'Avatar' tickets already on sale

James Cameron pic hits theaters Dec. 18

James Cameron's "Avatar" won't reach movie theaters for almost four months, but tickets for the much-hyped sci-fi actioner are already on sale.

Touted as a potentially watershed release -- displaying the creative possibilities both of 3D cinema and motion-capture production techniques -- "Avatar" is scheduled for a global bow on Dec. 18. Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment is co-producing with distributor Fox, which has been stoking exhibitors' appetite for the release through screenings of extended clip reels from the film.

On Friday, the studio staged public screenings of a special 16-minute "Avatar" trailer at 100 Imax theaters. Now, AMC has decided to sell tickets to the movie's opening-day midnight performances.

Online ticketers MovieTickets.com and Fandango on Friday began ringing up sales of "Avatar" performances at more than 75 AMC locations, most of them Imax 3D venues.

"Tickets being put on sale for a film four months in advance is unheard of," MovieTickets exec vp Joel Cohen said. "The fact that tickets have already been sold really speaks to the tremendous buzz the film has already created and the power of James Cameron at the box office."

"Avatar" is Cameron's first dramatic feature since 1997's "Titanic," which is still the highest-grossing film of all time.

"Audiences are hungry for fresh fare with original storytelling," Fandango spokesman Harry Medved said. "And with 'Avatar,' you have no idea where the story is going to go."

Sales of the midnight tickets were said to be "healthy."

It was unclear if any other exhibs will follow AMC's lead in offering early advance ticketing on "Avatar." After all, the studio has yet to hammer out film rental terms with circuits -- though that didn't stop the nation's second-biggest circuit from suggesting the early ticketing.

"AMC came up with the idea," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said. "They said that if all these people are going to come to our theater to see 16 minutes of a film that doesn't open until December, let's give them an opportunity to buy tickets to the first performances of the show itself."

As a practical matter, no one can offer anything but tickets for the first midnight performances, as nobody knows what the final running time will be once Cameron finishes editing "Avatar."

"Avatar" is likely to tote a running time of between 2 1/2 and 3 hours.
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