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Blockbuster Trailer new Releases: The Selling of ‘Avatar’

 

LOS ANGELES — The movie of the future just got a publicity stunt to match.

Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

The line Friday evening for the 15-minute “Avatar” screening at the AMC Lincoln Square theaters on the Upper West Side

 

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In an audacious marketing ploy, 20th Century Fox and the filmmaker James Cameron showed a little more than 15 minutes of their holiday-season film “Avatar” — a science-fiction thriller whose advanced 3-D technology has sparked talk about the transformation of the moviegoing experience — at a specially ticketed event on giant Imax screens around the world Friday evening.

As the screenings began in New York, the fans were receptive, if not quite blown away. “I thought it was very impressive, the depth and the scope of it,” said Richard Sullivan, a data analyst from Manhattan who saw the film at the AMC Lincoln Square theaters on New York’s Upper West Side. “It was not quite photorealistic, but they’re making progress.”

Viewers were largely quiet at the start of a promotional screening that opened with a recorded introduction by Mr. Cameron, who promised that the clips, drawn from the first half of the movie, included no “spoilers.” But they worked up some whoops at the sight of an alien dinosaur attack, and applauded enthusiastically at the end of the sampler.

In “Avatar,” a human soldier played by Sam Worthington visits the mythical planet of Pandora, where he lives, loves and fights inside the manufactured body of an alien.

More than 100,000 viewers were expected to attend the screenings. They got in by scrambling to a Web site, avatarmovie.com, which made free tickets available on Monday — and then immediately bogged down with a surplus of requests.

Initially, each of slightly more than 100 Imax theaters in the United States and about 30 abroad were to host two back-to-back “Avatar” presentations, most of those between showings of Warner Brothers’ “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” But the plan changed, as some theaters — including those in New York and Los Angeles — were overbooked and had to schedule extra screenings.

Greg Foster, the chairman and president of Imax Filmed Entertainment, said he was not aware of any contemporary movie promotion that had gone quite so far in making an event out of a film tease. Before releasing “The Dark Knight,” Warner Brothers took the unusual step of showing a six-minute opening sequence in theaters that were screening its film “I Am Legend,” but viewers were ticketed for the main event, not just the extended trailer.

“Those are our ambassadors,” Mr. Foster said of the moviegoers who lined up to sample Mr. Cameron’s handiwork. “Those are the people who will spread the gospel of ‘Avatar’ and of Imax and of the movie business.”

In fact, the Friday night screenings will help Fox take the pulse of its audience: Tom Rothman, co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, was expected to do that in person at the Bridge Cinema Deluxe in Los Angeles.

And the showings — along with some accompanying “Avatar Day” hoopla around a Ubisoft game poster, a Mattel toy line and a more conventional trailer released online on Thursday — were meant to help Fox solve a marketing conundrum. How can the studio introduce a film that promises, in its three-dimensional version, to be revolutionary without undercutting the potential of the two-dimensional version, which will also have to do well if Fox is to recoup a production budget reported to have topped $200 million?

The number of 3-D screens has been growing, as Hollywood increasingly relies on the format to boost ticket sales. It appears that as many as 3,500 screens will be operating in the United States, and perhaps 4,000 abroad, by the time Fox releases “Avatar” on Dec. 18 — far more than in the past, but still not enough to sustain an entire blockbuster release.

Online reaction to an abbreviated two-minute version of the trailer that hit the Web on Thursday was decidedly mixed. The cinema-fan blog The Playlist (theplaylist.blogspot.com) asked rhetorically: “This is supposed to be the game changer this year? Maybe it does look astonishing in 3D and on the big screen, but it practically looks comical in this Internet-trailer form.”

The Web site spout.com rapidly posted a Top 10 list of previous science-fiction and fantasy films that the “Avatar” trailer unfortunately resembled, including misfires like “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Delgo.”

In New York, Ramon Feliciano, an assistant manager at a consulting firm, was the first person in line at the AMC, having arrived at 12:30 p.m. After the screening, Mr. Feliciano said he was still a little puzzled by the experience.

“What I saw was looking great, but characterwise I couldn’t tell who they are, what they do,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan, however, was sold.

“I’ll probably just go buy my ticket now,” he said. “Why not?”

Michael Cieply reported from Los Angeles and Dave Itzkoff from New York.

 


 

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