[Note: This is not a review. If you want to know what we thought of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, head over to our Transformers 3 review. If you’d like to discuss the film with others who have seen it, head over to our Transformers 3 spoilers post.]

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is now in theaters, and is THE movie event of the July 4th holiday weekend. There’s no doubt that a lot of moviegoers are going to be cramming themselves into cineplexes to see Michael Bay’s (alleged) conclusion to his Transformers trilogy, but the question is, with the options of 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D all on the table, which version of the film should moviegoers be shelling out for?

By now it’s no secret that I’ve personally endorsed seeing Transformers 3 in 3D, ever since I attended a 20-minute screening of the film earlier this month. So we can scratch one decision off this list fairly easily: if you plan on seeing Dark of the Moon in 2D, you might as well wait for home video or cable. If you’re heading to the theater, don’t cheat yourself: spend the extra money and get the full-on 3D experience.

But what about the extra, EXTRA, dough required for that premium IMAX 3D experience – is it worth it?

Short answer: it depends on the theater.

Look, you want to see Transformers 3 – and all its sick 3D action sequences – on as big a screen as possible. The visual splendor that Michael Bay has put into this film is nothing short of amazing (see: the base jump flight sequence). There are so many little visual details and vivid colors that this movie has a certain amount of replay value simply from the challenge of spotting all the fine details packed into every shot. (Good thing, too, because the plot is certainly not worth re-visiting.) So yes, a HUGE screen is the appropriate canvas for this movie to be painted on.

However, there is nothing exclusive to the IMAX print of the film that should make passionate fans of this franchise automatically disregard any other options. As I said: you want a big screen for this one, but it doesn’t absolutely, positively, have to be an IMAX screen.

Yes, IMAX screens are (typically) the biggest ones around, so some may say I’m splitting hairs here. On the other hand, IMAX screens aren’t always the sharpest screens around when it comes to picture quality. The Regal Cinemas here in Times Square NYC has a phenomenal RPX screen (Regal Premium Experience) that serves just as well (if not better) than older IMAX screens. I actually saw the preview footage for Dark of the Moon on the RPX screen and I vastly preferred it to the IMAX screen I viewed the final cut of the film on.

In the end, it’s really up to you, as moviegoers, to be savvy about the types of screens your local theaters offer. If you know a theater has a big HD digital screen and a sound-pounding system, where you can experience Dark of the Moon in 3D, then no need to go IMAX. However, if you know that your local theater has those mini-to-moderate-sized screens left over from the 20th century, then you may want to consider the upgrade to IMAX (or at least a better, more modern digital screen).

Finally, if you’re not a movie screen expert, here are a few guidelines that you should adhere to when choosing a theater – and don’t be afraid to question theater workers before buying:

  • Big screen (one of those “main auditorium” theaters they run the top-billing movies on each week).
  • Digital projectors (You want the sharpest picture quality you can get, so you can relish all those robot moving parts).
  • Premium sound system (You want to feel every explosion rattle your seat!).

In the end, Transformers 3 is a lame-brained summer blockbuster action extravaganza – so be sure that your choice in theater reflects that reality. If you wind up in a theater that has a screen insufficiently suited to the eye-popping 3D visuals – or a sound system more muted than it is mega, you’ll be left with a movie that has a thin story, little depth, and Michael Bay-brand humor. When buying into a spectacle like this, you (literally) want to get the biggest and best bang for your buck. So buy smart.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is now in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D theaters everywhere.