Review: Avatar 3D Blu-ray

As anyone who saw Avatar in 3D at a theater (especially an IMAX theater) can attest, it set a high bar for depth-enhanced cinema. And for people like me fortunate enough to have had access to a 3D TV in 2010, each of the meager disc offerings squeezed out by the studios inevitably stood in comparison with that benchmark experience. With few exceptions, all fell well short of my Avatar-fueled expectations.

Now, however, the film has arrived on Blu-ray 3D. Unfortunately, it's a hardware- exclusive release, available only with Panasonic's 3D TVs. And the company's exclusivity window stretches until February 2012. That?s right: 2012. But if you do plan on buying a Panasonic set in the next year (or spending big bucks to score the disc on eBay), you're in for a treat, because the Blu-ray 3D version of Avatar captures most of the magic seen in the theater.

From the get-go, the disc reveals sophisticated 3D camerawork, with the opening shots in military facilities and cargo transport ships showing a lifelike depth of field that pulls you well into the picture. More intimate scenes in the lab on Pandora show a subtle sense of layering - something that is given even greater realism by the transparent data screens scattered throughout the space. Unlike some other movies that look 2D most of the time, then push for an exaggerated 3D quality in a few select shots, the depth effect here is integrated smoothly throughout. Even the film's few overt displays of 3D-ness - such as a golf ball putted toward the camera, or Pandoran soil jettisoned backward by the sprinting feet of Jake Sully's avatar - don't distract from the narrative flow.

As consistent as Avatar's 3D visuals are, things do flatten out somewhat in the CGI-laden forest scenes on Pandora. Nonetheless, elements abound here that draw you in: layers of ferns that caress the camera perspective as it wades through space, and tiny insects and seedpods that float easily out of (and deep within) the frame. Such delicate details contribute strongly to the naturalness of Avatar's 3D presentation and help it stand apart from other films that lean heavily on CGI to create an imaginary world.

Just as the film created a new paradigm for 3D presentation in theaters, Avatar on Blu-ray 3D has set the standard for 3D at home. In fact, it makes it easy to forget you're wearing glasses (in my case, 3D glasses on top of regular glasses) and allows you to just succumb to the world unfolding before you. All 3D should be this good; it would help combat some of the skepticism that?s greeted the format.

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