Sopping Wet

Aquarela’s opening shots look like a research team investigating arctic ice. Assuming one doesn’t read Russian to translate their jackets, it’s a surprise when they begin pulling a sunken car from under the surface. This is Siberan life. It’s normal, even.

Minus any title cards, exposition, or narration, Aquarela flows like the water it depicts. To draw a comparison, Aquarela is to water what Koyaanisqatsi was to cities. Both films depict life, just in different places. Aquarela begins among glaciers, letting a story of isolated life play out before the camera, completely undisturbed by music or voice over. Icebergs pass in the current, a beautiful image, then one collapses deep in the background. Without explicitly saying so, Aquarela admonishes the loss caused by human behavior, much as it celebrates these last glimpses into a frozen landscape.

Slowly, the invisible narrative drifts southward. Sometimes there’s land. Mostly, Aquarela flies over water, capturing waves at their most turbulent. A boat is tossed upward, the captain frantically making adjustments. This is liquid power – whether the ability to drown vehicles without a wave or the potential to turn over ships when reaching a mammoth peak.

Aquarela’s footage is masterful, even brave

Soon, the ocean brings swells to Miami. Hurricane Irma bashes the coast. Then, Venezuela where flooding traps animals and turns people desperate. Aquarela’s footage is masterful, even brave. One segment looks up at an ice shelf from underwater; there’s no break in that frozen layer, and thus, no escape if something goes wrong. Later, footage looks on at people in a cave, stuck in blinding mist, looking for a way out. It’s incredible to see, doubly so when considering how this was captured.

Much of Aquarela is hypnotic. Equal parts calming and terrifying, there’s a majesty to watching this organic movement happen. Seeing crests build to feed a wave in slow motion proves overwhelmingly pure. While Aquarela too often fawns for liquid motion without notable purpose, the rest becomes an engaging meditation on oceans, storms, and ice. Heavy, lyric-less rock brings added might to scenes that need it, but it’s otherwise a story told by splashing, cracking, or animal calls.

As a documentary, Aquarela is an enthralling experiment, bringing a snapshot of Earth at this place, at this time, mournful for the loss to come. Transparently, the southerly trip erodes the ice. That freed water moves toward the equator. Aquarela tells a story non-traditionally, and it’s not one we’re ready to accept.


Obviously given a blue tint, the cinematography excels at exhibiting detail. Sun filters through icebergs with marvelous snowy texture noticed. Long shots feature each tiny wave, making use of a high-resolution source. Brilliant aerial pans excel to the horizon line.

And yes, while heavy on blue, there’s significant variety. Again with those icebergs, their thickness produces shades in droves, from the densest shadowy areas to the purest white. In Miami, gray skies shift the tone, with the city breaking out primaries where possible. The same goes for Venezuela at the end, with the first signs of warmth.

While mostly sunlit, black levels do play. Thick water demands pure black, blotting out light and adding superb dimension. Firm, consistent clarity allows purity to stick around too. Even if black levels did falter, the encode and source ensure there’s no intrusion.


Listening to Aquarela is equivalent to a 90-minute tech demo, or a Dolby/THX/DTS logo at feature length. In Atmos, this is a sensation, easily a top disc for the format.

During the early scenes, ice cracks in each speaker, bringing a definite fear to the images. Melting brings drips, falling from overhead to the rears. Waves crash through the soundstage, flawlessly utilizing height channels to indicate movement. Hurricane footage adds wind and rain, whipping past. On a sailboat, the sail creaks in protest from above.

Collapsing icebergs push the low-end. Wind and larger waves do too. The scale is unmistakable even without the visuals. Wild mixing lets the music hammer the LFE, while spreading an electric guitar into the rears or Atmos speakers. It’s a totally unique musical touch.


Nothing aside from trailers.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Uniquely structured and told, Aquarela tells the story of water in all forms, from northern ice to its transformation into dangerous weather.

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