Yesterday, director James Cameron screened 24 minutes of footage from his highly anticipated film Avatar at Dan Diego Comic-Con, and it quickly became the dominate story out of the show. But there’s no need to be too jealous on the Con-goers, as Cameron has announced that on August 21, a 15-minute preview of Avatar will screen for free at Imax theater locations around the country.
While concrete details are forthcoming, this does sound like not only an incredibly gutsy promotion for studio 20th Century Fox, but an incredible display of faith in the film. Consider the expense required to rent out a number of IMAX auditoriums for a day to make this event happen. Granted, the cost is probably just a drop in the bucket of the film’s overall budget of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, but it is still an expense that I question will have a profound return. Sure, Cameron fans who have been waiting for a new film from the director will of course flock to their nearest Imax to get a gander. The nearest IMAX to me is an almost two hour drive, and I’m sure I’m going to make the trip.
But will this promotional stunt draw in the average, non-genre fan moviegoer? That’s the crowd to whom Cameron really has to sell the concept of an IMAX 3-D science-fiction spectacular not based on a pre-existing book, comic book or toy to. Will people turn to each other on that Friday night and say “Let’s skip seeing a full movie and go see that fraction of a film showing at the IMAX?” Will the free preview get foot traffic from people coming out of a regular film at a cineplex with an IMAX screen, who duck in to see it out of idle curiosity or will they by pass it in order to go with their dates to grab a bite to eat or a drink?
No matter how it plays out, I have to give credit to Cameron and 20th Century Fox for thinking outside of the box. But by doing so, they may raised the level of expectations for Avatar too high. We’ll see if Cameron can deliver the goods when the full movie opens in December.