Avatar' previews held worldwide for eager fans

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If James Cameron wanted to light up the Internet by releasing footage from his upcoming film Avatar, he got his wish – just don t expect him to be glued to a computer screen, soaking up the online buzz.

The Titanic director has people for that.

I ve had it kind of broken down for me, what people are talking about, Cameron said Friday. I know we have right now, historically, broken the record for the total number of downloads for the trailer.

The two-minute online trailer for the 3D sci-fi epic, which debuted Thursday – and the unprecedented 16-minute previews shown in theaters worldwide Friday – inspired steady traffic on Twitter and Facebook. But Cameron, a champion of 3D technology and a pioneer of computer-generated effects in modern moviemaking, says he lacks certain social networking skills to take part.

I don t even know how to Twitter, the 55-year-old filmmaker said in an interview Friday. I m so unhip that it s tragic.

Unhip maybe, but forward-thinking enough to try the crazy stunt that he says he and his team came up with: Invite people to the movie theater to watch 16 minutes of scenes for free. The footage was being shown Friday on 102 screens domestically and 342 screens internationally – 58 countries in all – to fans who scored free tickets online.

And it s not even a continuous 16 minutes, Cameron said. There are a number of scenes, about three or four minutes apiece. And the idea was to let people come in and really sample the quality of the goods.

Cameron, whose last film was world box-office record-holder Titanic in 1997, already knows how to make a splash on screen. Reactions to the mammoth marketing blitz were rolling in on the Web, where Avatar was among the top topics on Twitter on Thursday.

Many were struck by its visual splendor, including Hong Kong moviegoer Jason Poon, who tweeted that it was probably the best CG and 3-D I ve ever seen. James Hilder in London said it was mega impressive.

One fan disappointed with the online trailer said seeing the extended preview in 3D changed his mind about the movie.

It is essential that you watch it in IMAX 3D, or 3D, Manoj Patel wrote on the film s Facebook page. I just got back from watching the 15-minute footage, and I ve got to say, my mouth was wide open all the way through.

Not all the early reactions were laudatory.

In Tel Aviv, Shay Ringel tweeted after a screening: What was THAT?! … Everyone walked out (scratching) their heads saying, Why are we here?

Analyzing the trailer, several movie blogs – including Movieline.com and Spout blog – noted similarities to the 2008 animated flop Delgo and other science fiction movies.

The studio makes no bones about it: Showing the footage, much of which was seen at Comic-Con last month in San Diego, was an effort by Cameron and 20th Century Fox to build buzz for the film, said Jeffrey Godsick, executive vice president of marketing for Fox.

Honestly, it s a pretty simple goal: We d like as many people as possible to learn about the world of Avatar, he said, adding that fan interaction online adds to the fun. What s exciting about this, by having all these events on one day – especially with the Internet – is it gives you a worldwide communal experience, and Avatar is an experience.

Studios usually closely guard footage of movies before their release, only occasionally offering glimpses to the public at special events.

Avatar tells the story of humans who travel to a distant planet and have their brains linked to cloned versions of a native species in order to explore the otherwise unsafe environment. It will be released in its entirety Dec. 18. -AP

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