Avatar: The Way of Water – Collector’s Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Dec 22, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Avatar: The Way of Water – Collector’s Edition (4K UHD Review)


James Cameron

Release Date(s)

2022 (December 19, 2023)


Lightstorm/TSG Entertainment II/20th Century Studios (20th Century Studios Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: A

Avatar: The Way of Water – Collector’s Edition (4K Ultra HD)



[Editor’s Note: Portions of this film review were written by Stephen Bjork, while the remainder was written by Bits editor Bill Hunt.]

Sixteen years after forcing the RDA to abandon Pandora, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has now fully merged with his avatar and lives as the chief of his Na’vi forest clan. He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are also raising several children of their own, including sons Neteyam and Lo’ak, daughter Tuk, and adoptees Kiri (played by Sigourney Weaver, somehow born of the late Grace Augustine’s discarded avatar) and Spider (the human son of the late Colonel Quaritch, who was too young to return to Earth in cryosleep).

When the RDA suddenly returns however, determined to take Pandora for humanity by force (because Earth is now dying), Jake and his family are forced to flee. It seems the invaders have created new “recombinant” avatars—using the implanted memories of deceased marines (including Quaritch, played again by Stephen Lang)—to take down Jake once and for all. The Sullys briefly find shelter with the aquatic Metkayina clan, led by Tonowari and Ronal (Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet), but it soon becomes clear that the RDA and its recombinant “Blue Team” aren’t ever going to stop hunting them. So Jake, his family, and all the Na’vi must once again rally to save everything they hold dear.

Released thirteen years after the original film, Avatar: The Way of Water finds itself in a paradoxical position. It’s a sequel to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster of all time, yet one the moviegoing public wasn’t necessarily clamoring to see. Even if director James Cameron hadn’t taken his time in bringing The Way of Water to the big screen, the original Avatar managed to generate record-breaking grosses while having remarkably little cultural impact. It was an oft-admired film, but one that was seldom loved. Yet Cameron’s plan for Pandora includes at least three more sequels to come, and the box-office success of The Way of Water means we’ll almost certainly see them all realized eventually.

There can be no doubt that Cameron’s vision is extraordinary, at least in terms of the sights and sounds on display here. The Way of Water ups the ante over the original Avatar in multiple ways, starting with its depiction of an entirely new region of Pandora—its ocean environments. Far more compelling than the forests of the first film, the high frame rate 3D gives the water a tactile quality never before seen in theaters. That realism remains just as compelling at home without HFR (though it should be noted that a Blu-ray 3D version is available separately). The visuals transcend both their digital nature and the uncanny valley that’s been such a limitation for photorealistic CGI in the past, bringing these characters and their surroundings to genuinely vivid life in a way that never gets old, even after more than three hours of viewing. The advances in virtual volume technology and motion capture—perhaps emotion capture would be more accurate—are significant too.

Still, the dramatic narrative here remains frustratingly simplistic. At the core of both Avatar films lies the myth of native peoples living in perfect harmony with their environments. While it may be true that they live in greater harmony, they’re still exploiting the environment in their own ways for survival—it’s just that some types of exploitation are more sustainable than others. But the real issue is that The Way of Water also reveals the essential paradox at the heart of this filmmaker’s vision, and frankly much of his career: Cameron’s environmental concerns are counterbalanced by his obvious fascination with technology, military hardware in particular. Avatar and The Way of Water are both staggeringly-beautiful productions that preach peace and celebrate nature, while also finding endless and ingeniously-creative ways to depict violence, fetishizing AMP suits and gunships to the same degree as banshees and tulkun. Thirteen years later, Cameron’s world-building remains superb. It’s just that he’s once again allowed his predilections to get the better of his pretensions.

The Way of Water’s live action elements were captured digitally in 16-bit X-OCN RAW format (at 4K resolution) by cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic, True Lies) and his team using Sony CineAlta Venice 3D and PXW-Z450 cameras, with Fujinon MK and Premier Cabrio lenses. Additional performance imagery was captured using a virtual camera and volume, supplemented by a Simul-Cam process that combined the live-action, performance capture, and rough animatic imagery all at once, allowing Cameron and Carpenter to “shoot” the film in much the same way a documentarian might. All of this was then enhanced and supplemented by extensive computer-generated visuals to produce the final result, a native 4K Digital Intermediate framed at both the 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 aspect ratios (depending on the theatrical exhibition venue). For its appearance on Ultra HD, the 192-minute theatrical presentation has been graded for high dynamic range (and both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included this time). In a slight departure from the original Avatar (reviewed here), which was presented on disc at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, The Way of Water is framed at 1.85:1 for its Blu-ray and 4K UHD release.

The resulting 4K image is absolutely breathtaking, smooth and highly dimensional, with sublime detail and complex yet cleanly-refined texturing. Subtleties abound in skin, hair, foliage, hand-woven attire, corals, rocks, even density effects like fog, haze, and sunbeams filtering down through water. The dynamic range is impressive too, with deeply black shadows that retain texture detail, and bold highlights that lend added realism to wave-tops, glistening skin, phosphorescence, starlight, explosions, flame, and the nighttime glow of Pandora’s gas giant primary. What’s more, the film’s palette is luminous in HDR, with vibrant, nuanced, and highly varied hues (and the addition of Dolby Vision makes a difference here). Perhaps best of all, the film has been included on a 100GB disc to allow for consistently high bit rates (approximately 45 Mbps, per the studio). In every sense of the word, this is a reference quality 4K image. In fact, along with the recent Oppenheimer 4K release, it’s arguably the best looking 4K disc since last year’s Top Gun: Maverick. It’s also identical in every way to the June 2023 4K release (right down to the menus and audio/subtitle options) save for the addition of Dolby Vision metadata.

Audio-wise, the 4K disc includes a home theater port of the film’s theatrical English Dolby Atmos mix that’s fantastic from start to finish. The stage is big, wide, and highly immersive, with constant surround and height channel activity, and smooth movement. Bass is exceptional, notably more robust than it appears in the film’s streaming incarnations. The mix goes from softly nuanced to thunderous and muscular with absolute ease. Dialogue is clean and discernible at all times, while Simon Franglen’s score—which honors the work of the late James Horner on the original film—is layered in with pleasing fidelity and musicality. This is a terrific surround sound experience. Additional options include English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Descriptive Audio (in 2.0 Dolby Digital), an English Family Audio Track (in 5.1 Dolby Digital), French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish and Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. Optional subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, and Japanese. (Note that the Blu-ray version swaps the Atmos for 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.)

Fox’s new 4K Ultra HD Collector’s Edition package is a 4-disc set that includes the film in 4K on UHD and 1080p HD on Blu-ray, along with two Blu-ray special features discs. The exact breakdown of the content on each disc is as follows:


  • Theatrical Release (4K – 192:34)


Content-wise, this disc is essentially the same as the 4K disc, simply with the film in HD and no Atmos mix.


This disc includes all new bonus content.

  • Behind-the-Scenes Presentation Hosted by Jon Landau (HD – 36:56)
  • Memories from Avatar: The Way of Water (HD – 19:10)
  • Production Design Panel Hosted by Jon Landau (HD – 32:09)
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes
    • User’s Guide for Viewing Deleted Scenes and Extended Cuts with Unfinished Shots (HD – 1:53)
    • 2012: Date Night (Extended Cut) (HD – 1:47)
    • 2055A: Crashed Samson Tiltrotor (Extended Cut) (HD – 1:20)
    • 2095: Goodbye Mo’at (HD – 1:52)
    • 2114: Neytiri Rides an Ilu (HD – 1:02)
    • 2115A: Spider Mocks the Recoms (HD – 1:17)
    • 2128: Neytiri Spearfishes (HD – :56)
    • 2134-2136-2133A-2119: Learning Montage (HD – 1:27)
    • 2169B: Ardmore and Quaritch Discuss Jake (Extended Cut) (HD – 1:26)
    • 2179A: Ta’unui Village (Extended Cut) (HD – 4:25)
    • 2199-2208: The Tulkun Hunt (Extended Cut) (HD – 7:59)
    • 2307: Scoresby and Garvin Rescued (HD – :54)
    • 2316-2317-2318A: Parents from Hell and Standoff (Extended Cut) (HD – 7:43)
  • Scene Deconstruction (HD – multi-angle feature with 11 scenes – 24:49 in all)
    • Quaritch Wakes Up in His New Body
    • The Return to High Camp
    • High Camp Biolab
    • Quaritch and Ardmore Discuss Their Mission
    • Jake and Neytiri Argue
    • First Swim
    • Lo’ak Meets Payakan
    • Jake and Kiri Dock Talk
    • Death Rock
    • Spider Finds Quaritch Underwater and Saves Him
    • Spider Drags Quaritch to Land but Leaves Him
  • Production Materials
    • “One Meal a Day” (HD – 3:28)
    • Editing (HD – 7:49)
    • 3D Technology (HD – 6:25)
    • Virtual Camera (HD – 5:14)
    • Bringing the RDA to Life (HD – 7:13)
    • Tank Timelapse (HD – 2:45)
    • Wētā Reel (HD – 3:31)
    • ILM Reel (HD – 7:08)
    • CJ Jones Sign Language Guide (HD – 5:19)
    • JackCam (HD – 3:56)
    • Shaman Blessing (HD – 1:07)
    • Cliff Curtis Blessings (HD – 16:26)
  • Beyond the Big Screen
    • Pandora: The World of Avatar (HD – 8:56)
    • Crew Movie – Avatar: The Way of the Jimverse (HD – 6:13)
    • James Cameron and Jon Landau Hand and Footprint Ceremony (HD – 25:46)
    • “Scene at the Academy” (HD – 12:13)
  • Archives: Script, Artwork, Marketing (all galleries in HD)
    • Monday Night Football TV Spot (HD – 2:02)
    • Original Script (Still Gallery)
    • Artwork Gallery (Still Gallery)
    • Set Stills (Still Gallery)
    • Russell Carpenter (Still Gallery)
    • Advertising (Still Gallery)
    • Fan Art (Still Gallery)


This disc is identical to the bonus disc included with the original 4K UHD release.

  • Inside Pandora’s Box
    • Building the World of Pandora (HD – 9:33)
    • Capturing Pandora (HD – 10:47)
    • The Undersea World of Pandora (HD – 11:30)
    • The Challenges of Pandora’s Waters (HD – 11:42)
    • Pandora’s Returning Characters (HD – 8:49)
    • Pandora’s Next Generation (HD – 10:47)
    • Spider’s Web (HD – 10:23)
    • Becoming Na’vi (HD – 10:51)
    • The Reef People of Pandora (HD – 11:47)
    • Bringing Pandora to Life (HD – 14:40)
    • The RDA Returns to Pandora (HD – 13:34)
    • The New Characters of Pandora (HD – 9:38)
    • The Sounds of Pandora (HD – 13:27)
    • New Zealand – Pandora’s Home (HD – 4:24)
  • More from Pandora’s Box
    • Casting (HD – 10:01)
    • Stunts (HD – 5:42)
    • The Lab (HD – 6:43)
    • The Troupe (HD – 5:38)
  • Marketing Materials & Music Video
    • The Weeknd’s Nothing Is Lost (You Give Me Strength) Music Video (HD – 4:41)
    • Theatrical Trailer 1 (HD – 1:39)
    • Theatrical Trailer 2 (HD – 2:30)

Disc Three of this set contains all-new bonus content, including another great Behind-the-Scenes Presentation featuring producer Jon Landau talking about how the production originated and developed in the aftermath of the original Avatar. Key members of the film’s cast (including Worthington, Saldana, Weaver, and Lang) join Landau to talk about coming back for the sequel in Memories from Avatar. The producer also hosts a Production Design Panel with supervising art director Aashrita Kamath and co-production designers Ben Procter and Dylan Cole, who talk about the challenges involved in expanding the creatures and environments of Pandora, the new technology of the RDA, and more.

You also get to see some thirty minutes’ worth of deleted and extended scenes, each of which includes text that indicates what state the scene was in when deleted, as well as the reasons why it was cut. This is followed by roughly twenty-five minutes of multi-angle scene deconstructions, and several featurettes covering various aspects of the production, from the 3D process and virtual camera technology to multiple VFX house demo reels and even footage of a Brazilian rainforest shaman blessing the production. Particularly interesting is “One Meal a Day” which shows Cameron and his production company making an effort to “walk the walk” when it comes to being environmentally friendly, rather than just giving lip service to the idea. A section called Beyond the Big Screen includes other odds and ends, among them an animated crew video—Avatar: The Way of the Jimverse—that is a sequel of sorts to the Crew Short included as a Digital extra on the Avatar: Collector’s Edition 4K release (reviewed here). Plus you get more still galleries that contain lots of new production artwork, Cameron’s complete original screenplay for the sequel, and even poster and fan artwork.

Disc Four, meanwhile, is identical to the bonus disc included with the original 4K release of Avatar: The Way of Water (reviewed here). Its extras cover seemingly every aspect of the production from start to finish. They begin with a look at the world-building of creatures and biomes. Then we see the actors working with performance capture and the virtual volume, the work required to flesh out the ocean environment and populate it with creatures, and the use of performance capture tech in underwater tanks. We learn about characters old and new, the effort required to train the actors as Na’vi, the new Reef culture, the RDA’s new tech, and the film’s score and sound design. There’s a tribute to WETA and the filmmaking talent in New Zealand. You get screen test footage, a look at the fight choreography and stunt work, the virtual and post production pipeline, and the troupe of actors and dancers who bring all of the background Na’vi characters to life. Finally, there are a pair of trailers and a video for The Weeknd’s closing credits song.

While these features are not quite as comprehensive as those made for the original Avatar, by the standards of today’s typical Blu-ray and 4K special editions, this set is positively loaded. And all of this content is thoughtful, interesting, and genuinely informative, created for diehard fans as opposed to simply being intended for use as studio EPK material. Note that the package also includes a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy code on a paper insert, though there do not appear to be any Digital-exclusive features this time (as there were for the original Avatar: The Way of Water 4K release). And the packaging itself features a sturdy, glossy, and embossed hard slipcover that protects a cardboard book-style case that holds the actual discs and that latches with a magnetic clasp. It’s gorgeous, efficient at holding and protecting the discs, and it’s environmentally friendly too. It also matches the packaging for the Avatar: Collector’s Edition 4K release, so one presumes that future sequels will be similarly housed.

There can be no doubt that Avatar: The Way of Water represents a new high-water mark for the technology of filmmaking, with dazzling CG imagery that flexes its prowess without shame. Frankly, it’s remarkable how far this tech has come in the last thirteen years, yet generative AI, neural networks, and machine-learning algorithms are only going to improve upon these capabilities and probably quite rapidly. Even so, whether or not you enjoy The Way of Water will probably come down to whether or not you enjoyed the original Avatar, because this is definitely a case of “second verse, same as the first,” just more and more dazzling (though not necessarily better story-wise). In any case, this is a reference-quality 4K UHD release, with copious candy for both the eyes and the ears. And this new Collector’s Edition package includes the most comprehensive collection of special features for this film to date, making it highly recommended for both fans and A/V enthusiasts alike.

- Bill Hunt with Stephen Bjork

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