Director unveils film footage at Comic-Con

James Cameron began making the rounds with “Avatar” footage in June at Cinema Expo, followed by a five-hour mini-conference to woo exhibitors earlier this month at Grauman’s Chinese. But the truest test of his film’s hype would be fulfilling his promise to show 20 minutes of footage to the fans that deified him after films like “Terminator,” “Terminator: 2,” “Aliens,” “The Abyss” and, to a lesser extent (at least at Comic-Con), “Titanic.”

Cameron fans have come to expect a certain standard. When the director takes his time to develop something groundbreaking (i.e. the morphing technology in “The Abyss” and “Terminator 2″), his audience has been richly rewarded. However, there’s never been this much anticipation and mystery surrounding one of Cameron’s projects, leaving the fans in Hall H to nervously wonder if he can deliver.

After very little preamble from Cameron (he came to the podium to ask, “Are you ready to go to Pandora?”), what ensued was 20-25 minutes of a sci-fi fever dream. Employing what appears to be (at the least) a mix of CGI, performance capture and green screen, the footage should continue to stir very positive buzz.

For the fans, the footage was the equivalent of a cinematic second coming and the panel that followed seemed pretty tame. Moderator/producer Jon Landau oversaw a discussion between Sigourney Weaver, Steven Lang, Zoe Saldana and Cameron about the characters and the “Avatar” filmmaking experience. Cameron gave a shout-out to Peter Jackson, claiming the technological mastery behind Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” was one of his cues to make “Avatar.”

At the end of the panel, Cameron announced that on August 21, he would take over a number of IMAX and 3D theaters to show the public 15 minutes of “Avatar” as a way to compensate those who couldn’t be at the conference.

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