Joey Nolfi
July 19, 2017 AT 03:00 PM EDT

You already know you want to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, but do you know how you want to feast your eyes upon the film critics are already hailing as the best of 2017 thus far? Thanks to the English auteur’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of contemporary cinema with blockbuster hits (and technical marvels) like Inception (2010), and The Dark Knight (2008), Dunkirk is debuting in select theaters in pristine IMAX 70mm — but where can you view the film the way its creator intended, and what does seeing it in this format mean for you as a moviegoer? Check out EW’s theatrical primer for Dunkirk before it opens Friday.

Why is everyone so excited about Dunkirk‘s format?

For starters, Dunkirk is being touted by Warner Bros. as the most widely released 70mm film in 25 years. Recently, films like Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012) also screened in 70mm (the latter did not show in IMAX), with both filmmakers capturing stunning images (and the hearts of film buffs everywhere) with a callback to iconic films of yesteryear like Ben-Hur (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — all of which also played on 70mm.

After working together on 2014’s Interstellar, Nolan and director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema shot the majority of Dunkirk — approximately 70 percent — with IMAX’s high-definition 2-D cameras. Dunkirk‘s premise lends itself well to the aesthetic IMAX offers, with its expansive battle sequences and dynamic settings coming to life in vivid, immersive detail. Nolan has likened the experience to “virtual reality without the goggles.”

What is 70mm? 

Before the days of modern digital projection systems, which allow theaters to play movies on the big screen via hard drives, discs, cables, or even web links (yes, some locations and film festivals orchestrate their screenings with little more than a few wires and an iPad), movies were shown on large reels, typically in 35mm strips. It’s important to note that 35mm film was the standard in major motion pictures before the shift to digital. If you’re above the age of 20 and you grew up going to the movies, chances are you watched a number of films on 35mm. The number on the film refer to the size of the strip and, in a nutshell, the higher the number, the better the picture quality, as 70mm film allows for eye-popping color and greater detail.

What is IMAX 70mm, and what are the benefits of seeing Dunkirk in the format?

IMAX 70mm film, which runs horizontally as opposed to vertically, like 35mm film, can display bigger, more detailed images. It delivers a similar experience to standard 70mm film, but an enhanced one, with wider pictures, clearer resolution, and a more detailed image overall. Think of the jump from 35mm to IMAX 70mm like the first time you upgraded your VHS to a DVD player, or watching a film in widescreen (with the black bars above and below the footage) as opposed to the image being cropped to fit the display of a small TV set in fullscreen.

IMAX provides more of any given image for a viewer to see — ideal for films with vast, natural settings like Dunkirk. Twitter user Anton Volkov has created a handy format guide (below, be sure to zoom in on your browser after clicking the image) to help viewers understand the significance of the IMAX 70mm projection.

What is IMAX with laser?

Some theaters are also showing the movie in IMAX with laser projection. This means a laser light force is used instead of a standard lamp, which broadens the color palette (blacks look darker, for instance), amplifies contrast for highlights and shadows, and brightens the image.

Where can I see the film’s IMAX 70mm presentations? 

Per IMAX’s website, the following locations are offering special IMAX 70mm presentations, while additional theaters are screening Dunkirk in IMAX with laser.

IMAX 70mm locations in the U.S. and Canada: 

Alabama

IMAX, U.S. Space & Rocket Center – Huntsville
IMAX Dome, McWane Center – Birmingham

Alberta

Scotiabank Chinook & IMAX – Calgary
Scotiabank Edmonton & IMAX – Edmonton

Arizona

Grand Canyon IMAX, Grand Canton Visitors Center – Tusayan

British Columbia

Cineplex Cinemas Langley & IMAX – Langley

California

AMC Metreon 16 & IMAX – San Francisco
AMC Universal CityWalk Stadium 19 & IMAX – Universal City
Esquire IMAX Theatre – Sacramento
Edwards Irvine Spectrum 21 & IMAX – Irvine
Regal Hacienda Crossings Stadium 20 & IMAX – Dublin
Edwards Ontario Palace Stadium 22 & IMAX – Ontario
Hackworth IMAX Dome, The Tech Museum – San Jose

Connecticut

IMAX, The Maritime Aquarium – Norwalk

Georgia

Regal Mall of Georgia Stadium 20 & IMAX – Buford

Indiana

IMAX, Indiana State Museum – Indianapolis

Iowa

Blank IMAX Dome, Science Center of Iowa – Des Moines

Maryland

IMAX, Maryland Science Center – Baltimore

Minnesota

IMAX Theatre, Minnesota Zoo – Apple Valley

Missouri

OMNIMAX, St. Louis Science Center – St. Louis

New York

AMC Lincoln Square 13 & IMAX – New York

North Carolina

The Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome, Discovery Place – Charlotte

Ontario

Cineplex Cinemas Mississauga & IMAX – Mississauga
Cineplex Cinemas Vaughan & IMAX – Woodbridge

Pennsylvania

UA King of Prussia Stadium 16 & IMAX – King of Prussia
Tuttleman IMAX, The Franklin Institute– Philadelphia

Rhode Island

Providence Place Cinemas 16 & IMAX – Providence

Saskatchewan

Kramer IMAX, Saskatchewan Science Center – Regina

Tennessee

Regal Opry Mills Stadium 20 & IMAX – Nashville

Texas

Cinemark 17 & IMAX – Dallas
Omnitheatre, Fort Worth Museum of Science & History – Fort Worth

IMAX 70mm locations internationally: 

Australia

IMAX, Melbourne Museum – Melbourne

Czech Republic

IMAX Theatre, Palac Flora – Prague

Thailand

KrungSri IMAX, Paragon Cineplex – Bangkok

United Kingdom

IMAX 3D, London Science Museum – London
BFI IMAX, British Film Institute – London
Vue Manchester IMAX & The Printworks – Manchester

Where can I see the film’s IMAX with laser presentations?

IMAX with laser locations in the U.S. and Canada: 

California

TCL Chinese Theatres IMAX – Hollywood

Florida

Autonation IMAX, Museum of Discovery & Science

Massachusetts

Sunbrella IMAX 3D Theater – Reading

Missouri

Branson’s IMAX – Entertainment Complex – Branson

Texas

IMAX, The Bullock Texas State History Museum – Austin

Toronto

Scotiabank Toronto & IMAX

Virginia

Airbus IMAX, Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center – Chantilly

Washington

Boeing IMAX, Pacific Science Center

Washington DC

Lockheed Martin IMAX, National Air & Space Museum – National Mall

IMAX with laser locations internationally: 

Belgium

Kinepolis Brussels & IMAX – Brussels

France

Gaumont Montpellier Multiplexe & IMAX – Montpellier
Gaumont 15 Cinema & IMAX – Paris
Pathe La Valette & IMAX – La Valette-du-Var

Germany

Cinestar Berlin & IMAX – Berlin
Filmpalast am ZKM & IMAX – Karlsruhe
IMAX 3D, Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum – Sinsheim

Italy

UCI Cinemas Orio & IMAX – Orio al Serio

Japan

109 Cinemas Osaka Expocity & IMAX – Osaka

Korea

CGV Yongsan IMAX Theater – Seoul

New Zealand

Event Cinemas Queen Street & IMAX – Auckland

Russia

Formula Kino Kutuzovsky & IMAX – Moscow

Taiwan

Miramar IMAX – Taipei

United Arab Emirates

VOX Cinemas & IMAX – Dubai

United Kingdom

Cineworld Leicester Square IMAX – London
Cineworld Sheffield & IMAX – Sheffield

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