By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 22, 2009 at 6:40AM
James Cameron himself wasn't happy that the Avatar online trailer preceded the Avatar Day IMAX 3-D screenings on Friday. The reason that happened, according to Fox, is that the trailer went out at the same time as the first 10 AM screenings in
New Zealand Tokyo on the other side of the world. It was a synchronous global release. The Apple site was so overwhelmed with clicks that it crashed at first. More than 4 million people streamed the Avatar trailer on that first day, breaking the prior record of 1.7 million set by Star Trek. So that was good news for Fox. Curiosity was high.
And many people went to see the 16 minutes of footage assembled by Cameron for Avatar Day---designed to show exactly what the immersive huge-screen 3-D experience would be like. Now, most of my friends--clearly not the target audience--didn't bother to check it out. And the theater I went to, The Bridge (which has a proper IMAX screen) was not packed. (There was another later show.) Some people weren't able to get in to their local cinemas, though. (UPDATE: Fox asserts that "reservations for all showings were completely booked." And Variety reports that Cameron slipped into the Bridge cinema Friday night.)
The people around me---presumably eager fans of Cameron movies--whooped and cheered and loved the material, which was introduced by the writer-director himself and offered a different male-skewed slice of what I'd seen at Comic-Con. Cameron is selling the concept of this guy, Jake Sully (Aussie actor Sam Worthington), going on a fantastic mission to another planet, Pandora, where he becomes one of the natives, in effect, and falls in love. It's Last of the Mohicans meets Dances with Wolves in the future, on sci-fi steroids. Guys will love this. And there's romance for the girls, too. Worthington and Zoe Saldana's facial expressions come through loud and clear with this latest most sophisticated Weta Digital iteration of performance capture.
People are getting hung up on whether or not this is animation. What does it matter, if you are pulled into the story? Spielberg and Peter Jackson's upcoming Tintin is using the same exact process--without mixing in a live action story as well. Rival studio execs including Paramount's Rob Moore and Adam Goodman and Marvel's Kevin Feige showed up at the screening too, to check out the process.
One moviegoer who loved the footage admitted that he almost didn't come because the online trailer disappointed him. That trailer is a tiny fraction of what the movie experience is like. And those of us at Avatar Day just got a taste. I'm not worried about Avatar pulling audiences (it's real final cost will determine its ultimate success), because if the relatively primitive Polar Express succeeded--on the merits of being utterly new and different-- on December 18 Avatar will deliver far more. Curiosity is key. Will you check it out when the time comes?