Last week, Fox announced the details of the new super deluxe 3-disc DVD release of Avatar. It has all the usual bells and whistles and more. But what really caught my attention was the inclusion of a "Family Audio Track" that purportedly removes all objectionable language. To my knowledge, this is the first time that the home video release of a major blockbuster has offered this kind of option and it reminded me of the controversy from a few years ago concerning ClearPlay and CleanFlicks.
At the time, the movie studios and a group of notable directors objected to the idea that someone else could tamper with their creative work without the approval of the studio or the filmmaker. ClearPlay, which offers a DVD player that allows parents to filter out offensive content without actually altering the film itself, was eventually protected by federal legislation in 2005. CleanFlicks, which edited films and then produced and sold the edited copies, was effectively shut down by a lawsuit for violating copyright law in 2006. In this instance, however, it is the studio itself that is offering a cleaned up version of the movie; and given director James Cameron's meticulous attention to every detail of his films, it can be reasonably assumed that he approved the new audio track as well. Studios and filmmakers do this sort of thing regularly, of course, producing edited versions of films for airlines and for broadcast television. But this is the first time that I've seen such an edit made commercially available (the general practice actually works the opposite direction, with DVDs regularly providing unrated versions of films that promise even more profanity, nudity, gore, etc.)
What makes this feature all the more refreshing is the fact that it is so unnecessary from a business standpoint. Let's face it, Avatar is already the highest grossing film of all time. There's not much room for significantly expanding the audience and the DVD will sell millions of copies regardless of the audio track. But it's a nice tip of the hat to discerning parents who were maybe on the fence about letting their 9 or 10-year-old see the movie. You may find other aspects of Avatar objectionable, such as the political subtext or the violence, and an alternate audio track won't fix that for you. But if you consider it to simply be a really cool sci-fi epic with a little too much rough language for younger ears, the family audio track just might give you a nice option for sharing the movie with your kids. And just as every big movie has jumped on the 3D bandwagon in light of Avatar's success, perhaps more films will follow this example and give families more home viewing choices.