What’s the best version of ‘Avatar 2’ to watch? IMAX with Lasers, 3D, and Dolby Cinema, explained

avatar the way of water
via 20th Century Studios

Avatar changed the landscape of filmmaking when it shattered box office records in 2009. The movie still holds the title of the highest-grossing film of all time, thanks in large part to its unprecedented CGI of the alien planet of Pandora and its blue-skinned Na’vi people. 

After nearly 13 years, Avatar: The Way of Water is here to do the same, sporting even more sophisticated CGI equipment that director James Cameron had to create in order to capture the kind of underwater vision he had in mind. 

Now that Avatar: The Way of Water is officially upon us, the conversation around 3D technology has amped up again. Back in 2009, Cameron’s revolutionization of the medium spawned several 3D films, but few utilized it the same way, and over time the hype died down. The Way of Water is here to ignite the conversation once more, and it’s no surprise that people are wondering whether or not they should put on those clunky glasses again and see Avatar: The Way of Water in 3D, or just regular 2D. 

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

Long answer short, the best way to watch The Way of Water is IMAX 3D. IMAX will give you the 1.90:1 aspect ratio that the movie was meant to be seen on and 3D will include the immersive cinematic experience that Cameron intended; he filmed Avatar: The Way of Water specifically for 3D, not rendered to 3D after the fact. 

Because not all IMAX screens are created equally, you should not only aim to see it in IMAX but IMAX with Lasers, as that will offer a better all-around experience; IMAX with Lasers includes sharper images, richer colors, high-grade visuals, and more brightness. 

The next best option is Dolby Cinema 3D. You might not get the 1.90:1 aspect ratio but you will still get the sharp images, rich colors, and premium sound. 

Do you need to see Avatar: The Way of Water in 3D?

You don’t need to, but if you really should. 3D equipment has come a long way from where it was in 2009. The Way of Water’s producer Jon Landau put to bed those old notions of jump-off-the-screen 3D when he told ComicBook: “We utilize it as a window into a world, not a world coming out of a window.”

High frame rate, or HFR, has gotten a bad rep in Hollywood for creating unrealistic or even nauseating imagery that appears glossy and disorienting. Most movies are shot with the standard 24fps (frames per second), but those that have tried for 48fps or even 120fps (like The Hobit and Gemini Man) did not always land successfully. 

Cameron solved that problem in The Way of Water with a “simple hack” that made for a much stronger and more enjoyable 3D experience, per Variety

We’re using [high frame rate] to improve the 3D where we want a heightened sense of presence, such as underwater or in some of the flying scenes. For shots of just people standing around talking, [high frame rate] works against us because it creates a kind of a hyper realism in scenes that are more mundane, more normal. And sometimes we need that cinematic feeling of 24fps.

“Can theatres support variable frame rate, switching back and forth within the movie between 24fps and 48fps? The answer is no, they just run it at 48fps. In any part of the scene that we want at 24fps, we just double the frames. And so, they actually show the same frame twice, but, but the viewer doesn’t see it that way. And so, we just we’re essentially using a simple hack to use the high frame rate platform that already exists.

Avatar: The Way of Water will be enjoyable no matter which way you see it, be it IMAX 3D, Dolby Digital 3D, or just regular 2D. If you are someone who wants the full immersive experience the way the movie was intended to be seen, well then you know which option you should choose now.

Avatar: The Way of Water is in theaters Dec. 16.