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Fox and Imax break new ground with free 'Avatar' preview next week

August 12, 2009 |  3:55 pm
Avatar

Hollywood's sneak-preview tradition is about to get a James Cameron overhaul.

On Monday, 20th Century Fox will launch an unusual offer on the website for its Cameron-directed film "Avatar": free tickets for an early look at 16 minutes of footage from the futuristic thriller that will be shown in more than 100 Imax 3-D theaters around the world.

With two screenings on Friday, Aug. 21 (at 6 and 6:30 p.m.), the "Avatar" preview will include an introduction from Cameron and some new footage not shown during July's Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. "Avatar," which will be released in December, is Cameron's first feature since 1997's Oscar-winning hit "Titanic," which generated global ticket sales of more than $1.8 billion.

The unprecedented promotion -- which includes more than 30 Imax 3-D screens overseas -- signals just how much Fox has riding on its massive "Avatar" investment (more than $240 million in production costs) and how Imax is trying to position its theaters as the destination for the highly anticipated movie. Imax screens generated about $65 million in ticket sales for "The Dark Knight" last year when the Batman sequel was shown in 94 Imax screens; "Avatar" will be playing at more than 225 Imax theaters when it opens Dec. 18. 

Advance screenings of movie footage for the press and at events such as Comic-Con are fairly common for big-budget Hollywood releases. But it's unprecedented for a studio to show an extended excerpt of a film in such a broad public setting months before it hits theaters.

Fox is not paying Imax to use its theaters for the preview, though the studio is bearing the cost of producing and distributing the digital prints. Imax will provide 3-D glasses.

In what’s sure to be a mad grab among sci-fi fans, tickets will be given away a first-come, first-served basis on the “Avatar” website (www.avatarmovie.com) at noon PST Monday.

“I think that there’s not enough of an understanding of what show business means," Greg Foster, president of Imax Filmed Entertainment said of the sneak preview. "You can’t have business without showmanship. What Fox and ['Avatar' producer] Lightstorm Entertainment and Imax are doing is the personification of the correlation between those two words -- 'show' and 'business.' "

Not coincidentally, Fox will also release the first "Avatar" trailer in theaters around the world next Friday.

-- John Horn and Ben Fritz

Photo: Director James Cameron, left, and lead actor Sam Worthington on the set of "Avatar." Credit: Mark Fellman

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