Wet, Wild, and Really Long

The easiest way to describe watching Avatar: Way of Water is imagine being forced to endure an average Netflix series in one session. It’s a fragmented, often aimless story that aside from its visuals (which too become obnoxiously oversaturated in three hours), offers nothing of memorable merit.

Way of Water isn’t dissimilar from the first Avatar, which earned a confused, even baffling public response that left next to no one talking about it after leaving the theater, but somehow earned billions in box office. The sequel follows suit, with soldiers from Earth trying to colonize Pandora, with even more listless context for grating action scenes. Much like the early Transformers movies, Way of Water likely thrives at 90-minutes, maybe two hours, but at three, it’s insufferably bloated.

Way of Water likely thrives at 90-minutes, maybe two hours, but at three, it’s insufferably bloated

Director/co-writer James Cameron fails in establishing nuance, presenting the same villain (Stephen Lang) to bring the same ships (without reinforced glass to protect from arrow strikes, learning nothing from last time) onto the same planet, just in water. Credit where it’s due: the underwater motion capture looks astonishing, but also suggests a filmmaking hubris, creating unnecessary danger on set for the nearly 100% digital finished product. And, if Way of Water indeed pushes visual effects forward, that’s great, but not if the result is even longer hours and lower pay for the visual effects studios making this material.

And again, Way of Water pushes back against capitalist greed, blindness toward climate change, and humanity’s ability to shut off their empathy when told. Nuanced this is not. The native Na’vi live in luxurious forests, the invading forces in dusty brown, metallic structures. Lang, now himself an avatar, offers no counterpoint to his villainy – he’s as empty a villain as any low-rent ‘80s action movie, and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) the ever-perfect hero keeping peace while dealing with family matters.

At some two hours into Way of Water, after constructing mini-episodes around individual characters that run so long as to forget their place in the story, the script introduces Amrite. Like Unobtanium in Avatar, Amrite grants story purpose (anti-aging properties, not just minerals), but is extracted from a whale-like creature. Once introduced, it’s never mentioned again. It’s not as if Way of Water didn’t have time.

Yes, the action produces gargantuan scale, some excitement, and tension, at least until the finale when Cameron recounts his Titanic days with a sinking ship and trapped inhabitants. Between those flurries, packed with explosions, it’s sluggish, forcing Sully to relearn the Na’vi ways, as if the first Avatar didn’t spend three hours doing identically that. The only change is water, which while prettier, doesn’t amount to much.

Video

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Way of Water is a visual spectacle. It’s glowing, bright, intense, colorful, and detail-rich enough to set a new standard for visual effect spectacles. The HDR grading shines, giving Pandora a magic-like presence from bio-luminescent plants, or sunlight gleaming off watery surfaces. A slight noise remains throughout, more noticeable in darker scenes, but always there. Encoding handles this without issue.

Masterfully detailed, the texture evident on digital surfaces looks marvelously sharp. Facial definition shows in every frame, no matter the distance. Way of Water makes full use of the available resolution, missing nothing and remaining dead-on sharp throughout, a spot or two of barely detectable aliasing aside.

Ludicrously colorful imagery goes beyond blue skin and green foliage. Bright, vivid saturation is found everywhere, from things like ship engines, war paint, and explosions. Various wildlife sport variety galore, adding to the brilliance. The Earth-led side brings with dazzling browns, grays, and attractive paint.

Audio

Again no surprise, Way of the Water utilizes top-end audio design, and isn’t hampered by Disney’s usual limitations. With immediacy, range shows off from arriving spacecraft engines and a train crash. Depth charges make for an absolute subwoofer demo sequence. Substantial, room-shaking weight remains evident no matter the action scene, and scale is undeniable from the Atmos track alone, let alone the visuals.

Atmos effects feature prominently, whether flying vehicles or animals sweeping by. Surrounds engage at every opportunity, and precision sounds exquisite. Way of Water bounces from speaker to speaker effortlessly, a three-hour demo whether that’s during dialog where the ambience can show off or the action with bullets, rockets, and more bouncing around.

Extras

The UHD itself is barren. The third disc in the case is a Blu-ray filled with bonuses. For an odd side note, the standard Blu-ray and 4K disc put the entire movie on one disc. The 3D release uses two discs for the movie alone.

Split into three sections, the bonus disc begins with a look at the film’s creation, and totals 150-minutes. It’s in-depth, if with a definite marketing slant. Features on the technology, the challenging motion capture sessions, the new characters, and even sound design earn individual chapters. Some offer more depth than others, but nothing seems missed. In particular, the 11-minutes spent on the underwater acting is especially engaging.

The second section leans more toward EPK material, combining for 28-minutes. The final segment includes the marketing, from trailers to posters and galleries.

Avatar: The Way of Water
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
2

Movie

Way of Water continues Avatar’s story in a near-identical way to the first, but it’s an undeniable visual feast.

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User Review
2.6 (5 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 59 full resolution, uncompressed 4K screen shots ripped directly from the UHD:


One thought on "Avatar: The Way of Water 4K UHD Review"

  1. rdo says:

    The shortest 3 hours ever. Long? Masterful, great, and moving! By the way, awful 4k remaster, the 3D version looks much better.

    Movie:10/10.

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