‘Avatar 2’s high-speed frame rates are so fast that some movie theaters can’t keep up

Some theaters' projectors are glitching out when faced with 48 fps.
Screenshot from Avatar 2
The effects in 'Avatar 2' might be too advanced for its own good. YouTube

Avatar: The Way of Water may not be shattering box office records quite as dramatically as Disney and director James Cameron hoped, but its still breaking other areas of the entertainment industry—that is to say, the literal film projectors. As Bloomberg first noted on Monday, multiple movie theaters in Japan experienced severe technical issues stemming from their projectors simply not being modern enough to handle Avatar 2’s playback specifications.

Avatar: The Way of Water is touted, among many things, as one of the most technically advanced films ever made—utilizing new technologies like an underwater motion-capture system director James Cameron co-designed himself specifically for the movie. Instead of suspending actors from cables to simulate underwater movement, as is generally used in Hollywood, Cameron’s team instead filled a 900,000 gallon pool to submerge the performers wearing specially designed mo-cap suits. This was, of course, after the stars of Avatar 2 were scuba-certified in Hawai’i, then trained in Navy SEAL underwater breathwork, according to a dispatch last year from Entertainment Weekly.

[Related: How to shoot with Super 8 film.]

Another major special effects boost comes courtesy of some movie scenes’ intermittent reliance on high frame rate playback (HFR) projection speeds, which are double the speed of the standard 24 fps rate. The idea behind 48 fps is that it reduces blurring that can come from movement in film, thus supposedly making the scenes appear more lifelike and natural. As Engadget explained earlier this week, that speedy frame rate arguably comes in handy particularly for 3D films, where it can help reduce eye strain and motion sickness—although the technique is not without critics.

That tool comes at a literal cost, however, as 48 frames-per-second (fps), HFR films require either the most modern projectors on the market, or ones that have been upgraded to meet the needed specifications. And it appears at least some of Japan’s theaters haven’t yet sprung for all the bells and whistles.

While it’s currently unclear what specific technical glitches occurred, Bloomberg reports that multiple theaters and moviegoers confirmed canceled screenings of Avatar 2 over the weekend. At least one theater in Nagoya was able to sidestep the issue by simply playing the movie at 24 fps—the standard speed for 2D movies. There’s no official word on just how widespread a problem the frame rate was in Japan. 

Seeing as there’s still (at least) three more Avatar films on the way, who knows what the next film may bring—and what movie theaters worldwide will have to do to keep pace with Cameron’s cutting edge demands.