Avatar: The Way of Water, also known as Avatar 2, is coming soon to a theater near you, promising some of the most stunning, innovative visuals since 2009’s Avatar. While fans may retain the memory of that packed cinema night watching the first film, or even rewatching it recently, cinema offerings have changed in the 13 years since, with a greater variety of offerings to see this anticipated sequel. While browsing your local theaters, you might notice options to view Avatar 2 in 3D like before, but with additional options like IMAX or HFR, things might appear a bit confusing, so we’re here to clear things up.
IMAX, 3D, and HFR: Are They Good Options for Avatar 2: The Way of Water?
The short answer is, if you can see Avatar 2 in IMAX 3D with HFR, you should do it. We will clarify things right here: fairly often, IMAX theaters will exclusively be screening Avatar 2 in 3D with HFR, they are often mixed at no additional cost compared to IMAX 2D shows. It is easy to find out whether a theater is showing Avatar 2 in IMAX or even in IMAX 3D, but AMC and Regal theater patrons might want to go to the website or call and ask if they’ll be showing the HFR version.
AMC in particular can be a bit unclear, so make sure to select Premium Offerings on the top-right dropdown menu while browsing showtimes. Certain websites like Cineplex for Canadian viewers will readily provide information on all features, in any given set of showtimes once you select a location and date.
But if you can manage, IMAX 3D will likely be the most comfortable viewing experience, and if you can handle the intensity of HFR, you might just get blown away, as this is Cameron’s preferred combination of formats. But we should slow down and also clarify what each experience means.
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IMAX is a series of cameras and projection systems meant for a much larger format than the original conventional 35mm film format. IMAX film is 70mm x 48.5mm with 15 perforations, offering a larger projected image and greater quality, while IMAX digital, particularly laser projectors, boasts a more evenly lit and distributed image. Both options are projected on an enormous, curved screen with a massive sound system.
IMAX is a Canadian brand that has a worldwide presence with directors and theaters, with the name being a portmanteau of “Maximum Image” to represent its main offering: bigger picture, bigger sound. Everything from sound quality to lighting, to the projection, is often calibrated on a scheduled, daily basis to maintain their standards for the sake of the audience.
Avatar 2 was filmed with 2 Sony CineAlta Venice 3D cameras grafted together, a rig certified for IMAX, so seeing it in IMAX means seeing it the way it was meant to be but what about 3D and HFR? What is it about these features that allow James Cameron to realize his vision for taking the viewers on a journey to Pandora?
Avatar launched the rejuvenation of 3D in cinemas after its debut in 2009, turning what was at one point a hokey gimmick into an essential, commonplace offering for any blockbuster in the coming years. Many theaters will charge a premium if a film is shown in 3D, often in RealD, requiring specially branded glasses. But IMAX films in 3D can potentially have this option included with no additional charge, and it’s worth it. The Way of Water will be James Cameron’s ambitious followup to cinema’s highest-grossing movie, so expect it to be visually captivating and to take every presentation feature seriously.
HFR is easily the least-commonly known feature of the three and is typically referring to films with the option to show in a high frame rate, thus the name. Traditional cinema runs at a smooth, coherent 24fps, while HFR can vary, but in the case of Avatar 2, it’ll be 48fps, similar to how Resident Evil Village swung 4k with Ray Tracing at 45fps, and it’s quite watchable. Interesting fact: when theaters have to ingest digital content for HFR films, it usually involves 2 versions of the film essentially running together. You’ll quickly see the striking difference HFR makes in the video below:
Only about a dozen and a half movies have had widely-known HFR releases, including Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk on Blu-Ray, and Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, the latter of which ran at a ridiculous 120fps, which was too far (yet the least of that movie’s issues). Avatar: The Way of Water showing at 48fps is much more reasonable, and it tested well when the original Avatar was rereleased this September with select scenes featuring this detail thanks to TrueCut Motion.
Consider these options when you ponder the box office offerings of the movie. Cameron’s goal is to immerse you, to load your senses with a perceived realism, and for you to experience Pandora in as close to a natural way as possible, and that begins with the eyes. 3D was but one step, with IMAX meant to engulf you and draw you in, and HFR is the icing on the cake, with motion crisp enough to almost make Avatar 2 feel like you are right there, seeing it nearly as fast as the human eye can process. But it’s a journey he wants everyone to experience, so if you don’t have an IMAX but have a Dolby or UltraAVX theater with HFR, those are competitors to the IMAX 3D experience, but ideally, you want all three.
Avatar: The Way of Water will release worldwide exclusively in theaters on December 16, 2022.
- This article was updated on December 21st, 2022