When his twin brother is killed, disabled ex-Marine Jake Sully is recruited to aid a mining expedition on the distant jungle moon of Pandora as only his DNA will bond with the alien hybrid body, known as an Avatar, that allows humans to breathe the toxic
Avatar was supposed to start on Earth. In the edit bay, however, James Cameron decided that three hours of 3D might be too much for audiences to take and snipped away several sequences, including the prologue. For the summer re-release, he re-installed nine minutes; now, as part of this deluxe three-disc ‘Collector’s Edition’, you can watch not only those versions, but Cameron’s preferred cut in its entirety, a whole 19 minutes longer.
Like the longer assemblies of Terminator 2 and Aliens, it’s something of a mixed bag. The opening, in particular, is a slight let-down. It sets up some nice contrasts between our planet and Pandora (a news report announces that cloning has saved tigers from extinction; streets are choked with miserable-looking people; TV screens are oppressively large), but the design is Blade Runner Lite and it feels less epic than the impressionistic collage that kicks off the theatrical version. Elsewhere, there’s unnecessary exposition restored, including a half-hearted declaration that the Hallelujah Mountains float “because unobtanium is a super-conductor... or something”. And while it’s impressive that Na’vi warrior Tsu-Tey is able to deliver a dying speech after suffering a peppering of bullets and a plummet from an aircraft, the scene is a bore.
Where this cut does add value is in fleshing out Sigourney Weaver’s gruff xeno-botanist Grace. Her relationship with Jake is pushed to the forefront, whether it’s the pair visiting her abandoned school or the ex-Marine trying to get her to quit smoking, punching up the poignancy of her fate. If you prefer beasties to emotional arcs, you’re in luck too: Pandora now has a new Hypercolor creature in the ungainly shape of the sturmbeest, a cross between a hermit crab and a buffalo that the Na’vi hunt from the backs of banshees. Jake brags that he’s “a stone-cold aerial hunter” — now, in a short, thundering, clearly-inspired-by-Dances-With-Wolves action sequence, you get to see why.
Tonnes of added detail for Pandora completists. A more rounded Grace Augustine benefits most from the added scenes, but the sturmbeest hunt is another thundering highlight.