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Avatar Day: Report From Manhattan

I showed up at my local theater for Avatar Day and found things pretty much business as usual. No mobs lined up, no screaming fanboys painted blue, just a bunch of moviegoers curious about what was going to happen, some of them with virtually no knowledge of what they were getting into. Two kids sitting behind me got the tickets through a radio promotion, and only learned that the movie featured blue people by looking at a poster just outside the theater.

When the theater manager showed up to announce the film right on time, the theater was maybe 3/4 full-- even at the only true IMAX theater in Manhattan, at the first screening of the day, the giant crowds promised by the website crash hadn't materialized. There were some cheers when the lights went down, but mostly it was as if we were waiting on a movie just like any other. I was impressed with the diversity of the crowd, young and old, plenty of races represented. If James Cameron is trying to make a movie that interests everyone, he's definitely succeeded in that.

As for the footage, it was my second go-round after Comic Con, and you can read my more detailed reactions here. It was basically the exact same scenes we were shown there but trimmed, basically keeping in the stuff with the most intensity and cutting the fat everywhere else too. It's a shame too, since what leads into the scene of Jake being attacked by the alien rhinoceros thing is funny and helps establish the Avatars within the world, and Jake's walk through the bio-luminescent forest with Neytiri is intensely gorgeous, if not exactly exposition heavy.

It did look much better on IMAX than it did on the tiny Hall H screens, but the 3D effect was actually a little hard to take. It always takes a few minutes to adjust your eyes to the experience of watching something in 3D, and it was only about halfway through the Avatar footage that I was really able to focus my eyes on the action and absorb it all. While the 15 minutes definitely was enough time to spend with the CGI characters to believe them as part of this world, it wasn't nearly enough to grow used to the 3D.

There was some brief applause after the screening, and the people around me seemed happy, if not overjoyed, with what they had seen. I heard a few grumblings as I left the theater-- it's hard to understand the action, the characters don't look real enough-- that might give Fox and Cameron some pause. But I'm still willing to chalk it up to a problem of limited time, and with an entire movie's running time to lure the audience in, Cameron will have no trouble making us believe in his vision.

At minimum, the Avatar Day footage is an infinitely better way to get a taste of the movie than the trailer, even if it's still too limited for my tastes. Talking to my friend, whose only exposure to the film was the trailer, he's intrigued but still wary; the one thing he wants to see is a human interacting with a Na'vi, beyond the brief shot in the trailer of the man being pulled out of the helicopter by the alien machine. This skepticism makes it clearer than ever that it was smart of Cameron to embark on this long-range wooing project, reeling in audiences bit by bit until we're completely on board with giant blue cat people. Avatar Day is only one step toward getting us there, though. Based on what I saw today, it'll be enough-- but barely.

Just in case you missed it, here's the Avatar trailer which debuted online yesterday. It should give you a feel for some of what we saw today at Avatar Day:

For more on Avatar Day, check out Josh's impressions from Dallas here.

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend