To borrow a bit of sublime daftness from the Life of Brian, “I’m an Avatar fan and so is my wife”. No surprise, then, that during my Saturday at the MCM Expo, I made sure to attend the unveiling of some material from the upcoming Avatar Collector’s Edition. A lot of what we were screened had previously been seen, either online or in the extended theatrical cut, but there was some new material, and it had me thinking.
The first clip shown was an excerpt from the film’s new, alternative Earthbound opening, of which you may have seen a bootlegged version online. It’s worth discussing here, though, because I think the addition of the scene changes the overall shape and structure of the film notably.
With Earth scenes at the top, the film will no longer be bookmarked with images of Jake Sully opening his eyes, and this shifts us away from one clear reading; furthermore, the theatrical cut’s painstaking, step-by-step introduction of Sully’s disability, and how he has been grounded by it, is lost; and then on top of this, the Earthbound scenes have a very different feel to those on Pandora – the frame is busier, more cluttered, more recognisably “here and now”. It’s almost as though Wizard of Oz had originally started with the hurricane, but now begins with scenes in Kansas.
For this special event, Jason Solomons of The Guardian was taking to the stage between the clips and offering his take on the material. Without actually naming the movie, he compared the Earth-set barroom brawl to something from Hal Ashby’s Coming Home. This wasn’t the first leap I might have made – there’s many differences, as well as the similarities – but he’s right that this new material plays not so much like something from a mega-budget genre tentpole as it does a serious drama. The two faces of Avatar, I guess.
So, everything is changing in the new cut. I’m now curious to see if this re-edited rendition will become the preferred, if not definitive, version of the story.
The other clip of great interest to be shown was a bona fide deleted scene. Included on the disc in an “incomplete” status, it lacked the high-detail rendering that we know from the film. I can see why the scene was deleted – it added little – but it was an interesting bit of invention in its own right.
What we saw was a dispute that Grace Augustine and Jake Sully were pitching at Parker Selfridge, out in Pandora’s unbreathable air. As the three stood and argued in their masks, the big miner-harvester vehicles you know from the film trundled by, and Selfridge was driving golf balls off into the distance. The basis of the argument was simple: Selfridge was saying the destruction of Hometree was inevitable, so there was no reason to delay it while Grace argued that there was value meaning in postponing the attack. Nobody took up the position that the attack could be cancelled outright.
The scene provides a slightly different moral shade than elsewhere in the film, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be in anyway essential. Great then, that the discs will include an archive of “actually deleted” scenes as well as the extended cut. There’s value in seeing what a filmmaker leaves out when considering everything they’ve put in.
Also on the discs is a little explanation of why the deleted scenes don’t look the same as the finalised footage, but this was not played at the MCM Expo. I hope the audience were still smart witted enough to understand why, suddenly, we were seeing a looser, sketchier version of Cameron’s alien fantasia.
I’m going to doing everything I can to get my hands on the Collector’s Edition discs as soon as possible.
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