'Avatar' generates fan frenzy, sold-out shows

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Here's one way to judge advance ticket sales for "Avatar:" People began buying them in August.

"That's kind of unheard of," says Joel Cohen, chief executive of MovieTickets.com. "Sales in August for a movie that opens in December really shows you the level of demand."

Not bad for a movie whose biggest selling points have been an enormous budget and innovative special effects.

And yet, "Avatar" is gearing up for midnight premieres Thursday night and selling out more than 400 showings nationwide, according to MovieTickets.com and Fandago.com, the nation's largest online movie-ticket services. A high percentage of sales have been for 3-D and IMAX screenings, a sign that audiences are eager to savor the visuals. Moviegoers can see the film in both formats at theaters across Long Island.

"Avatar," about a disabled Marine who infiltrates an alien tribe by remotely linking his brain to one of their bodies, marks the first feature from director James Cameron since 1997's "Titanic," still the all-time earner with $600.7 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. Where that movie featured Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, "Avatar" boasts motion-capture technology, heightened 3-D effects and a reported budget of $230 million.

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Still, it seems unlikely to top "Titanic" at the box office. Long-term, it may pull in $300 million to $400 million, according to Kevin Polowy, senior editor at Moviefone.com. (By comparison, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" wears this year's revenue crown with $402 million.)

" 'Titanic' was a one-of-a-kind movie. . . . And 'Avatar,' it's a beauty to behold, but it's also 2 hours and 45 minutes long, and you're going to pay $20 to see it in IMAX if you want to do it right," Polowy says. "I'm not sure it will have the same allure."

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