By Nicole Sperling
July 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT

Director James Cameron had just two questions for the audienceof 6,000 at today’s much-anticipated Avatar sneak peek at Comic-Con. One: “How many of you have ever wanted to go to another planet?” And two: “Are you ready to go to Pandora?” That was Cameron’s introduction to 25 minutes ofnever-before-seen footage of Avatar, which will hit theaters on Dec. 18. Attendees saw Sam Worthington’s character travel to the world of Pandora as an Avatar and interact with theNavi and the other wild, mystical creatures around him.

Donning 3-D glasses for the footage, the audience went wild for Cameron’s crazy-inventive world ofPandora, for which he created everything from floating mountains to theblades of grass to the language of the native Navi population. Cheeringwas most enthusiastic for a clip in which Worthington’s Avatar wrestles a vicious pterodactyl-type creature to attain a new mode of air transportation. Cameron is clearly not just making a cool sci-fi movie here; forhim, Avatar is socially-relevant filmmaking, regardless of howotherworldly it appears. “Avatar may have a spoonful of sugar with allthe sci-fi and special effects, but it has a conscience. It makes youthink a little bit about how you interact with nature and your fellowman.”

Cameron also made an intriguing announcement: On August 21, Twentieth Century Fox willtry to get a hold of as many 3-D and IMAX theatres as they can aroundthe world to show 15 minutes of Avatar—for free. They’re calling it “Avatar Day,” and along with footage from the film they’ll debut video game trailers andother Avatar-centric stuff. It sounds awesome, but you have to wonder: how will the theatersmanage it?