Release Date(s)2018 (March 26, 2019)
Studio(s)DC Films/Warner Bros./Safran Co./Mad Ghost (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
“What is this?”
“Customs and border control. Don’t worry, I have diplomatic clearance.”
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a man of two worlds. In 1985, his father (Temuera Morrison), a human lighthouse keeper, rescued his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), a queen of Atlantis, who’d washed up from the sea during a storm. They fell in love and soon young Arthur was born. But Atlantis has a long memory and its king sent soldiers to recover Atlanna, his betrothed. So to save her lover and son, she returned to her people. Years later, Arthur is now a grown man with extraordinary strength, the ability to swim great distances, and to communicate with sea life. He patrols the oceans as the “Aquaman,” helping those in need. But when he foils a pirate attack on a Russian submarine, he creates an enemy in the Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). And when a young Atlantian princess, Mera (Amber Heard) appears to ask for his help in saving her people, Aquaman meets a younger brother he never knew of, Orm (Patrick Wilson), who he must battle for the title of Ocean Master… and eventually, King of Atlantis.
How to describe James Wan’s Aquaman? Well, for one thing, it’s campy, aquatic, and completely bananas. The one thing you need to know going into this film, if you haven’t seen it, is that it’s very tongue-in-cheek. The character of Aquaman has almost always been served up with a heavy side of cheese, and Wan honors this with a cinematic wink in nearly every scene. The villains are hammy (Dolph Lundgren, among them), Momoa cracks jokes all the way through the script, and the aquatic battle scenes are way over-the-top – as in Attack of the Clones over-the-top. There are references here to Creature from the Black Lagoon, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Flash Gordon, Excalibur… you name it. There’s a montage sequence, even a nod to Toto. Hell, I half expected to see Patrick Duffy swim past the camera winking. But all of it works fine for the film, so long as you take nothing you’re seeing too seriously. And that’s the problem; tonally, Aquaman feels very much apart from the rest of the DC Extended Universe. But whatever – Momoa is every bit as likeable as you’d expect and the spectacle is nothing if not watchable.
Aquaman was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec at 3.4K using Arri Alexa Mini and SXT cameras with Panavision Primo lenses. It was finished as a native 2K Digital Intermediate, upsampled for this release, and graded for high dynamic range in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The base aspect ratio is 2.39:1, but many scenes – nearly 90% of the film, in fact – were shot for IMAX exhibition. These open up to full 1.78:1 on Warner’s 4K UHD release to preserve that experience. In terms of image quality, the clarity is very good – not native 4K good, but the swirling water VFX reduces detail a bit by design anyway. Still, fine detail is nice and there’s a light film grain texture that’s quite pleasing. Blacks are deep and the highlights have a natural, eye-reactive quality that really lends itself to the look of surface waves, glistening scales, and glowing bioluminescence. The wider color gamut of HDR also greatly enhances the undersea environment, making the hues of sea creatures, backgrounds, and the ocean depths richer and far more nuanced. The 4K offers a strong improvement over the Blu-ray in this area.
Primary audio on the 4K is a terrific English Dolby Atmos mix (TrueHD 7.1 compatible). As with all Warner 4K titles, it’s not the default option, so you have to switch to it in the menu. The mix is lively and constantly active, with music by Rupert Gregson-Williams (composer of the Wonder Woman score), atmospheric cues, and discrete sound effects placed all around the soundstage. During the battle scenes, those various audio elements move, swirl, and encircle the listener, including via the overhead channels, creating a highly immersive experience that fits well with the film’s fantastical undersea visuals. Bass is muscular throughout and overall clarity is pleasing. Additional audio options include English Descriptive Audio (US and UK), English and Italian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Italian Dolby Atmos, and 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Chinese, Czech, Hindi, Hungarian, Russian, Polish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, and Turkish. Subtitles are included in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Italian for the Deaf, Castilian Spanish, three different forms of Chinese, Korean, Latin Spanish, Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
Warner’s 4K Ultra HD disc includes no extras, but the package adds a Blu-ray version of the film in 1080p HD. That disc offers the following:
- Becoming Aquaman (13:03)
- Going Deep into the World of Aquaman (19:28)
- James Wan: World Builder (7:42)
- The Dark Depths of Black Manta (6:39)
- Heroines of Atlantis (5:31)
- Villainous Training (6:21)
- A Match Made in Atlantis (3:12)
- Atlantis Warfare (4:40)
- Creating Undersea Creatures (7:15)
- Aqua-Tech (5:42)
- Scene Study Breakdown (3 scenes – 10:15 in all)
- Kingdoms of the Seven Seas (6:59)
- Shazam! Sneak Peek (3:00)
- Shazam! preview trailer (2:32)
- Creed II preview trailer (2:04)
- Blade Runner: Nexus game trailer (:37)
- Oceana PSA (:32)
The good news for fans is that this actually a fairly comprehensive set of featurettes, with a number of fun insights from Momoa and Wan. There are nice looks behind-the-scenes at the production design, the stunts, the various supporting cast members and characters, and more. You even get what is essentially a week-by-week (if greatly condensed) look at the filming, from pre-production to release. Of course, you don’t get deleted scenes, nor an audio commentary, nor is a Blu-ray 3D version of the film available here. But what you do get is solid, and a step beyond the usual EPK filler material. One of the things that comes through most clearly in these extras is that Jason Momoa is a straight-up good dude. You also get a Movies Anywhere digital code on a paper insert.
Aquaman is goofier than The Goofy Movie, a live-action mix of Team America and Green Lantern set at the Red Lobster buffet. With my serious film critic hat on, I’d give this film two head shakes and an eye roll. Without the hat though, it’s modestly entertaining, good-natured fun. And it looks and sounds great on 4K Ultra HD, so make of it what you will.
- Bill Hunt