James Cameron isn’t at CinemaCon this year, but his Avatar producer Jon Landau is filling in. When Landau asked the Oscar-winning director to come to Las Vegas, “He told me, ‘Jon, I think it’s a good decision for everyone in that room that I’m here directing the movies, and not in the room’.”

Landau regaled the crowd today at 20th Century’s Fox’s presentation with how Cameron initially wrote the upcoming Alita: Battle Angel in 2000 to direct himself. By the time he was finished in 2005, he decided to direct Avatar, which he head had written a decade earlier. Robert Rodriguez stepped in to direct and edited the Alita script to a manageable length without losing the pic’s heart and soul.

Jon Landau Robert Rodriguez
Jon Landau, left, and Robert Rodriguez
REX/Shutterstock

Landau and Rodriguez showed off a new trailer and two news clips today, revealing the scope of this live-action, mo-cap sci-fi fantasy, a Pinocchio story of sorts about a young cyborg-like girl who is trying to find her real self and impact society. The look is like a utopian future with some nods to the Mad Max world. The exhibitor crowd watched a scene where Alita (Rosa Salazar) wakes up and discovers her metal-like boned body and fights a huge muscular cyborg (almost akin to Colossus) who has chain-metal nails. He thrusts them at Alita, and she jumps through them with the greatest of ease.

Alita: Battle Angel opens December 21 in a fierce pre-Christmas weekend against Warner Bros’ Aquaman, Paramount’s Bumblebee and Sony’s Holmes and Watson. While the latter will prove to be counter-programming, the studios should think about spacing them out during the holidays and giving them some air.