Avatar: The Way of Water 4K Blu-ray/3D BD review

Avatar: The Way of Water, Walt Disney, Ultra HD Blu-ray & All-Region BD, £30

Movie: James Cameron's Avatar sequel delivers a plot that's surprisingly low-key when compared to its record-breaking predecessor. The Way of Water offers more of the same slick sci-fi but the emphasis is on family with the stakes very personal for both protagonists and antagonists.

The story deliberately repeats beats from the first film, but also feels like a Cameron greatest hits package with elements of The Abyss, Aliens and even Titanic all filtered through the stunning CGI. It's long, at three hours, and sometimes feels self-indulgent, sagging towards the middle, although the last hour is an exciting, action-heavy thrill-ride that's sure to please. The majority of the original cast are back, some in surprising new roles, and the technical aspects of the production are all first class – making the film worth the 13-year wait.
Movie rating: 4/5


Picture: This 4K release will doubtless join the pantheon of popular demo discs. The film was finished with a 4K DI, which forms the basis of this encode, and is presented in HDR10 (but not Dolby Vision, which is typical for Disney).

The transfer uses 1.85:1, although I hesitate to refer to this as the correct theatrical aspect ratio because it was also screened at 2.35:1 in some cinemas. Interestingly, whenever a scene from the film is shown in the Making of... extras, it uses the latter framing, so in which of the two ratios it was actually composed is up for debate.

What isn't up for debate is the picture quality, which is exceptional. While the remastered version of Avatar (see boxout below) looks impressive, Cameron clearly didn't sit on his laurels during the intervening years, and the level of detail in the CGI here is breathtaking. The Na'vi and the oceans of Pandora all look photorealistic, and are seamlessly integrated with real people and physical sets.

Pixel-peepers will be delighted, and thanks to a 100GB disc (a first for a Disney release) the bit-rate remains high despite the film's length. The digital nature of the production results in pristine images free of banding, blocking or other compression artefacts, while grain-haters will revel in the crispness of the overall presentation. Black levels are inky, but shadows remain detailed.

As impressive as all this is, it's the HDR and especially the wider colour gamut that really wow. The jungles of Pandora are a riot of primaries, with the night-time bioluminescence getting an added kick from the increased dynamic range. The underwater scenes are equally stunning, combining specular highlights and deeper colours.

The Way of Water also gets a separate 3D BD release, and since it was conceived for the third dimension the results are unsurprisingly excellent. Pandoran jungles and floating mountains benefit from the added dimensionality, but it's the underwater sequences that really deliver, immersing you in coral reefs, shafts of sunlight and shoals of fish. It's also a bright and punchy image, although obviously not as vibrant as the HDR presentation.
Picture rating: 5/5


Audio: First a quick note: there are different soundtracks depending on the release, with the regular Blu-ray offering DTS-HD MA 5.1, the 3D version expanding this to 7.1, and only the 4K disc giving you the full Dolby Atmos experience. The latter is a full-bodied mix that surrounds you in a dynamic object-based soundstage. Surprisingly we didn't need to give the audio the usual 'Disney boost', and the resulting delivery was powerful and engaging. The sense of immersion is exceptional, with gunships soaring overhead, and the atmospherics of the jungle popping up all around you, but it's the underwater scenes where you get the full spatial effect. The sounds of the sea whoosh overhead with such realism you'll find yourself holding your breath.

The bass levels are excellent, digging deep when necessary and giving scenes like the attack on a mag-lev train near the start, or the sinking ship towards the end, greater impact. The dialogue is always crystal clear, while the score is cleanly rendered across the front channels, delivering new compositions from Simon Fanglen, while weaving in older ones by the late James Horner. It's a top-drawer sonic presentation that perfectly complements The Way of Water's stonking visuals.
Audio rating: 5/5


Extras: Bonus features are housed on a second Blu-ray, headlined by a series of featurettes compiled under the title Inside Pandora's Box, with a 'play all' function. Spanning around two-and-half hours, these give a very detailed look at the writing, casting, filming and post-production process. There's an additional thirty minutes of featurettes (More from Pandora's Box), along with trailers and a music video. It's a shame there's no commentary or deleted scenes, but after ploughing through over three hours of material, you'll feel like you've spent the last 13 years working on the movie.
Extras rating: 4/5


We say: A stunning AV presentation and cornucopia of extras. And pick up the 3D Blu-ray for more thrills!