Avatar: The Way of Water Digital 4K Review

4.5 Stars Overly long but entertaining sequel
Avatar: The Way of Water Digital 4K Screenshot

Milking every possible penny, last year’s biggest box office hit Avatar: The Way of Water gets an extended premium digital release from 20th Century Studios via Disney before arriving on physical media.

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
Released: 16 Dec 2022
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 192 min
Director: James Cameron
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Writer(s): James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Plot: Jake Sully lives with his newfound family formed on the extrasolar moon Pandora. Once a familiar threat returns to finish what was previously started, Jake must work with Neytiri and the army of the Na’vi race to protect their home.
IMDB rating: 7.8
MetaScore: 67

Disc Information
Studio: Disney
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 3 Hr. 13 Min.
Package Includes: Digital Copy
Case Type: N/A
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 03/28/2023
MSRP: $19.99

The Production: 4/5

It’s been about ten years since the Na’vi, led by Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), sent the sky people, who had been exploiting the natural resources of Pandora, packing. (You can see our review of the first Avatar movie as well) Sully and Neytiri have started a family, including orphan Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) who was immaculately conceived by the late Dr. Grace Augustine’s avatar (also Weaver) that has been kept on life support by the team of scientists that stayed behind. Their sons Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and daughter Tuk (Trinity Jo’Li Bliss) round out the family, while wild child human Spider (Jack Champion) hangs around like a stray dog. But the sky people have returned to further wreak havoc on the planet, led by General Ardmore (Edie Falco), with a team of genetically enhanced avatar hybrids that include a clone of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) tasked with hunting down Sully and his family.

This forces Sully and his family to leave their clan, meeting up with the water-based clan known as the Metkayina, whose leader Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) first rejects them and treats them as outcasts. The bulk of the film is set in this part of Pandora, as Sully and his family try to earn their keep with their new clan, learning to swim and hold their breaths underwater for an extraordinary amount of time, while Quaritch and his team of mercenaries continue to track down their prey, leading to a final showdown for the exciting third act.

Avatar: The Way of Water is the first of many planned sequels by director James Cameron, enlisting Mulan and Rise of the Planet of the Apes scribes Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver to help him pen this second entry in the series. The film does take its time to really gain some momentum, spending nearly its entire first act to bring us up to date on what everyone has been up to since the first film, then spends it rather long second act to further build the world of Pandora and introduce the new clan.

Where the sequel excels is in its photorealistic visual effects created once again by the team at WETA, especially its underwater sequences that Cameron insisted be shot using performance capture wet for wet in most cases (meaning actually shot in a water tank). The movie does run a bit long at 3 hours and 12 minutes, and Cameron probably could have trimmed a bit of the excess fat, but it is entertaining nonetheless.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Avatar: The Way of Water was captured and rendered in 4K and 3D using Sony CineAlta Venice Rialto 3D cameras for much of its production photography and completed as a 4K digital intermediate in both 2D and 3D, framed at either 1.90:1 for IMAX, 1.85:1 for theaters with standard width screens, and 2.39:1 for theaters with standard height screens, with high frame rate of 48 fps for certain shots and Dolby Vision HDR at its more premium theatrical exhibitions. For this home digital release, James Cameron has opted for the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (likely because most displays are common height). The film is available in HDR10 and Dolby Vision, but that is dependent on what formats the digital retailer you choose to view it on supports. The display I used for this review was a 55” LG C1 OLED.

I began viewing the movie on an Apple TV 4K device (1st Gen) using the Apple TV app. The 2160p Dolby Vision image was breathtakingly stunning, with incredible detail that included individual strands of hair, intricate fabric textures, and the most minute droplets of water. Colors were bold and vivid without appearing overly saturated. Contrast was excellent, with bright but not overblown highlights and deep blacks with strong shadow detail.

Next up was Vudu on my Roku Streaming Stick 4K. Vudu’s Dolby Vision encode was slightly darker and colors were also a bit subdued compared to my Apple TV screening. I also noticed some minimal banding in the opening shot. Detail was also slightly softer.

My third test was the Movies Anywhere app on the same Roku Streaming Stick 4K. MA’s DV encode fell somewhere in-between Apple TV and Vudu, leaning a bit closer to the Apple TV test, appearing brighter and more vivid with stronger detail than Vudu. Due to portal issues between Movies Anywhere and Prime Video at the time of this review, I was unable to check Prime Video, but that would likely be only an HDR10 encode.

UPDATE: The portal issues on this title between Movies Anywhere and Prime Video were resolved on March 30, 2023. As expected, Prime Video offers the film with HDR10 or HDR10+ (if your display supports it). I screened several sections of the film in HDR10 on Prime Video with a FireStick 4K, and was not impressed, as the image had more severe banding issues during the opening shot than Vudu did. Prime Video also took what seemed like forever to ramp up to UHD from 720p.

Audio: 5/5

The three services I test screened the film on offered a Dolby Atmos mix by default. As expected, the Apple TV 4K sounded the best (likely due to its superior audio processing), but only by a small factor. Overall, the sound was brighter and slightly clearer with more pronounced bass. But the Atmos encoded on Vudu and Movies Anywhere were no slouches by any means. These were also very dynamic encodes, but may have been just slightly more compressed or subject to the audio chipset limitations of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. This is a very active Atmos mix, with a wide front soundstage and immersive surrounds and heights, offering seamless movement of sound. LFE is exceptional, adding pulse-pounding emphasis to the many thuds and explosions heard in the film. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout.

UPDATE: Now that the movie finally ported from Movies Anywhere to Prime Video, I can report that, as expected, the movie is offered with a Dolby Digital+ 5.1 track, which sound fine, but nowhere near as immersive as the Atmos tracks found on the other three services.

Special Features: 4/5

While we don’t get a commentary track, we do get over three hours of bonus content. Both Movies Anywhere and Apple TV breakdown the three main segments, offering you the option to watch each segment in its entirety or by individual chapter, while Vudu only gives you the option to view each main segment in its entirety. Interestingly, although the feature is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, clips shown on the bonus content are in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. NOTE: Bonus features are only available on the Apple TV app when using an Apple TV device.

UPDATE: Prime Video is movie-only. No special features are included.

Inside Pandora’s Box (1080p; 152:14): This is a very detailed, feature-length documentary on the technical aspects of making Avatar: The Way of Water. Topics include building the world, performance capture, shooting underwater and its challenges, new and returning characters, production design, visual effects, and sound.

More from Pandora’s Box (1080p; 28:07): A look at the more human aspects of the production, such as casting, stunts, digital design, and the “troupe” of performers that included extras and stunt performers.

Marketing Materials & Music Video (1080p; 8:51): Includes the Nothing is Lost (You Give Me Strength) music video and the two theatrical trailers.

Acting Underwater for “Avatar: The Way of Water” (1080p; 1:34): A brief EPK piece that is exclusive to Movies Anywhere.

Overall: 4.5/5

Avatar: The Way of Water arrives as a premium digital purchase in time for Spring Break and for those who wish to revisit the world of Pandora that do not want to wait for the physical media release or for it to arrive on a subscription streaming service.

Todd Erwin has been a reviewer at Home Theater Forum since 2008. His love of movies began as a young child, first showing Super 8 movies in his backyard during the summer to friends and neighbors at age 10. He also received his first movie camera that year, a hand-crank Wollensak 8mm with three fixed lenses. In 1980, he graduated to "talkies" with his award-winning short The Ape-Man, followed by the cult favorite The Adventures of Terrific Man two years later. Other films include Myth or Fact: The Talbert Terror and Warren's Revenge (which is currently being restored). In addition to movie reviews, Todd has written many articles for Home Theater Forum centering mostly on streaming as well as an occasional hardware review, is the host of his own video podcast Streaming News & Views on YouTube and is a frequent guest on the Home Theater United podcast.

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Johnny Angell

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Thank you you for the review, specially for pointing out the pros and cons of the various platforms. No commentary? That means they saved it to differentiate the disc from the digital, to encourage double dipping. Gad what greedy sob’s.

I’m gonna have a hard time waiting for the disc, may not be able to do it.
 

SimonTC

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As expected, the Apple TV 4K sounded the best (likely due to its superior audio processing)
Actually it's not since the Apple cannot pass the original DD+ bitstream to an external receiver. It's decoded to PCM and then uses Dolby MAT to pass along the Atmos object info. The other services pass the Atmos bitstream to the receiver untouched, without additional processing.
 

Indy Guy

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In the scope scenes you mentioned in the bonus material, could you tell if additional material was visible on the left and right, or did it appear that 1.85 imagery above and below had been masked?
 

YANG

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a great art maestro will be very mindful of how he perceive his concept of art and the presentation of art to the public... hence, consistencies is a key word.
James Cameron option on WS1.85:1 to blend with WS1.95:1 IMAX scenes is a way to minimize the sudden jump of black bar interference is something that most other art "maestro" can't achieve!
 

Todd Erwin

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a great art maestro will be very mindful of how he perceive his concept of art and the presentation of art to the public... hence, consistencies is a key word.
James Cameron option on WS1.85:1 to blend with WS1.95:1 IMAX scenes is a way to minimize the sudden jump of black bar interference is something that most other art "maestro" can't achieve!
It is my understanding that regardless of what aspect ratio a theater was screening Way of Water in, there were no alternating aspect ratios. IMAX was 1.90:1 from beginning to end, as were 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 presentations.
 

Todd Erwin

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In the scope scenes you mentioned in the bonus material, could you tell if additional material was visible on the left and right, or did it appear that 1.85 imagery above and below had been masked?
1.85:1 is the aspect ratio James Cameron wants you to watch the film in at home. He framed the movie in all three aspect ratios with the goal of presenting the film as large as possible to the viewing audience based on the maximum dimensions of the screen being used. Most people have 16:9 displays in their homes, although he could have reframed the home version at 1.78:1 like he did on the first Avatar.

To answer your question, the 2.39:1 was likely masked.
 

Indy Guy

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1.85:1 is the aspect ratio James Cameron wants you to watch the film in at home. He framed the movie in all three aspect ratios with the goal of presenting the film as large as possible to the viewing audience based on the maximum dimensions of the screen being used. Most people have 16:9 displays in their homes, although he could have reframed the home version at 1.78:1 like he did on the first Avatar.

To answer your question, the 2.39:1 was likely masked.
Thank you...I have a 2.35 screen so I prefer scope unless it is simply a crop of the taller 1.85 image.
 

Neil S. Bulk

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Actually it's not since the Apple cannot pass the original DD+ bitstream to an external receiver. It's decoded to PCM and then uses Dolby MAT to pass along the Atmos object info. The other services pass the Atmos bitstream to the receiver untouched, without additional processing.
So it's converted to PCM downstream instead of in the source device. Where the conversion happens doesn't really matter.
 

Mark-P

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1.85:1 is the aspect ratio James Cameron wants you to watch the film in at home. He framed the movie in all three aspect ratios with the goal of presenting the film as large as possible to the viewing audience based on the maximum dimensions of the screen being used. Most people have 16:9 displays in their homes, although he could have reframed the home version at 1.78:1 like he did on the first Avatar.

To answer your question, the 2.39:1 was likely masked.
I remember an interview Cameron did around the time the first Avatar was released on video where he explained that the 2.35:1 version was simply a 20/80 masking of the 1.78:1 version, meaning of the cropped area, 20% of it was off the top and 80% of it was off the bottom of the frame. I have no idea if he used the same method for Avatar 2.
 

Edwin-S

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I remember an interview Cameron did around the time the first Avatar was released on video where he explained that the 2.35:1 version was simply a 20/80 masking of the 1.78:1 version, meaning of the cropped area, 20% of it was off the top and 80% of it was off the bottom of the frame. I have no idea if he used the same method for Avatar 2.
I think most 2.39:1 features are shot that way now. Shooting anamorphically is pretty rare now I would think.
 

Kyle_D

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I remember an interview Cameron did around the time the first Avatar was released on video where he explained that the 2.35:1 version was simply a 20/80 masking of the 1.78:1 version, meaning of the cropped area, 20% of it was off the top and 80% of it was off the bottom of the frame. I have no idea if he used the same method for Avatar 2.
The scope version Way of Water does not appear to have been a simple crop job. The following interview with the DI supervisor discusses how Cameron did “a lot of reframing in the DI” for the the separate 2.39:1 and 1.85:1 deliverables.

https://postperspective.com/avatar-the-way-of-water-colorist-tashi-trieu-on-making-the-grade/
 
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