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Posted at 10:47 AM ET, 04/22/2010

Is 'Avatar' really eco-friendly?

By Jen Chaney

It's Earth Day. And if you buy into the hype surrounding the DVD debut of "Avatar" -- in stores today, in case you somehow missed one of the splashy television ads promoting that fact -- this is the perfect time to release the biggest multi-dimensional blockbuster ever made, since it focuses on protecting our environment from big, bad corporations who want to exploit it for financial gain.

Neytiri and Jake, saving Pandora in "Avatar," even if the DVDs aren't necessarily saving the Earth. (Fox)

Director James Cameron, in fact, was on Capitol Hill just last week, talking about how his movie is "a call to action" for those who care about protecting our planet. Or, you know, Pandora's. I have no problem with Cameron using the film as a platform for discussing these issues. Kudos to him for doing it. Here's where I do have a problem, though.

Today's release of "Avatar," on both DVD and Blu-ray in 2D and with no extras, is only the first of three versions slated to hit the marketplace within the next year. In November, just in time for the holidays, another "Avatar" set will be released, with extras. And then, when the technology is ready, Cameron estimates that a 3D version of "Avatar" will be available for home viewing sometime in 2011. Which forces me to ask the question: Which part of releasing a movie three different times on DVD -- complete with three times the plastic wrap and three times the packaging -- is good for our environment?

Cameron tells Entertainment Weekly
that the extras had to wait until a later release because they include deleted CGI scenes that needed proper visual polish before they could be suitable for viewing. (You also can see them in August, apparently, when "Avatar" gets re-released in theaters.) Some consumers may find this triple-dip approach annoying simply because -- as with so many other DVDs that go the same route -- it's a pretty blatant attempt to snooker people into buying the same movie more than once.

I'm not a huge fan of the practice, but hey, it's business. If "Avatar" fans don't want to buy it three times, they don't have to, assuming, of course, they're even aware that it's getting multiple re-releases, which is a separate conversation.

I just find it richly ironic that a movie held up as a shining example of eco-consciousness is, essentially, dumping more stuff than necessary into the environment. If I were Fox -- and I think we've established pretty clearly that I'm not, but role-play with me for a second -- I would at least package these DVDs in some sort of eco-friendly, recyclable material. When Paramount released "An Inconvenient Truth" a few years ago, they eschewed the usual plastic jewel case, and instead encased the DVD in a barebones, cardboard wrapper made from 100-percent post-consumer-waste, recycled material. If Fox is going to release additional incarnations of "Avatar," the studio should follow "Truth's" lead. Not only is it the right thing to do, it's also consistent P.R. Yes, green DVD packaging does cost more. But surely the most lucrative movie ever made can afford it, right?

What do you think? Do the multiple releases of "Avatar" bug you on this sustainable-substance-oriented Earth Day? Or am I getting a little too Al Gore here?

By Jen Chaney  | April 22, 2010; 10:47 AM ET
Categories:  Movies, Pop Culture  | Tags:  DVDs, Movies  
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It's not just you, and it's not too Al Gore. Even beyond the ecological implications of such a strategy, I just find it very annoying that we're asked to repeatedly put out money for the same movie over and over. The same thing was done with the Lord of the Rings movies and the various Star Wars movies. For the most part, if the movie comes out with little or no extras, I simply try (note I said "try") to avoid buying it until the Super Special Deluxe Special Edition comes out.

Posted by: fft5305 | April 22, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Another pet peeve of mine, along the same lines, is the release of a new movie on DVD in the "Unrated" or "Director's Cut" format. That's fine, when the movie's been out for a while, and there's a documented instance of material that the director wanted to use, but was asked (or legally obligated) by the studio to cut. Daredevil is a fine example. People complained about the movie, and for years there was talk about a Director's Cut that the studio felt was too long. The director finally got to release it, and it was much better than the theatrical release of the movie. Most of the time, though, if you watch Deleted Scenes on a DVD, you can see that there's a reason those scenes were cut. In any case, I don't like having to buy a version of the movie I haven't seen. I want to buy the movie I saw in the theater. I liked that movie. These Unrated Cut DVDs (especially when it's the only one available) should have the option to watch the movie with or without the extra footage.

Posted by: fft5305 | April 22, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

The irony that bugs me is the incredible amount of electricity(lights, cameras, computers, etc) that was used to make a so called 'eco friendly' movie. All that is environmentally friendly about the movie is the theme....and maybe not even that. The theme is basically "manufacturers and companies are bad, earth good. Me hungry". I don't really think Cameron has the right to say the movie is "a call to action" after the massive amount of energy he used to make the movie. If he really wanted to conserve energy and be environmentally friendly,he shouldn't have even MADE the movie.

Posted by: IrishFox | April 22, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Right on, Jen.

I for one almost never look at the extras. I usually by the cheap version of whatever movie I'm buying which is a rare event itself.

Posted by: hodie2 | April 22, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Inconvenient Truth also have a label requesting the buyer to donate the disc or pass it on or something like that when they were done with it?

Posted by: HardyW | April 22, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

On the LOTR releases:

The difference there is that avid Tolkein fans - the ones most likely to buy the extended versions of the movies - knew well ahead of time that Peter Jackson was putting together theatrical releases vs. the extended version DVD's. He clearly communicated it to the fan base. And it wasn't much more than a 3 month wait - plenty of time to rent the originals.

And the only time the extended versions were screened in theaters was leading up to the release of the final movie (my husband and I got tickets for all three at the Uptown - we went to the first movie, were scared at all the cosplay, and skipped the second movie. Hubby is a big Tolkein fan but not THAT big ;) ). They were purely limited releases for the hard-core fans, not "I'm gonna re-release it this summer so everyone can go see it again."

I don't think there are any big fans of the movie that didn't know about the extended releases - pretty much took care of that. Most fans I know actually waited patiently for the extended versions. Because after the first one, it was clearly evident that it was worth the wait.

I defy James Cameron to put together a similar set of detailed, thorough behind-the-scenes extras like Peter Jackson did. Ditto for having multiple, separate commentary tracks (actors, director/producer, special effects). You may have paid double the price than the original version, but it was well worth it for the quality of the extra features. I have a copy of the "special collector's edition" of "Titanic" I picked up in a bargain bin, because the one extra DVD is pretty damn weak on its' extras.

I also think it's well worth noting that many fans of the LOTR movies are already rejecting the Blu-Ray release, because they don't think it's worth the money. The LOTR extended version demographic is/was a fairly discerning bunch.

Unlike the rage over Avatar. People who love that movie seem to be obsessed with it. So while yes, New Line made scads of money on LOTR, the manner in which they did so pleased their core fan base (at least at the time - all this re-releasing is irking now). They knew they had to please the fan base to keep the franchise humming.

James Cameron and 20th Century Fox could give a rat's poop, as evidenced by how the best movie showing times all seemed to be 3-D, and therefore gave you more expensive tickets to buy.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | April 22, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Good article. I'm not a gung-ho environmentalist, just your basic recycler, but the way this movie's been "greenwashed" really kind of bugs me. It seems lazy and halfhearted to me- like an easy way to say, "Oh look at us! We totally support this Important Cause! BUY OUR PRODUCT!" without, you know, considering the actual implications of a fairly serious and complex issue, or actually engaging in any meaningful debate about it. (It reminds me a little of an opinion I read a while back about breast cancer products- that for some corporations, it's an easy way to say, "look, we support women!" without addressing some of the more complicated issues attending it, like pay disparity.)

"Avatar" is a pretty sci-fi version of Pocahontas with giant cat-people, and I'm prepared to accept it as that. But if you're trying to represent it as an ecological fable? Mmm, not so much.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | April 22, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I think that the producers of this movie are too hasty to put it on the market. I don't understand why they don't spend the marketing money now to finish the deleted scenes and the extras, and sell it in a month or so. It would save alot of money I think. Plus, there is no reason why it shouldn't be released in recycled cases. Finally, I think the movie sales will go down dramatically each time a new version comes out because you only need one copy of the movie, and when the extras come out, people can just watch them on the internet. If anything, the producers should combine the 3D version and the version with the extras into one awesome combo! Finally, I don't think it is wise to re-introduce the movie into city theaters because people have seen it already. The extras and deleted scenes should only appear in the DVD. This way, more people can enjoy it over and over again. It's a great movie, but there are some flaws with the distribution to home theaters.

Posted by: avatarfandudeman | April 22, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Has anybody noticed this DVD is $30? I am pissed. We pay a surcharge for 3D movies, the cost of movies are ridiculous, DVD's are selling at $30 now in this economy! So tell me James, how much of this money is going back to the EARTH ???

Posted by: ac62 | April 23, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Avatar and Deepening Perspectives on Sustainable Land Development

"The Na'vi resist the colonists' expansion, which threatens the continued existence of the Na'vi and their ecosystem - sort of like Dances with Wolves meets Star Wars..."

The SLDI Code™

In a ground-breaking effort to overcome the problem, Sustainable Land Development International (SLDI) has released the world’s first comprehensive sustainable land development best practices system. Unlike other standards and certification programs, the SLDI Best Practices System helps to structure a triple-bottom-line (people, planet and profit) decision model that helps development projects achieve greater success in each area. We are interested in engaging all stakeholders in the review of this system.

Your participation and comments are welcome.

Sustainable Land Development International

Posted by: TMock | April 23, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

You could always just rent the darn thing. Really, unless you have kids that just have to watch the same thing over and over, why buy?

Posted by: crogerskc | April 23, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I think you're forgetting that you can download the Avatar movie off the itunes store straight to your computer.... which creates no excess packaging at all. I think the introduction of the itunes store is a very eco-friendly move- I own tons of movies without the plastic. It also allows you to get rid of your TV and rid of the brainwashing and excess plastic and chemicals that go along with that. I know laptops have hazardous chemicals in them, but it's the lesser of two evils when it comes to mass production of saran wrapped plastic blu-ray dvd cases to go in huge expensive status symbol flat screens. I watch my movies on my 15 inch macbook pro at a distance of 2-4 feet away and it's just like sitting in the back row at the movies.

Go itunes store!!!!

Posted by: gypsymagickwoman | April 24, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

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