Unlike everything else going into wide release this weekend-- the pseudo-spooky Last Exorcism, the thriller afterthought Takers-- you know exactly what you're getting with the re-release of Avatar. Yes, blue face paint and "I see you" became jokes at some point as it became the biggest movie of all time, but slip back into a theater, put those 3D glasses back on, and you'll instantly be transported back to last December, when the notion of watching an entire movie about giant blue aliens felt revolutionary and exciting.
I thoroughly enjoyed the two and a half hours I spent with Avatar this afternoon, even though it made the fourth time I had seen the movie and I was totally skeptical that I'd get anything out of it this time. The 3D is still better than anything we've seen since, the broadly established characters still entertaining and relatable, and that final scene between Neytiri and Jake in the trailer grabs my heart as much as it did the first time. As for the extra 8 minutes of footage-- and really, that's probably what you're most curious about-- it was sprinkled around the film enough that you might not even notice what's new. Here's what I noticed; let me know if you saw more:
A brief shot of a herd of dinosaur-like creatures walking through the forest as Jake, Grace, Trudy and Norm head out for their first jungle mission. They'll come into play later.
In one of the longer added scenes, Grace, Norm and Jake visit Grace's old schoolhouse, now abandoned with-- I"m not kidding you-- a copy of The Lorax lying on the floor. Grace says that the Omaticaya "learned as much about us as they needed to," and some bullet holes in the wall fill in the rest. This explains how Jake knows about Grace's school when he meets Neytiri, and also clarifies that the Na'vi didn't kick Grace out by choice, but the violent behavior of the other humans forced them to. The Lorax, though, is pure overkill.
After the elders agree to let Jake stay in the village, he and Neytiri walk through a crowd of Na'vi surrounding a campfire. The scene goes on slightly longer than it did originally, showing a young Na'vi girl staring at Jake, and Neytiri introducing herself to him wit her full, long, unpronounceable name. I have no idea how Jake learned her name originally, but I'm fairly certain the proper introduction is added footage.
When the team arrives at the remote camp in the Hallelujah Mountains, there's an added line of Jake's voiceover relaying Grace's explanation about what holds the mountains up. It's almost entirely tech jargon and unnecessary, though nitpickers will probably be delighted.
The most elaborate added scene comes just after Jake has tamed his banshee-- we see him, Neytiri, Tsut'se and the other hunters chasing down and killing the dinosaur-like creatures we saw before. It's the most extensive added action and it looks great, and also helps Jake's next voiceover line--"I was a stone-cold warrior"-- make a lot more sense.
The promised Na'vi sex scene. The additional footage adds up to about 30 seconds, and while most of it is just some PG nuzzling and kissing, the shot of Jake and Neytiri putting their braids together is, well, a little pornographic. It's not just the shot of the tendrils wrapping around each other, but Jake's gasp as soon as it happens-- yeah, it's pretty easy to picture the human equivalent. The rest of the scene is relatively tame, and you can see why Cameron might have thought he could get away with the braid shot at first, but it's probably best for all but the most hardcore Na'vi cosplayers that it got cut the first time around.
After the bulldozers come and knock down all the trees, the Na'vi counterattack and burn down the equipment, as seen in footage presented to Quaritch while he plans his counterattack. It makes the Na'vi seem a little less passive and helpless once the Hometree attack gets started, but it also slows things down as we ramp up the action, since we only see the aftermath.
When Tsut'sey is shot during the final battle and falls off the human ship, we see him fall through the jungle and land, alive, on the ground. After Quaritch is killed and Neytiri rescues Jake in his human form, he returns to his avatar body to find Tsut'sey, be given permission to rule the tribe, then ritualistically stab Tsut'sey to put him out of his pain. It's somewhat important to see Jake given the blessing to rule the Omaticaya, but also totally jarring to see him return to his avatar body after the touching scene between him and Neytiri in the trailer. This scene gives closure only for the hardcore nerds, and ruins the pacing for everyone else-- yet another scene that definitely deserved to stay out of the final cut.
Presumably all of these scenes and more are available on DVD already or will be soon, but it's kind of fun to walk back into the theater not knowing what might be different, and get your chance to immerse yourself in the story all over again. Though I admit my attention wandered at points, I was more captivated in the movie than I expected to be. Everything I recognized as the best parts the first time around-- the action set-pieces, the inventive animals and weapons, the one-off jokes-- shone just as brightly this time, and even errors-- like the stupidly one-dimensional villains Selfridge and Quaritch-- feel more like endearing quirks. With a summer's worth of unsatisfying action movies behind me, it felt even better to watch a master like Cameron putting things together, always aware of what the camera was showing us, how we felt and how he could lead us into he next action beat.
No one who hated Avatar the first time around will be convinced by anything added in the Special Edition-- the new stuff is pretty much strictly for hardcore fans-- but even if you liked it at the time and now think you're over it, it might be worth one last go-round on the big screen. The staying power may be the one last surprise from that weird alien movie that somehow became the biggest movie of all time.