Pete Hammond

CinemaCon kicked off tonight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas with a presentation from Paramount. In only its  3rd year, what used to be ShoWest is proving to have the magic touch as once again all the major studios plus Lionsgate will be doing dog and pony shows for the nation’s exhibitors before the confab ends on Thursday. Paramount and its Vice Chairman Rob Moore were first and offered the theater owners a slickly produced and very quick reel of upcoming product, along with extended looks at its hoped-for summer blockbusters Star Trek Into  Darkness and World War Z, as well as a complete screening of Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain which opens next week.

With director J.J. Abrams stuck in L.A. still mixing the film to make its May 17 release date, Star Trek sequel writer/producer Damon Lindelof (Lost) filled in and interviewed cast members on hand including CinemaCon’s Male Star Of The Year Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Alice Eve and John Cho. Pine talked about the “vulnerability” of Kirk in this installment, while Quinto emphasized Mr. Spock’s previously not-fully-explored “emotional” side. Quinto also said it was the most physical of the Trek films at least for him. The 18 minutes of footage shown in 3D certainly confirmed that, with hair-raising scenes set in a volcano, underwater, and for a sequence where Kirk hurls through space like a human cannonball. Exciting stuff, and the exhibitors ate it up.

Minimal footage was shown of this Trek’s new villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch who plays a terrorist. But Pine used the occasion to make the evening’s only reference to the day’s tragic events at the Boston Marathon. “We saw what happened today in Boston, and terrorism is unfortunately a part of our lives.”

After the Trek presentation, Moore played the World War Z trailer in 3D and confidently predicted this will be one of the biggest films of the summer. And the footage shown certainly had the crowd on the edge of their seats. Then a voiceover announcer introduced Pitt for real this time. (An earlier voiceover had announced Pitt’s entrance and the crowd packing the enormous Colosseum Theatre got momentarily excited – only to learn it was an attempt at humor by CinemaCon’s Managing Director Mitch Neuhauser.) Pitt personally introduced an extended look at his film which infamously underwent expensive delays and extensive reshoots but is now finally being released June 21. Pitt made only a veiled reference to the difficulty of making a Zombie epic:

“Four years ago I knew nothing about Zombies but now I consider myself an expert,” he said. “This whole thing started because I just wanted to do a film my boys could see before they turned 18, one they liked anyway and they loved Zombies. So we settled on Max Brooks’ book called World War Z. We were faced with two Herculean challenges. How do we keep the global spectacular dynamic scope of the book and how do we originate a Zombie film that’s been done quite often and really really well? What you are about to see is our answer to those two questions. We got a little carried away. I think you are going to like this as much as my boys are going to.” With that, the footage showed the opening sequences of an initial Zombie attack, another where Pitt attempts to find a way to keep them out of a walled-in-Jerusalem, and a harrowing scene set on an airliner where Zombies are turned loose on the passengers.

Finally Director Michael Bay (who is also producing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reboot for Par as well as directing Transformers 4 for next summer starring Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci and another “big name” he couldn’t reveal yet because the deal wasn’t done) came out to introduce his “little film” that has been percolating for 12 years. Done on a budget Bay says was $25 million, Pain & Gain (also starring Walhberg and Dwayne Johnson who both intro’d Bay via a pre-taped bit) is a movie he says he wanted to make because he was tired of “the press taking digs at him” for making only blockbuster type films.

In the beginning, CinemaCon chief Mitch Neuhausere got things rolling by noting the venue has 495,000 watts of power (opposed to a normal theatre’s 4,000) so warned, “Get ready”. He introduced IMAX’s Greg Foster who talked about the new deal with Paramount for 5 films. The IMAX chief then offered a brief live infomercial touting $650 million in total box office for 2012  and screens now nearing 700. He was followed by an exec for Christie, the DLP projector company, who spoke about the improving digital situtation in theaters, particularly when it comes to screen brightness.

But back to Paramount: Rob Moore gushed about the studio’s strong start this year with newcomer Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters grossing $220 million worldwide and sequel GI Joe: Retaliation continuing its mojo. The well-received reel also contained blink-or-you’ll-miss-them snippets of Paranormal Activity 5 (touted as one of the most profitable franchises in Par history), Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Noah (with Russell Crowe as the biblical legend), Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Hercules, new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and 3D Spongebob Pants kid projects, as well as the Fall Oscar hopefuls The Wolf Of Wall Street (from director Martin Scorsese), Labor Day (from Jason Reitman), and the black and white father/son drama Nebraska (from Alexander Payne). There had been buzz that the latter might turn up in competition in Cannes next month. But a source strongly connected with the film tells me it won’t since Payne likes to spend more time with it in post and won’t have it ready, so the Fall fest circuit is probably more likely.

After the screening the CinemaCon delegates were being treated to an opening night party co-sponsored by Paramount, Christie and IMAX.

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