around seven-minutes is generally a complete mess. Facial detail in close smears, and it’s worse in medium/long shots; the smeary faces look blasted with DNR. Look at Worthington around 1:18:05 – it’s DVD quality, if almost certainly a CG limitation of the time. The next scene with Stephen Lang is among the worst, static noise/grain and other artifacts included.

Were this anything other than Avatar the home theater community would take this to task. However, this is how Avatar looked in theaters and Blu-ray, a disappointing reality and accurate UHD. All that said, the full CG Na’vi look infinitely better, clearer, and cleaner than their human counterparts, if not faultless. The same sharpening-like effect is notable there too.

HDR breathes life into the contrast, whether that’s human-made sources or the natural sun of Pandora. Black levels already looked spectacular and continue to do so here. Mid-tones don’t change much in the jump to a format, more of a 2009 digital camera limitation more than this disc. The major gains stem from the color. Once out of the human facility (thick with blues), Pandora reveals its beauty. Lush greenery and incredible bio-luminescent effects justify this release almost on their own.


Bumped into Dolby Atmos, the already fantastic Blu-ray audio improves a step, although it’s just a step, primarily from the overhead effects tracking ship engines and wildlife passing overhead. Exquisitely full surround and side channel use keeps Pandora living through sound alone.

Way of Water sports better low-end response, or at least beefier on a consistent basis. Avatar still brings superlative boom, especially when it comes to engines firing or explosions. When the giant tree goes down, so does the bass, crushingly powerful.


Disney keeps all of the bonuses on a separate disc inside the package. Memories of Avatar includes a roundtable discussion with some of the cast and Cameron, running 21-minutes. For 10-minutes, a rather generic retrospective plays out, followed by the 98-minute making of, and the 91-minutes of featurettes on the previous deluxe release. Note the extended cut is not included on either format.

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Avatar’s technical prowess isn’t the spectacle it once was, but the story resonates with the modern generation.

User Review
2 (2 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 62 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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