Avatar: The Way of Water - 4K Ultra HD Streaming ReviewOverview -
The bravest pioneer, no budget’s too steep, no sea too deep, it’s him - James Cameron! Over a decade in the making, his return to Pandora proves to be a cinematic extravaganza of adventure, excitement, and special effects. Avatar: The Way of Water makes landfall on streaming 4K Ultra HD with a beautiful Dolby Vision transfer, an impressive Atmos mix, and over three hours of bonus content. Fans who can’t wait for the eventual 4K and hopefully 3D disc release can catch this streaming 4K option. Highly Recommended
Avatar: The Way of Water reaches new heights and explores undiscovered depths as James Cameron returns to the world of Pandora in this emotionally packed action adventure. Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water launches the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure. All of this against the breathtaking backdrop of Pandora, where audiences are introduced to new Na’vi cultures and a range of exotic sea creatures that populate the majestic oceans. Nominated for numerous Academy Awards® including Best Picture, the James Cameron-directed film became the third highest-grossing box office film of all-time and set a new benchmark for visual effects. Produced by Cameron and his longtime partner Jon Landau, the Lightstorm Entertainment production stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet. Joining the illustrious adult cast are talented newcomers Britain Dalton, Jamie Flatters, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Bailey Bass and Jack Champion.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
For sixteen years, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his wife Neyteri (Zoe Saldana) have lived peacefully on Pandora with their Na’vi children. Peace can only last for just so long. When the RDA forces return, they’re not there to strip-mine unobtanium but to terraform and colonize all of Pandora. Led by the Recombinant Na'vi avatar clone of Mile Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a team of lethal resurrected RDA mercs is on the hunt for Jake and his family to halt a revolt before it even starts. Fearing another bloody conflict, Jake takes his family to live with a tribe of the seafaring Metkayina hoping to restore their once-peaceful lives. But Quaritch is hungry for revenge and ready for war.
Thirteen years is a damn long time between franchise installments. Ever the cinematic perfectionist, James Cameron once again had to wait for the visual effects technology to catch up to his ambition. While he waited, he assembled a team of screenwriters to flesh out multiple story installments for his grand vision of Pandora. Was the wait and hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable production budget all worth it? Well, I guess that depends on who you ask.
For me, I loved it. I enjoyed the hell out of Avatar and I enjoyed Avatar: The Way of Water even more. I love the cheesy pulp sci-fi qualities of the characters and story that harken back to the Tarzan and Princess of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Only these are films and they’re made on a huge scale fully realizing every little itch of Cameron’s wild imagination. Characters and themes are archetypally simplistic - almost to a fault - but that’s what makes them digestible and relatable for a mass global audience.
Cameron’s stories, ideas, and dialog have always had the subtle edge of a sledgehammer, but they work. Sometimes he’s forcing that square peg into a pretty tight round hole, but by and large the emotional impact sticks. All of his films are essentially love stories between husbands, wives, and/or their children and that carries on with this sequel. Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies, and Titanic are all essentially family dramas. The Avatar films are just big-budget family dramas with epic-scale visuals, world-building, and action sequences. The material might not be densely layered but what we get with the expansion of the Sully Na’vi clan is enough to get you emotionally invested and actually care what happens to them.
For The Way of Water, Cameron essentially had to rewind the story a bit to reintroduce the world to a new generation and then push forward from there. The explanation of Quarotch and various barely memorable RDA mercs having their memories stored in case they were killed only to be cloned as Recombinant Na’vi avatars is one big plot pothole. It takes a bit of suspension of disbelief, but driving right over it, Cameron and his writers push forward. The front end of The Way of Water may be a bit clunky as it has to burn through quite a bit of exposition to introduce Pandora to a new audience, but once that’s out of the way, the show clicks and hits the water full speed. And true to form, Cameron manages to deliver one hell of a tight, tense, and outright thrilling final act. We get new locations, new tribes, new plants, new animals, and in full 3-D on IMAX it was glorious. Watching at home, the screen may be smaller but the film is still an emotionally visual feast.
It’s nice to see Sam Worthington back in action, I've always liked him and his breaks post-Avatar weren't always the best, so it's cool to see him come back home, so to speak. The modern-day queen of blockbusters, Zoe Saldana once again proves she can deliver an intensely emotional performance - even a motion-captured one. Stephen Lang now gets to chew the scenery as a blue alien, but his character is thankfully better realized in this outing giving his role a little more depth than those simple on-the-nose platitudes he had to utter. The incoming kid cast was great and it’ll be something to see their characters in later installments. The real standout was the return of Sigourney Weaver as the teenage Na’vi Kiri - even as a digitally rendered character she shines and often steals the film away from the rest of the cast.
I’m under no delusion these films are perfect. You could feel in Avatar (all three cuts) that Cameron was still figuring out what the films were going to be while also pioneering some exciting new filmmaking technology. It was a fun visual feast even if the story was overly simplistic. I was entertained enough to keep going back to it over the years and sit through it twice more for the 2022 re-release. But I was ready to see how Avatar: The Way of Water could expand the story for already shot and planned future sequels. And over three viewings at 3D IMAX, I ate it up. It’s pure escapism, plain and simple. I get why some people don’t like it, I see some of their criticisms, I just don’t agree with the severity of some of the vitriol.
But then, not every movie is for everyone. Some people hate Avatar and some people enjoy the hell out of it. I am firmly in that latter camp. I’m one of those people that is excited that The Way of Water made gobs of cash and we’ll be getting at least two or more trips to the universe of Pandora. I can’t wait to park my keister at my local IMAX and throw on some 3-D glasses for the next adventure. I'm frankly more excited by the prospect of two or three more Cameron-controlled Avatar films than the exhausting slate of safe, soulless made-by-committee IP blockbusters on the horizon. The people that don’t like the Avatar franchise can enjoy screaming their displeasures into the vast void of the internet for the next six to eight years. That sounds fun too.
For another take on the film, take a gander at Bryan’s Avatar: The Way of Water Theatrical Review
Vital Stats: The Streaming 4k UHD
Ahead of its eventual physical media release, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water washes ashore on streaming 4K UHD. Since it’s a 20th Century Studios release, it is Movies Anywhere compatible and will port to all connected accounts for Vudu, iTunes, and it should port on Prime Video, but for some reason my account didn't unlock it there. Right now there is no timetable for a 4K UHD Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, or 3D Blu-ray disc release, but we’ve been told several times now, plans are in the works for physical media releases. I’m betting this will be like Top Gun: Maverick and sometime closer to the fall or the holidays we’ll see a mass of James Cameron films get disc announcements.
On Vudu and iTunes, Avatar: The Way of Water is presented with Dolby Vision HDR (and HDR10), and for a streaming 4K transfer it’s pretty damned beautiful. From those first shots of the Hallelujah Mountains onward, the details are impressive. Time has served Cameron's CGI and real-world combination visuals well. The CGI creatures and animals enjoy much better real-to-life details in skin textures and hair to the point it’s getting to be so photo-realistic that it surmounts the dreaded uncanny valley. Some of the real-world objects and CGI blends are still not quite on point, but the tech is very, very close. For this transfer, the increased resolution can be a blessing and a curse in that regard. Some scenes are so vivid and real you feel you could reach out and touch them.
The Dolby Vision HDR is beautiful stuff. With the vast array of colors, there’s plenty of primary pop throughout while delivering lovey-shaded nuance to the palette. Black levels are overall very strong with excellent shadows and contrast for a nice three-dimensional appearance. My only “however” point - and this is an issue I have with streaming 4K as a whole - I did experience some intermittent macroblocking around deep blacks and shadows with varying light sources. This is usually an effect that I don't see on disc counterparts and is often a side effect of the lower streaming bitrate and internet connection fluctuations. Hopefully that remains the case and Disney/20th Century Studios have something worked out to accommodate a three-hour and eleven-minute movie on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.
I watched through the film primarily on iTunes with my AppleTV unit and felt this was the overall better presentation. I sampled key night and daylight scenes on Vudu and felt that the overall image was notably darker - especially in the brightly lit swimming sequences whereas the iTunes stream looked much more appealingly bright with more vivid colors. That macroblocking I described for shadows and blacks wasn’t as severe on iTunes as I experienced with Vudu. Weirdly this didn’t port to my Prime Video collection, so I can’t speak to that experience, but looking at their overall specs it appears to only offer HDR10 and then only 5.1 audio
Both iTunes and Vudu offer up Atmos audio tracks and it’s a hell of a mix. Overall I felt the iTunes had the better bass and LFE response but both kicked for an exciting immersive surround experience. There’s barely a second of the film that doesn’t offer some sort of fully-packed surround soundscape with plenty of overhead activity. The big action sequences obviously get the most care and attention but even the simple scenes of Sully’s kids swimming underwater provides a fully engaged front/center, side, rear, and height sonic experience. That last hour is 100% demo-worthy material. Throughout the show, the dialog is clean and clear without any issues. Simon Franglen takes over scoring duties for the late James Horner. Much like his work for The Magnificent Seven remake, you feel those old iconic Horner motifs while expanding the work with his own flavor. It’s a lovely accompaniment to the film and never overpowers the mix delivering maximum emotional impact for many key sequences.
Not to discount the value of streaming 4K in the bonus features as a physical media fan, but it’s nice to see that some effort was made in this department. It’s a Cameron film so there’s a wealth of material to dig through with over three hours of content (roughly the length of the film itself). The biggest and best beast of the set is “Inside Pandora’s Box” a lengthy two-and-a-half-hour making-of documentary. This can feel a little “back-patty” as they talk about the intense creative process but they do get down into the nitty gritty of bringing this sequel to life while also teasing material we’ll see in later sequels. On Vudu, this is presented as one big block of material, on iTunes you can do the “play all” function or you can select specific sections. Hopefully, all of this material will make it to the disc release and not stuck as a digital-only extra feature.
- Inside Pandora’s Box (2:32:26)
- More From Pandora’s Box (28:18)
- Marketing Materials and Music Video (9:02)
2009’s Avatar was more of a proof-of-concept film. It proved that James Cameron’s imagination could run wild and still deliver an exciting epic sci-fi story. Avatar: The Way of Water feels more like Cameron’s vision fully realized. The story is bigger in scale with more character depth with bigger and better visual effects for an exciting piece of huge-budget pulp science fiction. It’s not the greatest film ever made, or of 2022 - but it was amazing entertainment and perfect for a return to the biggest theater screens around.
Even as the film still sits in the box office top ten in theaters, Avatar: The Way of Water comes home for an extended streaming experience ahead of an eventual physical media release and Disney+. I’m betting this will follow the Top Gun: Maverick playbook in that regard - get us through summer and then schedule a mass of Cameron films on disc ahead of the holidays. As a streaming experience, it’s impressive. I had a better time with iTunes than Vudu overall, but the Dolby Vision transfer is often stunning and the Atmos audio delivers a full sonically immersive experience. While I hope a home 3D option is available someday, this is a nice teaser of what we’ll be getting on disc. Throw in over three hours of interesting and informative bonus features into the mix and you’ve got a worthwhile streaming package. Highly Recommended
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