By Joe Morgenstern
If you think Blu-ray discs are just another way to separate consumers from their hard-earned cash, you've got another think-and a closer look-coming. This relatively new high-definition formatt delivers brilliantly on its promise.
In a stream of Blu-ray titles that will soon become a torrent, the standout so far is "Avatar," which was released last month in a two-disc combo package that includes a standard-def DVD. Be forewarned that this is the movie-in 2-D-and nothing more; subsequent packages will offer special features, additional footage and, before too long, 3-D. Be enticed, however, by the astonishing quality of the images and the sound. On a good hi-def display this disc makes the concept of home theater truly theatrical. The absence of 3-D is a loss, especially in lyrical interludes with those enchanting phosphorescent floaters and aerial jellyfish, but not so much of a loss, or none at all, in action sequences that depend on movement and mass. When Pandora's giant Hometree falls, it's an in-home calamity.
'STOP MAKING SENSE'
'Stop Making Sense' makes another kind of sense as a Blu-ray release. It isn't that Jonathan Demme's Talking Heads concert film-one of the best concert films ever made, by the way-looks significantly better than it does on a conventional DVD. Every format is limited by the quality of the source material, and Jordan Cronenweth's cinematography was admirable though not exceptional. But the concert sounds remarkably better, because 'Stop Making Sense' was, in 1985, the first film to be recorded entirely in digital audio, and Blu-ray discs have the storage capacity to precisely replicate studio masters. This disc is a feast for sore ears.