With more than $240 million in production costs alone riding on the highly anticipated James Cameron-directed film, 20th Century Fox is making a big change to Hollywood's sneak-preview tradition for "Avatar."
Four months before the digital 3-D movie debuts, Fox is working with giant-size movie screen company Imax to show 16 minutes of it Aug. 21 in more than 100 theaters, about 70 of which are in the United States.
The unprecedented promotion signals just how aggressively Fox is pushing its massive event film and how Imax is trying to position its theaters as consumers' first-choice destination for "Avatar."
Imax generated about $65 million in ticket sales for "The Dark Knight" last year when the Batman sequel was shown in 94 Imax theaters; "Avatar" will be playing at more than 225 when it opens Dec. 18.
Advance screenings of movie footage for the media and at events such as Comic-Con are fairly common for big-budget Hollywood movies. But no studio has ever shown such an extended excerpt of a film in a broad public setting months before its release.
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 fans, tickets will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis on the "Avatar" website (www.avatar movie.com) starting at noon Monday. The previews will run at about 6 and 6:30 p.m.
The "Avatar" preview will include an introduction from Cameron and footage not shown during last month's Comic-Con International convention in San Diego.
"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," he said. "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 on Aug. 21 the first "Avatar" trailer in theaters worldwide. It will play in 3-D and on traditional screens.