'Avatar' footage in action at Cinema Expo

5:23 PM PST 06/23/2009 by Carl DiOrio, AP

James Cameron promos clips from sci-fi movie to exhibitors

More CineExpo news

Updated: June 25, 2009, 1:05 p.m. ET

AMSTERDAM -- "The future's so bright I gotta wear shades!" James Cameron cried Tuesday as he strode onto a stage -- with his 3-D glasses on -- to unveil the first publicly shown clips from his 3-D sci-fi actioner "Avatar."

The fittingly epic film promo literally added an extra dimension to Fox's presentation at the ongoing Cinema Expo.

"Avatar" actors Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana and Stephen Lang, pic producer Jon Landau, and Fox film chairman Jim Gianopulos also greeted the clearly wowed exhibs at the RAI convention center auditorium.

"Three years ago, I stood up here and said the 3-D renaissance is coming," Cameron said. "And from what we've seen in the business, we can now say it has arrived."

In introducing the 24-minute assemblage, Cameron said much of it came from the first third of the film but that there were also glimpses from unfinished portions of later battle scenes involving warring sides clashing over control of the fantasy world Pandora.

The filmmaker also said the action gets nonstop in the latter portions of the film, which throughout is populated by strange life-forms in a world of unprecedentedly rich fantasy elements. Worthington plays an avatar -- a remote-controlled character created by melding his crippled human form into a super-human being -- whose fate lies ultimately in doing battle with his own former race.

Fox made media covering the event agree not to report details of the "Avatar" images or to interview audience members for reactions. But from the sustained applause at the conclusion of the presentation, suffice to say Fox didn't hurt itself at the event.

A cinematic hybrid of CGI, motion-capture animation and live action, "Avatar" is Cameron's first dramatic feature since 1997's "Titanic." At that year's Cinema Expo, Cameron showed eight minutes of the effects-laden disaster drama before it rang up a still-record $1.84 billion worldwide boxoffice and copping Oscar's best pic statuette.

Cameron encouraged theater owners to add 3-D capability as quickly as possible. But acknowledging "Avatar" will have to play in a mix of conventional and extra-dimensional venues due to insufficient number of 3-D auditoriums, he added, "I just want to say that I think 'Avatar' is going to play great in 3-D, 2-D, any 'D.' "

"Avatar" is set to open around the world on Dec. 18, though it's become sport in Hollywood to speculate on whether the famously painstaking filmmaker will wrap the production in time. Cameron's high-profile promo appearance should go a long way toward soothing any anxieties.

"They wouldn't be doing this if it weren't coming out," a top distribution exec from a rival studio said.

Much of the technology used to capture actor performances was developed especially for "Avatar" and its effects crews at WETA Digital in New Zealand and Industrial Light + Magic in Northern California.

Before the "Avatar" presentation, international distribution co-presidents Tomas Jegeus and Paul Hanneman showed a reel of clips from other upcoming Fox pics. Those included first-quarter titles such as the family comedy "Tooth Fairy," starring Dwayne Johnson; Chris Columbus' family adventure "Percy Jackson & the Olympians" and Fox Searchlight's Mira Nair-helmed Amelia Earhart biopic "Amelia," starring Hilary Swank.

The studio also screened its 3-D three-quel "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

Also Tuesday, Sony screened the romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth," starring the notably not-ugly Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. Sony's worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer is making a first-time visit to Cinema Expo, grabbing some quality time with regional exhibs.

Elsewhere around the RAI, the confab's large trade-show floor opened with tire-kickers drawn by a Dolby-sponsored lunch mingling among more serious customers. Dolby is showcasing its latest digital servers and other d-cinema products.

Recession-impacted vendors sent fewer reps this year, but Disney's large exhibit promoting Tim Burton's live-action take on "Alice in Wonderland" -- set for release in March -- compensated nicely. The display included costumes, props, production designs and even an entire dining room set.

Steady floor traffic fluctuated only when events drew attendees elsewhere.

"It picked up after the movie screening let out," Imax rep Sandie Green noted.

Cinema Expo always boasts a few food-and-beverage exhibitors -- Polish popcorn purveyor PCO Group has a large space -- but most of the floor is taken up by tech companies. Among them: d-cinema vendors Barco, Christie and NEC, German audio-equipment marketer Ernemann and Milan-based film-projection specialist Cinnemecanica.

Sony Electronics mounted its usual large booth, staffed by reps from Sony's London offices. The company is touting tech and financial offerings for digital cinema as well as video displays for theater lobbies.

"We want to start a dialog with people we haven't met before and also reach agreements with some other people," Sony spokeswoman Elizabeth Pierce said.
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