Few directors would share footage of their precious baby in advance of a final cut and almost none would consider screening to general audiences. James Cameron has enough confidence to literally raise the Titanic, however, and hasn’t just shown footage of his upcoming Avatar – approximately 16 minutes – but created an entire day around it.


He wants to be king of the world - again

With the film going out globally on December 18, Fox has given away tickets to see Cameron’s footage by lottery and application and the result was writ large at a packed and noisy BFI Imax theatre in London this morning (August 21).

The selected sequences Cameron showed come, he assured the audience in a filmed intro, from the first half of the film. And while it’s impossible to review out-of-context sequences as a piece, it’s safe to say that the images unspooled in his own luminous 3D were breathtaking.


Where’s his crown?

From this footage, and although it’s impossible to tell how a film might hang together around it, it’s clear that Cameron’s film has “event” stamped all over it. It looks like a must-see, if not for the story, then just for the pure sake of experiencing these intense images.

Another fact was clear after 16 minutes: there would seem to be little, if any, point in seeing this in 2D, although it will be released theatrically in that format. Long-term, how this will affect rental and other ancillaries, has yet to be determined. This film poses many questions past its opening numbers: Cameron has built it, audiences will come – but is the industry ready for it, from exhibitors to Blu-Ray to TV?


Pandora’s box

Set in the 22nd Century, mostly on a planet called Pandora, Cameron’s footage kicks off as a human mission is launched in rich live-action 3-D – the purity of these images has certainly not been seen before.

The next sequence places Sigourney Weaver back on a spaceship – cheers all round! – as a doctor who prepares the crippled Jake (Sam Worthington) for a transformation in which he inhabits his own Avatar: big, blue, with a tail like a kangaroo.

The rest of the sequences are set on Pandora, and crank up through the range from impressive to intense as Jake encounters Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), does battle with pre-historic-style creatures, tames a pterodactyl-like beast in bleached, extraordinary landscapes (the depth of field seems endless) and then flash footage cuts to a seeming war with humans.


Sit back and wait

It’s audacious for Cameron to confront the rumour mill in this way in advance of December 18: he has cut the internet whisperings and the pirates off before they have even properly started. In one global “Avatar day”, he has established that the film is an event; it’s a must-see on 3D; and that he has delivered the goods. Now all that’s left is to wait, see some more, and figure out how things are going to change after it.