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Avatar: The Way of Water: What's the best way to see it, and what does 'high frame rate' mean?

James Cameron's sci-fi epic is playing in IMAX 3D, Dolby Cinema, high frame rate, and more. Which should you seek out?

It's finally time to return to Pandora in Avatar: The Way of Water. But what's the best way to see James Cameron's sci-fi epic?

First things first, yes, it's an absolute must to watch the movie in 3D. Cameron's series is practically what modern 3D was made for, and The Way of Water looks stunning in that format. From there, the question becomes which premium format is best. 

You generally can't go wrong with IMAX 3D, especially if you're looking for the biggest screen possible. By watching The Way of Water this way, you should get a tall, expanded image. Dolby Cinema, meanwhile, shows movies with pristine image and sound, but typically on smaller screens than IMAX. On the other hand, the Dolby picture and particularly sound quality are arguably better. RPX is essentially Regal's Dolby Cinema equivalent.

There's another important decision to make, though: Whether to see The Way of Water in high frame rate. This involves showing the film with more frames per second than the typical 24 to create a smoother image, at least in select scenes. You may remember this technology being utilized in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy. 

Some critics disliked the use of HFR for The Way of Water, arguing Cameron switching back and forth between high frame rate and a more traditional theatrical look is distracting. It did impress others, though. This YouTube clip should give you an idea of what high frame rate looks like and whether you want to avoid it. On Fandango, look for "high frame rate" listed under a showtime. 

Some theaters are also showing The Way of Water in 4DX, which essentially turns a movie into an amusement park attraction with moving chairs, spraying water, and more, while ScreenX provides a panoramic view by continuing the image onto the walls. 

For what it's worth, The Way of Water was screened for press in Dolby 3D HFR. But if you decide to see it that way, try to make sure your theater is projecting the film in a 1.85:1 aspect ratiorather than 2.39:1, so that the taller image is properly presented and not cropped. You can find a user-generated breakdown of individual Dolby locations' aspect ratios here

If that's too much of a headache, the easiest option for most people would probably be IMAX 3D for the larger screen and assurance you'll be getting an expanded image. But if you're interested in high frame rate and it's not available in IMAX, feel free to go for Dolby so long as it's 3D, especially if you can find a 1.85:1 screen. It would also be worth going to a theater with laser projection, which is specified on Fandango.

The only truly bad option would be to see The Way of Water in standard 2D. If you try, don't be surprised if Cameron himself shows up to stop you.