Did CinemaCon save the best for (nearly) the last? In terms of the movies on display we’ll have to wait and see, but in terms of pure emotion I would have to guess there wasn’t a dry eye in Caesars Palace’s Colosseum at this morning’s richly nostalgic, proud and perhaps bittersweet presentation from 20th Century Fox that could — if and when the proposed Disney merger is approved — be the last the iconic studio ever does on of these on its own here as one of Hollywood’s storied six majors.
Afterwards in the lobby, it was hard to find a Fox staffer without tears still in their eyes. Yes, there was the usual slate tubthumping, and a few star and filmmaker appearances (though much lighter compared to what the other studios sans Disney have done here in that regard), but this presentation brilliantly masterminded by Fox Special Events VP Len Iannelli (clearly aware it could be the last hurrah at CinemaCon) stood out just for the sheer emotional power of it all.
A beautifully compiled legacy reel was shown — that was where I started to lose it. With everyone from Shirley Temple and Will Rogers to Titanic to Apes to Deadpool, it was a visual journey through the studio’s mighty and unforgettable 85-year history that didn’t forget the films that got them to this point including How Green Was My Valley, All About Eve, The Grapes of Wrath, The Sound of Music, Star Wars, Avatar, X Men, Hidden Figures, 12 Years a Slave, The Shape of Water and so much more. It was overwhelming to see this studio’s life pass before its eyes in front of 5000 theater owners.
Fox was the very first movie studio I ever got to see when my Uncle Bud got me and my mother a private tour from a publicity VP college friend of his when I was a wide-eyed kid obsessed with movies. I grew up just a couple of miles away from the Pico Boulevard studio and still get a thrill every time I go on that lot. As 20th chairman Stacey Snider eloquently said in her opening remarks, the “proposed merger” is part of the great unknown future for Fox and its employees, but its remarkable history and legacy is something that is always there even if this means the end for one of Hollywood’s giants — at least as its own entity and not a part of Disney.
The other day at Disney’s all-pro, no-frills showcase here there was no mention of Fox, and I predicted that at Fox’s show there would be no mention of Disney. There wasn’t by name, but it unquestionably permeated the room in many ways. How could it not?
As usual, Fox wins Best In Show at CinemaCon, even without the extra emotional layer this year. They regularly come to Vegas and understand the idea of showmanship starting off with a dazzling ode to their May 18 release Deadpool 2, with a Deadpool-style lineup of dancers doing the number “One” from A Chorus Line. This led into a hilarious taped video comedy piece featuring Ryan Reynolds in full Deadpool garb trying to awaken Fox president of distribution Chris Aronson from what was clearly a wild night of partying at Caesars. When he does regain consciousness he is disheveled and wearing Hugh Jackman’s PT Barnum circus outfit from The Greatest Showman. Jackman himself makes a cameo appearance in the video before Aronson finally hobbles live to the stage. Great stuff, and it got big laughs from the theater owners. (By the way Snider made much mention of the surprise worldwide success of Greatest Showman, which she noted remains in theaters after 18 weeks and has grossed $400 million and counting.
Once he got his act together, Aronson and Snider took turns introducing the 2018 slate that featured what could be a couple of Oscar quality entries in George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give for which the director brought along his star Amandla Stenberg and some very powerful footage. Rami Malek also made an impression on stage and on screen as Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which had its producer Graham King well, rhapsodic over the reception to the footage when I ran into him in the lobby afterwards. He’s been trying to get this made for 12 years and the emotional nature of just getting it on screen fit right in with the feeling of the whole morning. “And now we are finally off,” he told me with some relief, especially after all the production problems during filming where original helmer Bryan Singer was fired and replaced with Dexter Fletcher. There was no mention of either director during the presentation by King and Malek, and on their official credits sheets for today’s lineup it is the only film not to list a directing credit.
Malek touted the fact that Queen’s Brian May himself called to give approval to his performance after seeing the film recently and told the actor Mercury would have been proud.
Among the other films, James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez’s unique Alita: Battle Angel looked intriguing (producer Jon Landau joined Rodriguez onstage) — it was written years ago by Cameron who went on to direct Avatar instead. Now the time and motion capture technology seems ripe for the Christmas release.
I love film noirish stuff, so the cool-y titled Bad Times at teh El Royale caught my interest, as did Steve McQueen’s Widows with a great ensemble cast in a story of a group of recently widowed women who take matters into their own hands. Fox is also rebooting The Predator, has a new YA franchise hopeful with The Darkest Minds, and of course the driving box office force of Deadpool 2. All of them were on display for exhibitors to see bits and pieces.
But the slate wasn’t the story today it was Fox itself, along with its rich past and uncertain future, that made me feel a sense of sadness underlying the day in what really was tribute to a great institution. Ironically, it was pointed out that 20th Century Fox itself was the result of a merger in the 1930s when 20th Century pictures joined forces with Fox , thus becoming the industry behemoth it has always been.
Continuing the showman-like flair, the breezy presentation came in just under 90 minutes and ended with a local Las Vegas high school’s vast marching band coming in from the lobby to join in the last musical beats of the clip from Bohemian Rhapsody only to segue right into a dynamic performance of that famous 20th Century Fox fanfare to enormous applause and cheers. As the crowd left it was to the strains of “We Are the Champions.”
For today at least, that was the perfect sentiment on which to end it.