'Avatar' footage shown stateside

Fox played clips for U.S. exhibitors on Thursday

Domestic exhibitors were envious of European theater owners when Fox flew James Cameron into Amsterdam last month to screen 24 minutes of 3D footage from his upcoming motion-capture fantasy "Avatar" at Cinema Expo.

So on Thursday, the studio brought Cameron and the clips collage to the Mann Chinese theater in Hollywood for a similar event for stateside exhibs. The event was closed to the press, but Fox execs said the response was enthusiastic.

About 220 exhibs attended the screening and lunch held afterwards at a restaurant at the adjacent Renaissance Hollywood hotel. The majority of those on hand flew in at their companies' expense, with reps from all the top circuits attending.

"It was absolutely electric," Fox distribution topper Bruce Snyder said. "I really think it played spectacularly with the exhibitors."

Fox intends to release "Avatar" worldwide Dec. 18 in a mix of conventional and 3D venues. Although the rollout of 3D systems has been held up because of the global credit crunch, more than 2,500 domestic screens are expected to be available for the anticipated release.

The Cinema Expo and Hollywood screenings of "Avatar" footage were aimed in part at encouraging exhibs to pull out all stops to get 3D projection in place in time to play the pic on as many of their screens as possible. As with the European screening, Cameron on Thursday offered introductory remarks, additional comments during the screening and mingled with attendees at lunch afterward.

Fox and Cameron also will promote "Avatar" this month at Comic-Con in San Diego, where an even longer assemblage of scenes -- including images never before shown in public -- will be screened for attendees.