CinemaCon 2013 is officially in full swing with Paramount hosting the Off and Running presentation this evening. CinemaCon managing director Mitch Neuhauser kicked things off by introducing himself as Brad Pitt before running out on stage. After the big reveal earned a quick laugh, Neuhauser pointed out the Colosseum’s nifty and truly impressive Dolby Atmos audio system, and then introduced the chairman of IMAX Entertainment, one of CinemaCon’s sponsors.
After congratulating Paramount on its 100th year, he got down to business, announcing IMAX’s five-picture deal with the studio. The arrangement involves Michael Bay’s “Transformers 4” and Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” with three additional titles being unveiled in the coming months. Both Bay and Nolan will also be shooting select sequences using IMAX cameras. After showing off a reel including upcoming IMAX titles like “Oblivion,” “Pacific Rim,” “Iron Man 3,” and more, it was on to another CinemaCon sponsor, the digital projection company, Christie.
Their VP of Entertainment Solutions stepped out on stage and reiterated that soon, all projection systems will go digital and that the company recently hit a major milestone with a screening of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” marking the best brightness levels ever achieved. The company’s representative was well aware of what the large majority of the audience was looking forward to so hurried things along, but the brief run-through of IMAX and Christie’s achievements do make you think twice about how important companies like those are to your moviegoing experience. Then again, not to take them for granted, but I’m not going to lie; it was exciting when Christie finally handed the podium over to Paramount.
The studio’s vice chairman Rob Moore took the stage and spoke a little about the exciting growing relationship between Paramount and IMAX, the recent success of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” and then introduced a preview reel of Paramount’s upcoming slate. After touching on a number of iconic old-timers, we got some very quick snippets of “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Pain & Gain,” “World War Z,” “Paranormal Activity 5,” Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street,” Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day,” a totally black and white “Nebraska,” a quick joke from Ron Burgundy for “Anchorman: The Legend Continues,” a peek at “Jack Ryan,” some epic landscape shots from “Noah,” a tease of “Ninja Turtles,” a preview of a CGI Sponge Bob SquarePants, a shot of Mark Wahlberg in “Transformers 4,” a title card for “Interstellar,” and finally, Dwayne Johnson’s name right alongside “Hercules.” The piece was particularly well cut and the soundtrack really did pound courtesy Dolby Atmos, making the sizzle reel an excellent, heart pumping segue into the main event – footage.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” scribe Damon Lindelof took the stage, having a laugh by dubbing himself, “the balder, less talented J.J. Abrams.” Even in Abrams’ absence, he also got to poke fun at Lindelof, too, by having Lindelof read a letter he wrote to the CinemaCon audience. Lindelof pointed out that he was firmly instructed not to look at this letter before the big night, and it’s no wonder. When the letter wasn’t humbly thanking the audience for being there, it was forcing Lindelof to announce plans to do a song and dance, and give Abrams full credit for “Lost.” All kidding aside, Abrams revealed that he couldn’t be there to unveil the footage because he was back in Los Angeles, knee deep in sound mixing work to have the film ready for its May 17th release.
From there Lindelof brought “Star Trek Into Darkness” stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Alice Eve, and John Cho on stage. Lindelof conducted an endearingly awkward Q&A, beginning by asking Pine how James T. Kirk changes from film one to two. Pine admitted that in the first film, Kirk assumed the chair a little early, but in “Into Darkness,” he endures a significant amount of maturing courtesy of the pressure from Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain, John Harrison. Quinto touched on the misnomer that Spock is devoid of emotion and pointed out that in this film, his personal journey involves the need to honor his feelings and be accountable to the people he loves.
Eve chimed in to talk about being the series newcomers. She admitted the first day on set was like the first day at school; in the beginning, everything was new and scary, but come wrap time, it was like she’d been there forever. Cho earned a laugh by admitting that he fell for a practical joke, having been told that the enormous laser on their scientific facility set was radioactive and believing it. Apparently the gag resulted in the need to jump up and down and be swathed in neutron cream, whatever that is. Then it was back to Pine who pointed out that while the second film is bigger and better than the first, it doesn’t raise the bar with action at the expense of emotion. Before wrapping up, Lindelof brought up the touchy subject of 3D, pointing out that, originally, Abrams was against it, but after seeing some footage with the extra dimension, he converted. In the end, Lindelof himself is a big proponent of “Star Trek Into Darkness” in 3D, as he’s seen the film in both 2D and 3D and calls the 3D version a far more immersive experience.
Finally it was time for the footage and we didn’t just get a single scene, rather 18 minutes of “Star Trek Into Darkness.” The two scenes we saw were both incredibly impressive displays of color, vibrant production design, curious characters, quite a few laughs, and deep space action. Read on for all the details, but be warned; scene spoilers lie ahead.
The first scene takes place in a foreign world. Bones (Karl Urban) and Kirk are dashing through a jungle of red planets while Spock, Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and Sulu are working to stop a volcano from erupting and save the planet via an airborne ship. Meanwhile, Scotty (Simon Pegg) and the rest of the Enterprise crew and the Enterprise itself are submerged underwater in an effort to keep clear of the planet’s indigenous people.
Even with little to no context, the sequence is highly effect, functioning as though it were its own complete short film. Not only does it have a beginning, middle, and end, but each stage is oozing with both high-stakes action and relationship drama. This is also where the production and costume design excel. The planet, which you get a glimpse of in Kirk’s recently released character poster, is bathed in a mesmerizing red hue. And it doesn’t just have that effect because it’s such a bold color, rather because there are smaller details that still manage to pop even amidst the sea of red. As a sucker for cute creatures, I particularly enjoyed a little slug-like guy who earns a close-up even during a heated moment.
The planet’s natives are well worth noting, too. They’re covered almost entirely in bright yellow robes, but underneath, are entirely white-skinned. And I don’t mean pale; I mean stark white. Further solidifying them as beings that could star in the next horror creeper are their solid black eyes. No pupils, no white, just black.
In scene two we’re inside the Enterprise, in the middle of a conversation between Kirk and Cumberbatch’s John Harrison who’s harboring secrets about a certain mysterious ship. The dialogue here is exceedingly well written, showing off Kirk’s confident command, but also hinting at how Harrison’s cold demeanor could break him. Even though hostility is high, in the end, Harrison agrees to help Kirk get from the Enterprise to the adjacent ship.
From there it’s a race against the clock. Scotty is on the opposite end of the action, trying to open the other ship’s door so he can receive Kirk and Harrison. He earns a handful of laughs by completing his job with urgency, but also taking the time to stop and throw out a few lighthearted zingers.
Meanwhile, Harrison and Kirk are all business, suiting up and jumping out into deep space. The pair zips through debris like bullets with in-helmet graphics helping them pinpoint the precise trajectory. As Kirk and Harrison approach, there’s a slight snag in Scotty’s end of the operation – a member of the crew has a gun to his head. The stakes get even higher when Kirk takes a piece of debris to the face, creating a crack in his helmet that spreads far enough to turn off the helmet graphics. However, just before reaching the door and potentially missing his small landing zone, Harrison saves the day by offering to guide him in using his helmet system. Back in the adjacent ship, Scotty has a bright idea just in the nick of time, opening the door and catching the gunman off guard. As Harrison and Kirk zip in, the gunman takes off on a wicked course, being thrown back into the ship by the outer space force, only to be sucked back out the door and hurled into space after.
These aren’t just flashy action set pieces; they’re well developed stories on their own. Should the full feature find as much success as these two moments, Abrams might hit it big again, wowing audiences with the action-packed sci-fi factor while also delivering a notable dose of drama. Even better, it seems as though Abrams has totally secluded his signature lens flares to the interior of the Enterprise and toned them down significantly, too.
The “World War Z” portion of the presentation kicked off with a screening of the film’s trailer in 3D after which Neuhauser rehashed the whole “introducing Brad Pitt” joke – but this time, it really was Brad Pitt. Pitt himself took the stage to thank the audience and touch on how he went from zombie novice to expert, pointing out that the main reason he was so hell-bent on making “World War Z” was because his boys love a good zombie. Before letting the footage roll, Pitt jokingly admitted, “We got a little carried away.”
The first scene began with a moment familiar from the film’s trailer. Pitt’s character is in the car with his family playing a guessing game while in the middle of the congested Philadelphia streets. After his wife points out the abundance of helicopters, Pitt turns on the radio, which blares something about a recent outbreak of rabies. Soon thereafter, a motorcycle cop swipes the side view mirror off their car. Pitt gets out to take a look and collect the severed piece, but, it turns out, a broken mirror is the least of his worries. He catches a glimpse of an explosion in the distance after which all hell breaks loose.
People run like mad through the streets while a gigantic truck mows down smaller vehicles and absolutely demolishes a nearby box truck. Meanwhile, one of Pitt’s little girls keeps moaning about having her blanket. However, that issue comes to an abrupt end when an ambulance smashes into their car. As the family emerges dazed from the wreckage, we get glimpses of the surrounding crowd, a crowd that looks as though its comprised entirely of normal people, but artfully guides your eye towards the individuals that just don’t look right.
But that only lasts so long because, before you know it, the street is swarming with devastatingly fast zombies. The scene hones in on one random man, dazed as he watches the chaos erupt around him. Initially his inclusion seems random and unnecessary, as you’d much rather stick with Pitt’s family, but soon enough, Pitt and this other man connect and, slowly, Pitt watches as he gets into a car, the car’s windshield is smashed by a desperately hungry head-butting zombie, and the man is bitten. And it doesn’t end there. The man is then used as a vehicle to show how quickly the transformation happens. One of Pitt’s daughters has a talking doll that counts to 12. The man is first nibbled on when the counting starts and once the doll hits 12, he’s back on his feet and out for blood.
Before the clip comes to a close we get a wide aerial shot of a bridge being blocked by police barricades as someone makes the announcement, “Initiate containment plan alpha.”
In scene two, Pitt is overseas, possibly in Israel. He’s wowed by a stronghold of salvation camps to which the establishment leader replies, “Every human being we save is one less zombie to fight.” And he’s right. Their facility has more than enough zombies swarming their seemingly impenetrable walls.
Back inside, Pitt questions how one might get into India (which is actually Russia in the film’s trailer) to which the other man insists that Pitt stop his search for patient zero. Elsewhere in the camp, folks have joined together to pray and chant, the noise riling up the zombies outside. Pitt makes a futile attempt at telling the camp operator that they’re too loud, but shortly after, the zombies are piled so high, they manage to climb over the wall.
Soon thereafter, it’s Philadelphia all over again. People are bitten and turn nearly instantaneously, quickly making humans the minority. Pitt takes off running with a group of soldiers assigned to take him to a plane. The large majority of the chase features hordes of zombies clogging the streets, but there’s also a notably tense intimate moment during which Pitt and the soldiers are running down an alleyway that’s covered by a cage. The ceiling isn’t particularly high, so as zombies start to jump down from the roofs on top of it, they’re within arm’s reach of human flesh below. Sure enough, one solider is pulled up to the ceiling and becomes a meal. Rather than continue to suffer before turning, the solider whips out a grenade and blows both himself and the surrounding zombies away.
As successful as those two scenes are, it’s the third that’s the big winner. It picks up with a dog ditching its owner and running to the back of an airborne plane. Otherwise, all of the other passengers are sleeping including Pitt and two people who look like they might be the soldiers from the scene before. From there, it’s back to the dog who’s made his way to a stewardess. After the dog takes off running again, the stewardess opens a container to find a zombie inside and is mauled to death.
Just picture the Philadelphia and the camp scene, but in the close quarters of an airplane. As the tale end of the plane becomes a total feeding zone, Pitt’s section tries to create a barricade by blocking the doorway with luggage. Unfortunately, one passenger pushes a suitcase too far and it topples over, catching the zombies’ attention. Director Marc Forster throws in a particularly stimulating new vantage point, offering a glimpse of the chaos from the cockpit just as the zombies break through the makeshift barricade and start eating the passengers in Pitt’s section.
Eventually, Pitt makes the decision to blow the beasts away, tossing a grenade that rips a hole in the side of the plane and creates a wind tunnel, flushing the zombies, and likely some living passengers, right out.
To conclude the Paramount Presentation, the studio rolled a message from “Pain & Gain” stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson. The pair apologized for not being there to introduce the film in person, but also joked they were too afraid to run into Michael Bay anyway. Right after, Bay himself took the stage and pointed out how instrumental the large majority of the CinemaCon attendees are to his work, particularly IMAX and Dolby.
Before letting “Pain & Gain” screen in its entirety, Bay explained that the film has been with him for 12 years and dubbed it, “my little movie,” as its $25 million price tag is a mere drop in the bucket compared to Bay’s other productions.
While “Pain & Gain” may have been smaller in scope than the “Transformers” series, it’s got loads to offer in different respects. We won’t be running a full review until closer to the film’s April 26th release, but know that Bay really pushes the boundaries when it comes to melding humor with some truly dark and often vicious material.
“Pain & Gain” is on the long side and you can certainly feel it, but the film’s ability to get you to enjoy watching three rather unlikeable leads is quite the achievement. Plus, the fact that this film is based on true events is just absolutely astounding and endlessly fascinating. In fact, it’s such a strong driving force for the film, Bay mentions it twice, warning, “Unfortunately, this is a true story,” and then, towards the end of the film, when the material has entered absolutely outrageous territory, reminding us again, “This is still a true story.”