When Avatar opened in December 2009 – on track to become the biggest film of all time, with more than $2.8 billion at the worldwide box office – for many moviegoers it was the first time experiencing digital 3D. Now, filmmaker James Cameron and producer Jon Landau will re-introduce audiences to their groundbreaking film with a stunning remastered version for today’s cinemas.
Starting Friday, audiences will return to a Pandora full of vivid details and colors that they didn’t see when the film was last in theaters, when many theaters were equipped with first-generation digital cinema projectors combined with new 3D systems. And for younger moviegoers, this may be their first chance to experience Pandora in 3D on a big screen. Lightstorm Entertainment by Cameron and Landau remastered the film in 4K in high dynamic range, with selected scenes at 48 frames per second.
“For us, 3D is about that window to the world – not a world coming out of a window. We want the screen plane to disappear and the audience to be transported into our narrative story,” says Landau The Hollywood Reporter. “By doing all these things – the 4K, the high dynamic range, the higher frame rate and the improved sound – it takes the audience even more into the world of Pandora.”
The experience is supported by the remastering, coupled with cinemas offering projection systems capable of doing more than was possible in 2009. Landau remembers the first time he saw the first tests for the remastering of a scene of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) riding the banshee, the flying creature ridden by the Na’vi.
“There were colors and details in the banshee that I didn’t know existed. I said, ‘Oh my god, look at that. Look at that iridescent quality”, Landau says with a laugh. “When Jake enters the rainforest in the nighttime bioluminescence, the colors and the detail and the range of colors and how rich your black can be and how bright your white can be, without blowing things out, you go, ‘Wow.'”
Selective use of a high frame rate of 48 frames per second was also used as a creative aid in the remastering, a step that incorporated Pixelworks’ TruCut Motion master software. Landau notes that in those moments, 48 frames per second made the image appear smoother and more consistent with what the human eye would see in real life.
“Forty-eight frames for us is not something that needs to be ubiquitous in every shot,” says Landau. “Forty-eight frames wouldn’t necessarily enhance a close-up. We want to use it as a creative tool…where it helps, but where it doesn’t take you out of the cinematic feel of a movie. It’s a creative tool that you would use, just like you would use focus.”
Sound has also progressed since 2009. For example, Dolby Atmos was only introduced in 2012. Four-time Oscar winner Christopher Boyes gave the new Avatar master an enhanced mix. Boyes was the accompanying sound editor, designer and re-recording mixer on the original Avatar and returns to this role for Avatar: The way of the water.
“If you’re presenting an image on the screen with more detail, you have to complement it with sound that has more detail,” says Landau, noting that the mix and much of the post-production of the new version was completed on Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post in Wellington, New Zealand.
Consider this to get an idea of the effort Landau and Cameron put into achieving the best possible presentation quality. 2009 more than 100 different delivery versions from Avatar – an unprecedented number at the time – were created for the day-and-date release in 102 countries. That included varying degrees at different light levels to best suit each type of projection system. For this Disney re-release that number will be significantly higher. And later this year The way of the water may include the largest number of deliverables ever made for a single film.
“We’re driving the studio surgery team crazy,” admits Landau. “We sit there and say, ‘Okay, if we do this, let’s get the best picture possible.’ If a theater is capable of presenting at 14 foot-lamberts (a measure of light), we supply them with a 14 foot-lambert master.If they are able to deliver three and a half, those consumers should have the best possible experience And we’re doing a master for the three and a half foot lamberts.”
The masters collection also accommodates different aspect ratios and specific requirements for auditoriums configured for Dolby Cinema or Imax.
“We’ll take the maximum width and maximum height as we can, the brightest light levels,” Landau says, noting that the number of unique versions also includes those for local languages, subtitles, and the hard of hearing. Landau says: “It is astronomical.”
The Avatar reissue isn’t the end of Cameron and Landau’s quest for previous record-breaking films. The duo’s Lightstorm Entertainment plans to remaster too Titanic in 4K, in high dynamic range and at a frame rate of 48 frames per second.