Whether it is overlong and overhyped or a bona fide science-fiction masterpiece, James Cameron's highly anticipated film Avatar has become big business in the UAE. More than 150 of the keenest movie buffs caught midnight showings of the epic on the capital's first 3D screens in Khalidiyah Mall's Cine Royal. And in a very promising hint of immense box-office returns, dozens of people have booked their seats a week in advance, according to managers at the cinema.
"People buying one week early is rare," said Mohammed Rafeeq, the cinema's business development manager. "I checked this morning, and we have more than 30 or 40 people booking for two or three days ahead." The morning started slowly, with 14 people at the first showing at 10am, said Venus Rodriguez, a clerk at the box office; more people were attending the morning showing of the martial arts picture Ninja Assassin, released weeks earlier.
By 1.15pm, however, curious movie-goers such as William Noble were arriving half an hour early so as not to miss any part of the adventure epic, about peaceful aliens under threat by greedy human miners. "I felt myself stop breathing for a few seconds," the Filipino salesman said as he emerged from the cinema nearly three hours later. "Fifteen minutes after the movie, we were still feeling it. I was totally amazed."
It was the kind of reaction that Cameron, who also wrote and produced the film, should hope for. With a US$230 million (Dh845m) budget, Avatar is believed to be the most expensive film yet made. The Canadian director brings Avatar to the screen 12 years after the success of his Titanic. He invented a film camera to help realise his vision. Although Ken and Rebecca Riddle walked into the film cold, not having heard the buzz about Avatar, the American expatriates left the theatre with high praise for "a great, great fantasy film".
"I just wanted to see a 3D movie," said, Mr Riddle, a 68-year-old veterinarian. "But it was really exciting and I thought it was excellent." Mrs Riddle's only complaint was the running time, which she felt could have used a trim. "I will say there was a lot of action," she added. Nabil Mohammed, 16 and from Egypt, agreed. "You have to see it, please," he implored. "This is a must to feel what we are saying."
Mr Rafeeq said he expected robust audience numbers and plenty of repeat viewers to attend screenings this week, particularly in 3D, where tickets costs Dh10 more than a conventional showing for Dh30. "The only way to see it is in 3D," he said. While the film is being shown in two 3D cinemas, Cine Royal plans to open up a regular screen for Avatar shortly. Around 20 people made it to Ibn Battuta Mall's first IMax 3D screening of Avatar at 10.30am yesterday.
Radha Krishnan, 59, brought his family, visiting from India. "It was technically brilliant," he said. "I have seen a lot of other films but it was so much more. I would recommend people come to see it." "Amazing", was the verdict of Ramzi Alloui, 20, from France, "especially in 3D." As was that of Karthikeyan Baskaran, a 26-year-old auditor, who said the movie went beyond his expectations. "The animation and graphics were totally superb."
Sanjeev Singh, 37, and Akash R, 34, both bankers in Dubai, said they had been looking forward to seeing the film. "It was a totally new experience, a new way to look at films," Mr Singh said, predicting that Avatar would become "a cult movie that is going to change the way we see movies". "It's about human greed," his colleague explained. "Trying to capture things and not thinking about others. I think it has come at the right time, when we are destroying all the world's resources and with the summit in Copenhagen happening, the timing is right. It conveys a powerful message - it is very moving."