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‘Avatar’ will hit Blu-ray and DVD on Earth Day, April 22

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Avatar’ may be the ultimate big-screen experience, but how will it fit into the living rooms of America?

That’s the challenge presented to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, which on Tuesday will announce some unconventional plans for the DVD and Blu-ray release of the highest-grossing film in the history of Hollywood box office.

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‘Avatar’ will hit stores on April 22, and instead of a disc loaded with extras, it will be just the opposite -- a lean-and-mean approach with only the movie and a relatively simple menu function, a move made to exploit every bit of disc space for the top-of-the-line audio and video presentation of the film, according to the movie’s producer, Jon Landau.

In fact, according to sources at Fox, ‘Avatar’ will make history as the first Blu-ray new release from a major studio to hit stores without a single trailer or promotional content of any kind.

‘We went to Fox and told them that, for this movie, we wanted to do something really special and reach for the best presentation of any film in the history of the format,’ Landau said. ‘This is a movie that has done the unexpected every step of the way. Fox agreed with us and the result is amazing. Everything that is put on a disc takes up room -- the menus, the extras, the trailers and studio promotions -- and we got rid of all of that so we could give this movie the best picture and sound possible.’

In another unusual wrinkle, ‘Avatar’ will reach shelves on a Thursday as opposed to the traditional Tuesday release day, so it can coincide with Earth Day. Fox is poised to announce a special environmental campaign that will key off of that date and the film’s themes of ecological harmony. Landau and writer-director James Cameron will attend an March 23 press event in West Hollywood where they will discuss the release, the environmental tie-in and plans for a multi-disc ‘ultimate version’ that will follow in November.

One thing the home-video release won’t be is 3-D. Just as Cameron took years to make ‘Avatar’ while waiting for the technology that lived up to his visual aspiration, the filmmaker is holding back the 3-D-in-the-home version until the nascent marketplace catches up. Reports that the 3-D version will be released later this year are wrong, according to Fox sources.

Nonetheless, Landau said anyone who watches the 2-D home-video version of the film -- especially the Blu-ray edition -- will be ‘blown away’ by the clarity, color and depth of the image. Typically, the compression sessions that take a theatrical release into the Blu-ray version last two weeks, but for this project the labor stretched out to six weeks.

Consumers will not be getting that hard work for cheap; ‘Avatar’ arrives at retail with premium pricing. For the Earth Day release, the single-disc version of ‘Avatar’ will have a suggested retail price of $29.98 on DVD and $39.99 on Blu-ray. A source at Fox said the ‘shelf’ prices at many retailers will be closer to $19.99 for the DVD and $29.99 for the Blu-ray.

Fox is hoping ‘Avatar’ will make home-video history, rivaling the fastest-selling title ever, ‘The Dark Knight,’ which sold 3 million copies its first day in stores in December 2008 (600,000 of those on Blu-ray). CinemaScore, which has been doing consumer research with the Blu-ray format since October 2008, reports that ‘purchase intent’ among consumers is higher for ‘Avatar’ than any previous title. Also, Fox research suggests that a significant percentage of surveyed moviegoers said they plan to use the arrival of ‘Avatar’ as an impetus to switch to the Blu-ray format.

‘Avatar’ opened in theaters on Dec. 18 and has grossed $2.6 billion worldwide. Landau said he believes the film will continue to do well at theaters and find a different sort of success on home video. He dismissed the suggestion that the 3-D epic will be cramped in the far smaller 2-D home-theater setting.

‘There are details that you can see on the Blu-ray that are just amazing,’ Landau said. ‘And the reason the movie has done so well isn’t because of the 3-D, it’s because of the story and the messages and the imagination. The way I view the Blu-ray is a chance for people to go back to Pandora.’

-- Geoff Boucher

‘Avatar’ images from Fox

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