Waiting no longer: 'Avatar' fans snap up tickets as sequel hits Chinese cinemas
The release of James Cameron's sci-fi epic "Avatar: The Way of Water" ahead of the holiday season is expected to give a strong boost to China's box office, with fans already clamoring to buy tickets.
The long-awaited sequel to the 2009 film "Avatar," which runs 190 minutes, hit cinemas across China and North America on Friday in both standard and IMAX versions.
Pundits are already forecasting that the movie will be one of the highest-grossing films in world cinema and could earn 5 billion yuan (US$720 million) in the Chinese market alone.
But industry insiders are uncertain whether it can break the box office record of "Avatar," the top grosser of all time with global ticket sales of US$2.85 billion.
Data from Dengta, a box office tracker and online ticketing platform, show that tickets to the sequel topped 150 million yuan in China as of 7:30pm on Friday. Despite public concerns about rising coronavirus cases, about 1.5 million movies buffs here have expressed a strong intention to see the movie.
Filmed on a massive budget between US$350-$400 million, "Avatar: The Way of Water" follows the adventures of the original film's characters Jake Sully and Neytiri -- parents trying to keep their family safe on the fictional moon Pandora. Compared with the romantic flavor of the first installment, the sequel is a tale about family and friendship.
Naked eye 3D LED, which does not require external tools like glasses for viewing the 3D image, and China Film Group's immersive CINITY cinema system highlight the film's stunning visuals, particularly the aquatic environment of Pandora.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Cameron is also an adventurer and inventor of cutting-edge film technologies. He invited astrophysicists, anthropologists, archaeologists and musicians to participate in the design of Pandora, which has distinctive ecosystems, social structures and culture. Principal actors in the film, such as Kate Winslet, received diving training to enable them to hold their breath for lengthy underwater shots.
For Chinese movie buffs, the "Avatar" franchise has been a key factor in promoting the development and spread of IMAX 3D technology in China.
When the first installment was released in China in January 2010, there were only 14 IMAX theaters in the country. Some ticket scalpers hawked tickets at 2,500 yuan each. But today, the number exceeds 780 in more than 210 cities.
No longer will movie fans in Shanghai and neighboring provinces have to spend a whole night waiting in long queues to snap up IMAX tickets, though the tickets at many IMAX theaters in China have sold out quickly for the following two months.
On the Chinese mainland, "Avatar" was the highest-grossing movie for 10 consecutive weeks, raking in 1.34 billion yuan. The 14 IMAX screens then in the country contributed 168 million yuan to the national box office.
"I'm very glad that the new generation of IMAX audiences are now able to see 'Avatar' on the big screen," said director Cameron, commenting on the sequel's release in so many IMAX theaters today in China.
Rich Gelfond, chief executive officer of IMAX said the new movie will further cement the technology's place in cinematic history.
"'Avatar' changed everything for IMAX, catapulting our brand into the stratosphere and putting us on the map in China," Gelfond said.
Wang Yun, a 33-year-old publishing house editor and big movie fan in Shanghai, spent 308 yuan to view the sequel's IMAX 3D pre-premiere at SFC Cinema two days before its official national release. He said the sequel was well worth the years of waiting for the next installment.
Wang said he was unable to get an IMAX ticket at the Peace Cinema to see "Avatar" in 2010. Instead, he watched the movie in an ordinary 3D version at Tianshan Cinema. Even at that, he recalled being so captivated by the movie's visual effects that he couldn't even believe his eyes.
The sequel, in his opinion, is equally superb, showcasing the highest level of cinematic technology in the world. He said he was particularly impressed by the underwater scenes and the rich depiction of Pandora's sea creatures.
"'Avatar' is more than a movie to Chinese movie buffs," Wang added. "Because of its huge popularity 12 years ago, more IMAX theaters with advanced sound systems have opened in China. It has laid the foundation for a flourishing Chinese film industry and market."
In the following weeks, many theaters in the city will launch special events for "Avatar" fans.
According to Ding Rong, a manager at Peace Cinema, moviegoers who kept their original ticket stubs from the 2010 movie can book the same seat for the sequel and pay the original 2010 price.
"The sequel is reigniting the passion and nostalgia of movie buffs who have waited years for this," he said.
The IMAX screen at Peace Cinema, at a height of 16 meters, is still the tallest of its kind in China. That makes it a popular venue for true film aficionados. So far, the cinema has sold more than 80 percent of tickets available for IMAX 3D screenings this weekend.
Li Ying, a regional marketing manager of Wanda Cinema Line, said all 140 tickets for the 12am screening of the film in Wanda-operated Hyots in Daning Jiuguang were quickly sold out. The screenings also attracted Cosplay lovers with special blue make-up and costumes of the movie's main characters.
The renovated Wanping Theater, now mostly a venue for artistic theatrical events like a French film exhibition, offered two screenings of the movie on its new 4K laser projector, high-end surround sound system.
And good news for "Avatar" fans. "The Way of the Water" is the first of four planned sequels. Filming has already begun on the next installment.