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'Avatar' sequel's cutting-edge tech crashed some movie projectors in Japan

One theater had to lower the 48 fps frame rate down to 24 fps.

A closeup of Jake Sully in 20th Century Studios' AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER with a large lake in the background.
20th Century Studios
Steve Dent
Steve Dent|@stevetdent|December 21, 2022 4:48 AM

Despite being the widest release of all time in Japan, Avatar: The Way of the Water failed to claim the top ranking last weekend as it was topped by an anime basketball picture called The First Slam Dunk. On top of that, multiple theaters in the nation reported technical problems, with one in central Japan forced to reduce the 48 fps frame rate down to the traditional 24 fps, Bloomberg reported. 

Fans were reportedly turned away from other screenings and issued refunds. Some of the theater chains cited by fans as having issues, including United Cinemas Co., Toho Col, and Tokyu Corp., declined to comment on the problem.

Not many movie theaters support high frame rate (HFR) 48 fps playback, as it requires the latest projectors or upgrades to existing ones. Normally, movie theaters would be aware of which formats they can play and plan accordingly. But HFR has been used so little that it would be understandable if errors cropped up. 

Avatar: The Way of the Water is available in multiple formats, including 2D 48 fps, 3D 48 fps and regular 24 fps. If you see the 48 fps version, it only uses the HFR tech for action sequences, while dialog and slower scenes are dialed down to 24 fps (by duplicating frames). Engadget's Devindra Hardawar saw the film at 48 fps and liked it, but added that the technology remains divisive.

Other notable films using HFR were Ang Lee's Gemini Man and The Hobbit trilogy. When the latter came out in 2012, I argued that high frame rates work best with the 3D format as it helps eliminate potential eye strain and even nausea. That's not an issue in 2D, so 24 fps gives the most natural look with none of the video game/soap opera effect that many people dislike.

'Avatar' sequel's cutting-edge tech crashed some movie projectors in Japan