Hopefully a sign of things to come, Disney/20th Century delivers Avatar: The Way of Water to Blu-ray 3-D. The film looks amazing in2-D 4K, but the 3-D is an impeccable delivering a genuinely exciting immersive viewing experience that pulls you into James Cameron’s sci-fi universe. The 4K HDR10 disc is excellent but the 3-D is viscerally exciting. With solid audio and all of the bonus features of the 2-D sets, if you’re rocking a 3-D capable TV or projector, there’s no debate, this is an essential addition for the collection. Highly Recommended.
I already reviewed Avatar: The Way of Water 4K UHD Streaming so I won’t subject you to those thoughts again here, you can click that link and read it if you so choose.
For another less-positive opinion, you can read Bryan’s Avatar: The Way of Water - Film Review
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray 3-D
For years now the only way anyone in the U.S. could get a Disney-released title on Blu-ray 3-D was through the import market - even going so far as to have to buy it from Japan! Thankfully that trend reverses course with Avatar: The Way of Water. A four-disc Blu-ray + Digital set, the 3-D version of the film is spread over two BD-50 discs, a BD-50 disc for the 2-D presentation, and a BD-50 for bonus features. All discs are Region Free. The discs are housed in a multi-disc case with identical slipcover with raised features. The discs are stacked, two to a side, but thankfully the case is wide and doesn’t feel too tight or stiff that they could slip off their cradles or scratch. If you have a 3-D capable set, the 3-D discs automatically trigger the digital polarizing so keep your glasses ready.
I gotta say between the 4K release and now the 3-D Blu-ray release of Avatar: The Way of Water, the 2-D 1080p people are kinda getting the proverbial shaft. Stuck with a lower bitrate encode and a worse audio mix option - collectors of 4K or 3-D Blu-rays get the better experience all around. In this case, the film is spread over two discs allowing for a much higher bitrate to fully enjoy this visually stunning sequel in three dimensions. Right away depth along the z-axis is simply stunning. Foreground objects hover outside your screen while deep background objects feel like they stand miles away without any parallaxing issues or ghosting. While things don't protrude to poke you in the eye, it's not simply a "window into another world." Even scenes within tight interiors have an engaging three-dimensional experience. But the best sequences - to be expected - are any flying or underwater action set pieces. The film’s last hour is a three-dimensional visual feast with near, midrange, and deep background objects swimming and floating throughout the screen.
Details are also in great shape, and arguably stronger than the 1080p 2D counterpart. The bitrate averages higher so little extras in skin textures, fine lines, hairs, and clothing all look appreciably sharper. Black levels and shadows are well managed, maybe not as pristine as what 2160p HDR10 can offer, but it certainly holds its own. Colors are vivid and striking with rich primaries and natural human and Na’vi skin tones to match. This was an incredible experience in IMAX and the only thing I wish I could do for home viewing is enjoy a screen that matches the size and scope of the theater. On the scale of home video options, I’ll tip my hat to the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as technically better, but I also have to admit this 3-D Blu-ray is to me the most visually exciting experience. Admittedly I am a 3-D junky, but if I’m earnestly going to sit down and watch Avatar: The Way of Water - I’m going to pull out this 3-D disc.
While this 3-D Blu-ray doesn’t pick up that lovely Atmos track, it isn’t stuck with the middling DTS-HD MA 5.1 track like the 2-D Blu-ray. Here 3-D Blu-ray fans get to enjoy a robust DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix that may not quite have the range and finesse as the 4K Atmos mix, but it holds its own nicely. There’s a terrific amount of imaging and channel movement throughout the film, it’s not as refined as the Atmos, but it’s an exciting experience nonetheless. Dialog is clean and clear without issue. The big action beats are lively and engaging - that first forest assault where Sully saves his kids is damned exciting pulse-pounding audio. Then you have the final hour of wall-to-wall action and it’s great stuff. Giving that 5.1 mix a trial I thought it was alright, it worked well enough for key sequences, but then I spun this 3-D Blu-ray’s 7.1 and it’s not even a comparison. I don’t know the why’s and what for's in the decision-making there, but if you’re not rocking 4K and Atmos, the 3-D Blu-ray has the better auditory experience.
In another fine turn from Disney/20th Century - all of those bonus features that were issued on streaming carry over to this bonus features disc. Totaling over three hours of content, it’s a very thorough and detailed collection of materials. The beast of the mix is certainly the Inside Pandora’s Box content. Made up of several featurettes, you can use the play-all function and they roll together like one big long documentary exploring every facet of the production. I’d say the most interesting segments involve all of the underwater motion capture work and what it took to bring that biome to life on screen and in the giant studio swimming pool facility. Again, no Cameron commentary, but he’s present throughout the extras so much so that I doubt a commentary track would really add anything. Fans will definitely want to dig through everything here.
While I’m a fan and supporter of the 4K format, I readily admit I’m more excited about 3-D when and where I can get it. And that’s the case with James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water. I saw the film multiple times in theaters in 3-D and that’s the kind of experience I want to have at home. While the 2-D 4K disc certainly has a leg up in image clarity and HDR with Atmos audio, I have to say I had more fun in 3-D with my glasses on. The visuals are so striking and entertaining in multiple dimensions I give this an overall edge. While it doesn’t get to enjoy Atmos, these 3-D discs sport an impressive-on-its-own DTS-HD MA 7.1 track - which is notably better than what the 2-D 1080p folks get to endure. Tag in all of the bonus features and this is a very welcome sign that Disney might actually be giving a damn about physical media again and giving physical media collector's their money’s worth. If I had to pick just one copy of Avatar: The Way of Water - this 3-D Blu-ray would be it. Must Own - if you’re a diehard 3-D junkie like myself, otherwise very Highly Recommended