Universal may have been the last of the seven studios participating here in Las Vegas at CinemaCon but their one-hour-and-forty-minute presentation today at Caesars Palace’s Colisseum theatre was perhaps the starriest of all. Hosted with confidence and self-deprecating humor by the studio’s chairman and 13 year U veteran Adam Fogelson, the exec made good use of his background as the studio’s former marketing head to really sell their summer slate – and beyond – with good old- fashioned star power and well-chosen clips. In addition to extended looks at their summer lineup, the show also featured the first glimpse anywhere of footage from upcoming movies Les Miserables, 47 Ronin, Oblivion which just started shooting with Tom Cruise, next summer’s R.I.P.D., and a specially produced animated piece just for CinemaCon to announce the 2013 arrival of Despicable Me 2. But the clear emphasis was on this summer’s promising-looking lineup as Fogelson opened by saying, “it is a good time for Universal”, especially with the studio’s early 2012 box office success that he noted has made them No. 1 in market share so far this year with such films as Contraband, Safe House which has grossed over $200 million globally (Denzel Washington’s second biggest hit), American Reunion which Fogelson said will also surpass the $200 million global figure before it’s done as well as The Lorax which he noted is one of only three animated films since July 2010 to clear $200 million domestically – and two of them are from the studio’s partnership with Illumination.
Fogelson made special mention of the importance of U’s partnership with exhibitors explaining that the studio, in a transitional state, has not been at the Vegas convention in the last couple of years because they wanted to make sure they had their house in order before coming out again with guns blazing. He also saluted their veteran distribution President Nikki Rocco on her 45th year with U. With that he introduced an exceptionally well-produced reel highlighting the first 100 years of Universal which it turns out was impressively narrated by U topper Ron Meyer.
As for the lineup first up was Battleship which has already opened in 37 international territories and will hit a gross of $150 milllion this weekend, more than Hasbro’s other film G.I. Joe managed to do in its entire run, with U’s biggest openings ever in Russia, China and Korea. At last night’s Pioneer Dinner reception Fogelson told me he thinks this justifies their strategy in holding back the domestic bow until May 18 where it now comes in with the box office wind at its back. He brought out stars Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker who flew into Vegas from their world tour. Next up was extended footage from U’s June 1 release Snow White And The Huntsman. Exhibs seemed to like it, especially when stars Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, producer Joe Roth and first time feature director Rupert Sanders came out. Fogelson explained they and Roth were willing to take the huge risk on Sanders based of the pitch reel he created to get the job. Roth noted he just saw the finished film last Saturday. “I can’t imagine anyone over the age of 10 who won’t love it,” he said. Spoken like a true producer. Rocco told me last night she’s especially high on this one – despite the existence of that “other” Snow White film in the market. Theron said she went into the project telling the studio and Roth, “if you want me to do it we have to make it balls-to-the-wall”, to which Sanders cracked “I didn’t realize they would be my balls!”
Next up was Savages, a gritty drug tale from director Oliver Stone that U decided to put right in the heart of their summer lineup after seeing a rough cut two months ago. It opens July 6 and Stone and cast members John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Kitsch (again) came out to wow the crowd (the small mom and pop theatre owners that come to this show LOVE seeing their stars up close). Hayek told a story about Stone thinking she might not be tough enough for the role but after two minutes of shooting he changed his mind. So what happened in those two minutes? “I just played myself,” she said to big laughter. Travolta said he is very choosy about what he does but has wanted to work with Stone for 25 years, never finding the right vehicle until now. He likens it to Pulp Fiction and said “it was such a pleasure to see a cast of such beautiful and talented people do such awful things”.
Next up was easily the raunchiest presentation of the afternoon, the Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) very R-rated comedy, Ted (7/13) about a boy and a talking stuffed bear who sticks by him as a foul-mouthed teddy, even as thew boy becomes a grown man in the form of Mark Wahlberg. Based on the clips and the reaction U has a big winner. It got the biggest laughs of the day by far and pushes the language to the limit. Fogelson said it was maybe the funniest script he had ever read and also noted in all his time at U he had never seen Meyer laugh so hard at anything. But as he brought MacFarlane out with co-star Mila Kunis he said he had “never been more proud or nervous” and then asked Seth: “Coming from network TV, were you just inspired to make this so you could say as many ‘fucks’ as you want?” MacFarlane did say that despite the colorful language at its heart the movie has a sweet backbone. When Fogelson asked him if he would like to do anything in front of the audience, MacFarlane, who also voices the title character in the film, said “you mean like take my dick out?” This product presentation definitely was the most free-wheeling of the entire week, but I guess they really believe what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Not.
Universal’s final film of the summer, The Bourne Legacy (8/3) got an extended preview and although it is no longer about Jason Bourne but a new character named Aaron Cross played by Jeremy Renner, it still appears to have a Bourne-again style all its own with lots of action, chases and running. Fogelson said when Matt Damon passed on doing a fourth Bourne the studio did not want to just make a watered down version by re-casting so they re-invented instead trying to get a fine balance between a late summer action movie and a more prestigious Fall drama. Renner came running out to the stage to say the movie was “a fantastic opportunity for me to work with (director/writer) Tony Gilroy and a great script. There was no reason to say no”. Plus he got to do his own stunts.
In addition to the finished films on their way this summer, Fogelson previewed a number of others in production including the much-awaited musical Les Miserables from Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway whose rendition of the signature tune, I Dreamed A Dream was featured in the compilation clip of early footage from the currently shooting movie. Fogelson noted CinemaCon was the first audience anywhere to see footage and it all came from the first two weeks of filming with the singing done live on set rather than pre-recorded. Hathaway sounded great and U is thinking this might be their big Oscar contender this year. Could be. It looks like pure Academy catnip.
Judd Apatow’s latest directorial outing, This Is 40 (Christmas) with wife Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Melissa McCarthy and Jason Segel was also highlighted via a teaser trailer that goes out with The Five Year Engagement tomorrow. A bit involving Rudd and his privates got big laughs and Fogelson promoted it as a film everyone who has ever been – or had – a parent will relate to.
Rough dailies were also shown from currently shooting films including the sci-fi Oblivion with Tom Cruise scheduled to get summer 2013 off to an early start in late April. Fogelson noted the studio supports, “perhaps more than any other”, the idea of a 52-week release sked drawing predictable applause from exhibs. Also daillies were shown from the Keanu Reeves 3D epic, 47 Ronin (Feb 2013) and the comedy R.I.P.D. starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds, a June 2013 planned release with both receiving nice reaction even in the footage’s very primitive form. Bridges looks like he is back in Big Lebowski-style form in the latter.
Fogelson closed things out with specially produced reels announcing the return of the Fast Five gang in the tentatively titled Fast And Furious 6 for next summer as well as the aforementioned Despicable Me sequel.
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