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Avatar - The Last Airbender: The Complete Series
I was one of those unfortunates whose introduction to the vast Avatar universe began with the hauntingly terrible Shyamalan movie. In my defense, I was assigned to review it when it came out, instantly snatching a top spot on my worst films of the year list, and didn't torture myself just for the sake of it. Before writing my review, I was curious to see why people were attracted to this drab, lifeless, miserable world in the first place, so I checked out a couple of episodes of the original animated TV show.
After a mere couple of minutes, I couldn't believe just how starkly different the show was in comparison to the movie. Here was a lively, colorful, whimsical, deep, fun, engaging, colorful, gorgeous, add hyperbolic adjective here, show that had absolutely nothing to do with Shyamalan's cinematic abortion. After delivering my review and finally being done with live action, I binged the show and was wholly satisfied. For newcomers, I'll try to give as little plot information as possible, since it behooves me to let the fresh audience experience it firsthand. Those who know the show are already aware of how special it is, so you can skip to the A/V and extras to find out if it's worth shelling out hard-earned cash for this box set.
We're in a fantastical world that's divided into four nations, each depending on their ability to magically alter the four essential elements: Earth, air, water, and fire. When two precaution and adventure-loving teenagers from the water nation, Katara and Sokka, come across the Avatar, a kid named Aang who can alter all elements, the evil Prince Zuko from the Fire Nation becomes hell-bent on capturing him. This forces Katara and Sokka to go above and beyond to protect Aang, kick starting a revolution in the process.
With this premise, we expect a fairly straightforward fantasy-adventure where the evil and good sides are strictly defined, and the whole thing is about a black and white battle against the Fire Nation. However, the three seasons that encapsulate the complete series are full of unexpected surprises and subversions of generic expectations we might have for the genre. Capturing the anime look of the period perfectly, the visual aesthetic of Avatar is beautiful, with distinct designs for each nation and a colorful attitude that pops.
Avatar was animated and released in standard definition, so it's understandable for us to get not much more than an upconverted transfer here. The frame rate is a bit slow, and that also comes from the show. However, the color range and contrast are great, and might be the reason to double dip into this set if you already own the DVDs.
The DTS-HD 2.0 track certainly gets the job done as far as capturing the lively anime-style sound mix of the show. Yet don't expect much dynamic range apart from what you got from the DVDs or watching the show on TV.
Audio Commentaries: The set is packed with commentaries from the cast and crew on select episodes. They are informative and fun, especially for the fans.
Behind the Scenes Kung-fu: A quick five-minute featurette about the show's martial arts.
Credits: Why is this here? It basically lets you watch the credits on their own.
Making of Avatar: A very brief featurette about the making of the show.
The Voices of Avatar: A short featurette of getting to know the voice actors.
Ask The Creators: Another short featurette where the creators answer a couple of fan questions.
Uncut Animatic: A rough animatic of one of the episodes. Perfect for anyone curious about the production process.
Behind the Scenes: A short featurette about the second season.
Inside the Sound Studios: Briefly learn about the sound design process.
Inside the Korean Animation Studios: This is more comprehensive. It takes us through the animation studio's process for half an hour.
Original Uncut Animatic: Another episode in animatic form.
Interview with M. Night Shyamalan: Ugh, skip.
The Essence of Bending: A fascinating discussion with martial arts experts about how the magical bending in the show is inspired by real moves.
Animated Graphic Novel: A short Avatar story animated as a graphic novel.
The Women of Avatar: A comprehensive featurette about the important female characters in the show.
Book Three Pencil Test Animation: A presentation of the pencil test.
Into The Fire: A forty-minute panel Q&A at Comic-Con.
Even though this is an SD upconversion, it's still the best version of the show you can get on home video. For fans who already own the DVD, it might be too much of a double dip. But for newcomers, this is the set to grab.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com