Digital Review: “Avatar: The Way of Water” Looks and Sounds Great in 4K HDR with 3 Hours of Bonus Features

James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water comes home in the most eco-friendly way possible, exclusively on digital. While a physical release is inevitable for the highest-grossing film of all time, one hasn’t yet been announced, and James Cameron may very well be waiting for an extended edition release to avoid encouraging double-dipping. It all falls in line with the overarching themes of the Avatar franchise, which is respect for nature and the importance of conservation.

(20th Century Studios)

(20th Century Studios)

Set 15 years after the events of Avatar, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have grown their family in the peaceful forests of Pandora. Their family includes Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo'ak (Britain Dalton), and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss); plus Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), mysteriously born of Grace Augustine’s dormant avatar, and Spider (Jack Champion), the orphaned human son of Colonel Miles Quaritch. When humans return to Pandora with plans to colonize and strip the planet of more natural resources, the Sully family find themselves fleeing their forest home to seek shelter with the water Metkayina Clan as they are pursued by an avatar genetically linked to the deceased Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and filled with his quest for vengeance.

This may be a digital release, but true to James Cameron’s form, Avatar: The Way of Water is available in the best possible 4K Ultra-HD streaming quality. Fans of the visionary filmmaker know his commitment to sharing the behind-the-scenes experience, and the supplemental features are voluminous, with three hours of supplemental features. And while a future release will likely add a feature-length commentary and deleted scenes, you can’t ask for much more than what’s present here.

Bonus Features

  • Inside Pandora's Box (2:32:14) – A series of featurettes on the challenges facing cast and crew as filmmakers devise new technologies to push the limits of cinema.
    • Building the World of Pandora (9:33) – James Cameron and a team of talented artists combine years of research with their design skills to build the world of Pandora with new characters, creatures, indigenous clans, underwater environments and the take-no-prisoners hard-tech world of the RDA.
    • Capturing Pandora (10:47) – James Cameron’s approach to performance capture has the cast performing in a volume rigged with infrared cameras to capture their movement, and head rig cameras to capture emotion on their faces with only the boundaries of imagination to limit them.
    • The Undersea World of Pandora (11:30) – Co-production designer Dylan Cole and his team conceive of the marine creatures required for Avatar: The Way of Water while James Cameron and his stunt team devise extraordinary means to bring those creatures to life in a performance capture tank.
    • The Challenges of Pandora's Waters (11:42) – James Cameron tackles the “non-trivial challenge” of performance capture above and below the water’s surface, utilizing a wave machine and current generator to reproduce ocean conditions, and underwater vehicles to replicate creature movement.
    • Pandora’s Returning Characters (9:00) – James Cameron reunites with his returning cast – Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang. Together they discuss the amazing evolution of their characters in Avatar: The Way of Water.
    • Pandora’s Next Generation (10:47) – Meet the talented young newcomers who have been cast as the next generation of Na’vi and follow them through the adventure of making Avatar: The Way of Water.
    • Spider's Web (10:23) – James Cameron introduced the human character of Spider into the fabric of Pandora – thus creating a host of technological challenges on set…and an incredible journey for the young actor, Jack Champion.
    • Becoming Na’vi (10:51) – The Avatar cast is immersed in the culture of the indigenous Na’vi, living off the land in the Hawaiian rainforest and training in a multitude of disciplines in preparation for their roles.
    • The Reef People of Pandora (11:47) – In true James Cameron-style, the Metkayina reef clan has been developed with great attention to detail, bearing unique evolutionary traits and a culture – with new dwellings, new clothes and different way of life – all a result of living off the ocean.
    • Bringing Pandora to Life (14:41) – Once James Cameron completes his virtual production process, every sequence is turned over to Wētā FX to bring Pandora to life – with unprecedented advancements in facial performance, environments and making CG water look real.
    • The RDA Returns to Pandora (13:34) – Co-production designer Ben Procter and his team present an armada of new vehicles and human technologies that the RDA brings to Pandora – in concept design and with practical builds.
    • The New Characters of Pandora (9:38) – Meet the important new characters of the Avatar saga played by Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell and Jemaine Clement.
    • The Sounds of Pandora (13:32) – Hear how James Cameron worked with composer Simon Franglen to create the distinctive music of The Way of Water while building on James Horner’s brilliant score for Avatar, and learn how Chris Boyes created the immersive sounds of Pandora.
    • New Zealand – Pandora’s Home (4:24) – The production of the Avatar sequels is so thoroughly ensconced in New Zealand that James Cameron considers The Way of Water a “New Zealand film.” Hear reflections from the cast and crew, including the remarkable New Zealand crew, on making the film.
  • More from Pandora's Box (28:06) – Additional featurettes that highlight special teams within the production.
    • Casting (10:01) – Discover the screen tests that won the talented young cast their roles in Avatar: The Way of Water.
    • Stunts (5:42) – The Avatar stunt team isn’t just creating breathtaking action, they’re driving the story. From racing underwater on ilus, flying the skies on ikrans, to maneuvering RDA speed boats, the stunt team leaves you breathless and wanting more.
    • The Lab (6:43) – Explore the Lightstorm Lab, the backbone of virtual production for the Avatar films. Comprised of specialized teams, the Lab builds & supports every aspect of the production – environments, motion edit, Kabuki, sequence, post-viz and software development.
    • The Troupe (5:38) – Avatar’s Troupe is the Swiss Army Knife of acting, while playing dozens of roles on set, in the performance capture volume and on live-action sets, they bring life to Na’vi clans and RDA Recoms. They also play Na’vi-scale puppets on the live-action sets.
  • Marketing Materials & Music Video (8:51) – Marketing materials used to build audience awareness of the film.
    • Nothing Is Lost (You Give Me Strength) Music Video (4:42) – Multi-Grammy-winning, music superstar, The Weeknd, performs his emotionally packed end title song in the official music video for the smash hit “Nothing Is Lost (You Give Me Strength).”
    • Theatrical Trailer 1 (1:39) – The first teaser trailer released 7 months before the film.
    • Theatrical Trailer 2 (2:30) – The second standard trailer that premiered 5 weeks before the film’s release.

  • Keep Our Oceans Amazing – A digital partnership with The Nature Conservancy where fans can create their own Avatar-inspired ocean creature, with Disney donating $5 to The Nature Conservancy’s initiative to protect 10 ocean species and their habitats for every creature created. This bonus experience is exclusive to U.S. residents and will be available through July 31st at


While audio options can vary by digital retailer, my review copy played through Apple TV featured an English 7.1 Dolby Atmos track. It’s an engaging mix, putting the subwoofer through a workout during the most action-heavy RDA sequences. Ships and creatures flying over the screen sound like they’re in the room. Military weapons pass between the mid and rear speakers, further placing you in the heat of the action. For digital providers that don’t offer Atmos, a 5.1 mix replaces it. There is also a 2.0 descriptive audio version, plus French and Spanish language options depending on the provider.


In theaters, Avatar: The Way of Water had three aspect ratios. While the bonus features use the general release’s 2.39:1 ratio for film clips, the creature itself matches the 3D aspect ratio of 1.85.1 (the third theatrical ratio was IMAX 1.90:1). Presented in 4K HDR, the presentation yields very clear details, primarily in foreground details. Deeper backgrounds lose clarity drastically, giving the film an interesting contrast at home. And the digital version handles colors well, allowing blacks to feel truly devoid of color, while the brightest bioluminescent moments almost glow off the screen.

Final Thoughts

While a physical media release of Avatar: The Way of Water seems inevitable, this digital release offers stunning picture and sound quality, and an expansive look behind the scenes. If James Cameron is planning to repeat the release strategy of the original film, an extended edition of the film will follow, accompanied by a multi-disc home video release with the deleted scenes and commentary options that feel absent here. But then again, when he made the first Avatar, he wasn’t also in active production on the next film. Time will tell, but fans who don’t want to wait won’t regret adding this release to their digital collection.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).