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New iTunes-only 'Avatar' offers rich interactive viewing

Twentieth Century Fox is making a new version of James Cameron's mega-hit film available that will let fans see how the final version of the film compares to the original motion-capture footage, as well as the initial template visual effects.

A look at one of the new views available in the iTunes Extras version of 'Avatar.' It allows fans to simultaneously watch the final version of scenes alongside performance capture and template versions. Twentieth Century Fox

Starting Tuesday, "Avatar" fans who buy the mega-hit film on iTunes will also get a set of cool behind-the-scenes interactive features.

For the last couple of years, movie buyers have gotten some of the same kinds of "extras" on iTunes that have long been included on DVD and Blu-ray versions of films. But now, with its new digital download of "Avatar," Fox is stepping up the offerings--"scene deconstruction" that lets viewers "move seamlessly from performance capture to template to final scene."

As part of the package, buyers will get access to 17 scenes worth of the film's original motion-capture footage, as well as a "template" version of its Academy Award-winning visual effects.

Even better, fans of James Cameron's $2.8 billion blockbuster will be able to watch the different versions of the footage side-by-side, or screen-in-screen.

A 12GB, high-definition version of the film will cost $20 and will include fully 7GB of special footage, said Aubrey Freeborn, senior vice president for marketing and product management at Twentieth Century Fox. The 7GB standard-def version will run $15 and include 4.6GB of the special footage.

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Fox has designed the interactivity to work in a variety of ways. Fans can watch the 17 scenes and choose one version--final, template, or mo-cap--as the main view. They would then see the other two views in screen-in-screen boxes, and can switch which view is in which box.

At the same time, they can also choose a vertical or horizontal split-screen view, with the scenes' final version on either the top or the left side, and the template version on the bottom or right side.

Another feature is called Green Screen X-Ray, and allows viewers to see through the final version of a scene to the original green screen footage. Twentieth Century Fox

Finally, there are also several scenes of what Fox is calling "green screen X-Ray," an "interactive way to see through a final scene to its original green screen footage."

Freeborn said that much of the same material is currently available on the Blu-Ray version of "Avatar," but that the iTunes offering is much more "seamless." Essentially, that means that those who buy the film via Apple will be able to switch between views with a single click, while the Blu-Ray version requires backing out to a main menu for any changes.

For Fox, this new iTunes version of "Avatar" is a way to showcase what it plans on doing with a number of other movies going forward. In general, said Freeborn, for visual-effects-heavy films, Fox will offer similar types of alternate versions of scenes. And, the studio plans on going back over its existing catalog and adding extras where it can. "We're looking for other ways to let the consumer interact," said Freeborn. "It's about finding what is appropriate for the movie."

For now, though, Fox is focusing on the "Avatar" release because it wants to make sure that buyers get the most out of the new extras, and because it wants to set a good precedent for future offerings.

Freeborn also said that for the time being, iTunes will be the only digital platform through which fans can buy the new interactive version of "Avatar." But she said that will change when services like Amazon and others allow similar types of extras.

At the same time, those buying the film through iTunes will only be able to access the special features on their Mac or PC. That's because neither the iPad nor the iPhone currently supports such extras. An Apple spokesperson wouldn't say when that would change.