Chinese censors have ordered the 2D version of "Avatar" pulled from screens across the country, apparently to reduce competition for the homegrown film industry.
The 3D and IMAX versions of James Cameron's global hit will continue their run into February. But Saturday marks the end of the 2D run of the science fiction epic, which also dramatizes the forced eviction of a people — a politically sensitive subject in China.
China Film Group, the state-run domestic distributor of the Hollywood blockbuster, has reportedly ordered the move after receiving instructions from China's censors. Repeated calls to the distributor's spokesman Tuesday went unanswered.
Reportedly, part of the reason is to reduce competition for China's homegrown films, like the state-backed biopic of Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, starring Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-fat, which opens this Thursday.
The Beijing Youth Daily on Tuesday quoted UME International Cineplex assistant manager Liu Hui confirming the pullout at theaters in the capital. She said it won't affect the cinema's revenues.
"In UME, the 3D and Imax version make up 90 percent of our box-office income, so it won't affect the majority of viewers. With the pullout of the 2D version, movies like Confucius will gain some room for showing," she said.
There is also sensitivity to the movie's plot, which revolves around the forced evictions of the alien Na'vi race by humans — a story line that some have said draws unflattering comparisons to China's own, often brutal removal of millions of residents to make way for property developers.
Columnist Huang Hung penned a commentary in the official English-language China Daily, saying the film had struck a chord with Chinese viewers.
"All the forced removal of old neighborhoods in China makes us the only earthlings today who can really feel the pain of the Na'vi," she wrote.
"Avatar" is already the biggest box-office success in China, pulling in more than 300 million yuan ($44.1 million) as of Jan 12. It quickly surpassed last year's "2012" and "Transformers 3."
Tickets for the 3D version run about twice the price of the 2D version, which at $10 is already an expensive treat for movie-goers in China.
In theaters across the financial metropolis of Shanghai, word spread quickly that the 2D version of the movie would be gone by the weekend. All versions of the movie were originally scheduled to run through Chinese New Year in mid-February.
It's "not just our theater. The 2D 'Avatar' is going to be stopped everywhere," said a ticket sales manager at Nanjing Peace Theater who refused to give his name because he had not been authorized to speak to media.
"If you want to see it, seize the opportunity now — even for 3D! We just listen to the command from the relevant authority, although we will lose some ticket sales for sure," he said.
Associated Press researcher Ji Chen in Shanghai contributed to this report.
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