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Trailer Watch: Avatar

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Warner Bros. put out a teaser to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone about a year before its release. Columbia did the same with Godzilla. One film was a hit, and the other doesn't even warrant further mention. The point is: big movies get promoted. There's no real rhyme or reason to it—if the movie is supposed to be an event, it gets promoted.

So where's the teaser to Avatar?

In the 12 years since Titanic, James Cameron has created a short-lived and forgettable TV show, produced a handful of documentaries, and even supported one archeologist's assertion that he'd found Jesus' grave. Before Titanic, Cameron had directed five feature films within the same span of time, crowning his achievement with the highest grossing film to date. He's been hard at work over the last two-and-a-half years with what writer Paula Parisi said in 1998 would be the coolest movie ever made.

You'd think Twentieth Century Fox would want to promote the hell out of this thing. The film premieres December 18th.

Supposedly, this IMAX 3D release will utilize the same technology that brought U2-3D to vivid life last year. And if so, this would be a groundbreaking release. A game changer. A James Cameron film. Would this not make great fodder for a 90-second teaser, glimpsing the film’s scope and whetting the appetites of nerds and movie-lovers everywhere?

And yet, eight months out: nothing. Not even a poster.

I recall similar frustration expressed throughout the internets regarding another semi-recent Fox release—The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Creator/director Chris Carter kept a tight lid on the film's production. Fox put out a modest trailer a few months before its July 2008 release. The entire tone of the promotion was eerily reserved. And there's a better than even chance Fox kept it that way because the movie just wasn't all that good.

On the feature front, even the weakest entry in the Cameron library (excluding his Piranha sequel) is still a pretty good flick. You'd think after mowing down the box office with his last film, there'd be a degree of fueled anticipation, but someone somewhere apparently feels otherwise. Which means Avatar may not be all that good either.

Cameron has always faced criticism for putting flair over substance, but his work occasions surprising depth of theme (I'm thinking primarily of The Abyss and Terminator 2). I imagine Avatar would aspire to the same quality. Anyone who had a chance to read the film's treatment before it was pulled off the internet knows the film has big ideas at the helm. The treatment, however, has already received criticism for pushing a heavy environmental message, a topic that’s played a big hand to a number of recent sci-fi films, and to varying results.

This is assuming, of course, the director sticks to his early treatment. Cameron wrote the outline more than a decade ago, and details inevitably get tweaked given that much time to simmer.

Besides, this is all just speculation anyway. Titanic's trailer played at ShoWest about eight months before its December 1997 premiere, if I remember right. Before then, many thought that film would earn a fate worse than its namesake. $601 million later, and the word “titanic” reclaimed its mojo.

The role a trailer plays in the success of a film can vary. Some excellent trailers build buzz for mediocre films; others can thrive with little promotion on the strength of the film alone. The absence of an Avatar trailer affords few clues as to the quality of the actual product. But a glimpse, even a small one, at a film that industry insiders claim will change the face of going to the movies, could only bode well.

Audiences like to get stoked, and getting stoked can only help the film. They say even bad publicity is good publicity, you know. No publicity, however, never worked for anyone.

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