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Lo’ak the Na’vi touches a tulkun, a whalelike creature, in the sea of Pandora in Avatar: The Way of Water Image: 20th Century Studios

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Which format is the best way to watch Avatar: The Way of Water?

3D? HFR? 4DX? Plain? There are plenty of choices on how to return to Pandora

After 13 years of waiting, Avatar: The Way of Water is finally here, and it seems like half the world is getting ready to see it. But before you head to the theater for the blockbuster spectacle of the year, it’s important to make sure you’re seeing the movie in the format that’s best for you.

Avatar 2 is being displayed in dozens of different formats for different theaters and screen sizes around the world, but for most people’s purposes, there are only a few decisions you need to make: Do you want to see the movie in 3D or not? Do you want to see it in high frame rate (HFR) format, which doubles the frames in some sequences to 48 frames per second, to make some of the CGI action smoother?

To help make this easier, we broke down the most common versions of Avatar: The Way of Water to let you know the differences and how effective each format is.

Should I see Avatar: The Way of Water in IMAX?

The massive format is a great way to see Avatar: The Way of Water. The scale of the screen absolutely enhances the experience of being transported to the beautiful waters of Pandora. But it’s not strictly necessary, and holding out for IMAX won’t affect your experience as much as anything else on this list.

Should I see Avatar 2 in 3D?

You absolutely should. Just as with the first Avatar, The Way of Water’s 3D is so good, it will trick you into thinking the technology is viable and should be used by people not named James Cameron. (In reality, it is not viable, and its use outside of Cameron movies should be illegal.) Regardless of whether you want to see the movie in HFR, you should do your best to see it in 3D if that’s at all possible for you.

Na’vi mates Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and Jake (Sam Worthington) fly on their mottled blue banshee mounts above the clouds with a sunset behind them in Avatar: The Way of Water Image: 20th Century Studios

Should I see Way of Water in 3D with HFR?

This one’s tough. When The Way of Water’s HFR sequences work, they really work. Most notably, everything in the water (a lot of the movie) and everything involving flying (slightly less of the movie) looks outstanding, and for some people, the rest of the scenes will work just as well. Others, however, will feel that HFR makes them feel like they’re watching a TV with motion smoothing enabled, or that it looks too much like a video game cutscene. If motion smoothing bothers you, you might want to opt out of HFR screenings. If you don’t notice it at all when other people complain about it, you’ll be fine.

Problem is, the movie’s frame rate is dynamic — it switches between standard and high frame rate using a visual trick. When it goes back to the standard 24 frames per second, which it does when only humans are on screen, it’s actually just doubling each frame you see. In other words, it’s still playing at the higher 48 fps rate, but mimicking 24 fps in a way that some people perceive as feeling off or sluggish.

The HFR version of the movie makes a lot of the beautiful action shots of Pandora and of Na’vi kids running around and exploring way better for people who don’t find the format distracting. But it’s got some drawbacks that might make it significantly more annoying for certain people.

Should I see Avatar 2 in 2D?

This is an option reserved mostly for people who can’t or won’t watch a 3D movie for one reason or another. And if that’s the case, don’t worry! Pandora’s still going to look great, and you’re still going to have a good time diving back into the world of Avatar.

Should I see it in 2D with HFR?

I’m not sure this exists. I can’t find any local theaters playing the movie this way, but if someone encounters it, probably just don’t go. Either see it fully standard, or in a 3D version.

Should I see Avatar: The Way of Water in 4DX?

Avatar: The Way of Water is probably the most 4DX movie ever made. The immersive format is not the optimal way to see this sequel, but having experienced the physical effects of the medium, we can say it is incredibly fun. As with the other versions of the movie, the underwater and flying sequences are particularly thrilling, taking full advantage of 4DX’s shifting chairs, which often rattle you around hard enough to make you fear being thrown from your seat in a delightful way.

But the real highlight of this movie’s 4DX screenings is the water effects. Avatar: The Way of Water is a tremendously wet movie, so it only makes sense that it would take full advantage of 4DX’s capability of splashing audiences in the face, simulating rain, or often both at the same time. Watching characters dive underwater just as a burst of mist hits you and the theater’s wind fans kick into high gear is exciting every time it happens — and it happens a lot.

That being said, 4DX works best as a second-time viewing experience, should you decide to return to Pandora. If you opt for the immersive format the first time out, you may lose a plot detail or two to the water drops accumulating on your 3D glasses. But by the second viewing, it all just adds to the movie’s overall sense of massive theme-park excitement.

How do I make sure I’m seeing the right version of Avatar 2?

This is maybe the most and least complicated question on the list. The answer is that some theaters list whether they’re showing the movie in HFR, while others do not. Regal Cinemas, for instance, lists every detail on its showings online, including HFR. So if you don’t see that listed in the extra features of the screening you’re buying tickets to, assume that it’s in standard frame rate. AMC Theatres, on the other hand, does not list whether a screening is in HFR. So if AMC is your only option, I guess... try calling the theater to ask?

This sounds like a miserable experience at a national chain like AMC — you’re likely to get shunted through an exhaustive phone tree in a quest to find a human worker, who may or may not have the answers. At least if AMC gets enough calls with this question, it might make more of an effort to list the details of its screenings. If you want that information from a local, non-chain theater, you’re at least more likely to get someone on the other end of the line quickly, and hopefully, they know which version they’re showing. The good news is that 3D should be listed for every showing at just about every theater, and that’s the most important feature to make sure you get.

Avatar: The Way of Water is in theaters now.

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