CinemaCon: Paramount Kicks Things Off With ‘Transformers’, ‘Turtles’ And Brief Footage Of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

Six major studios, and what many have been referring to as a seventh major (Lionsgate/Summit who have the week’s number one film Divergent and what appears to be Hollywood’s latest franchise player), will be presenting, in one form or another, their goods to exhibitors this week at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. This major convention, coming only three weeks on the heels of the Oscars, is promising to show off the most commercial flicks the studios have in store, not necessarily the most awards worthy. You get the drift? Paramount opened the studio portion of the convention tonight with a brief reel highlighting its 2014 slate, but then really focusing on just three of those movies: Hoped-for summer blockbusters Hercules (with MGM), starring Dwayne Johnson; a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cinematic reboot from producer Michael Bay; and Bay’s fourth go-round with Hasbro’s Transformers franchise, Age Of Extinction. Each got the full-court press from Par’s Vice Chairman Rob Moore who said he stopped by the convention in between trips to “Vatican City and New York City” on behalf on the studio’s terrific, but sure-to-be-controversial, Friday release, Noah. The latter shown in some brief footage represents the kind of ambitious and daring fare studios tried more often before the Hollywood corporate takeover started dictating more obviously commercial and exhibitor-friendly kinds of movies like Paramount’s big summer slate promises.

Johnson got a big entrance from the back of the house and an enthusiastic reception from the ginormous crown at Caesars Palace’s Colosseum theater. After mistakenly saying he was happy to be  at the “first night of Comic Con” (apparently no one on the studio plane told him which “con” this was), he trumpeted the fact that he worked for months on the role with “hair, a full beard and a prosthetic penis,” the latter which he said he didn’t need. Footage shown presented a Hercules that looked like it could rival Schwarzenegger’s Conan The Barbarian. It comes on the heels of Lionsgate’s January flop, The Legend Of Hercules, indicating the strong-man immortalized in cheesey Italian-produced films of the 60’s might yet find a second life. Or not.

The absent Michael Bay (he’s back in LA still posting Transformers)  took up most of the rest of Paramount’s presentation  with appearances by Will Arnett and David Cross on scooters promoting the Bay-produced reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles due August 8th. Produced in association with Nickelodeon, the TV hit was a particularly attractive bet for the studio since it has been the number one action figure for six straight years according to Moore. That means ka-ching in a big way, or so Paramount hopes. But of course the studio’s biggest toy remains the Transformers franchise and they saved what they clearly believe is their best (summer-wise – it opens June 27) for last with a generous preview of footage from the fourth installment Transformers: Age Of Extinction. Moore said Bay was reluctant to return again until finding the perfect premise. Star Mark Wahlberg was wry and engaging and very warmly received by the crowd who expect big things from this one. He was joined by CinemaCon Stars of Tomorrow honorees Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor who co-star in the film. They joined him along with his own daughter who tagged along with Dad on the trip to Vegas (“This is her first and hopefully last,” he said). Wahlberg has a real movie star persona, and as Moore mentioned, has made several films for the studio. His second one this year alone will be released, accompanied by an Oscar campaign I am told, in the fall. That’s the remake of The Gambler in which Wahlberg takes on the role originally played by James Caan. Producer Irwin Winkler is back and told me the other night, during the highly successful Rebels With A Cause cancer charity event on the Par lot (co-chaired by Paramount’s Brad Grey and wife Cassandra and earning a wow $9M after honoree Larry Ellison matched the evening’s take), that he is very high on this one and thinks it will be a possible contender.

Outside of the sound and visual effects categories it is unlikely Transformers will share the same fate, but the footage shown was extremely effective in convincing me Wahlberg may be right when he said this “will be the biggest film of 2014.” In fact, he modestly stated it will be bigger than the other three films “combined.”  There’s no doubt from the 14 minutes shown that it is predictably going to be huge. Clearly Paramount likes being in business with Bay as they have yet another Bay-produced movie, Project Almanac, opening at the end of January. Moore says it is a cross between Chronicle and the Paranormal Activity films, and that combined with Bay’s other two Paramount projects, will bring young people back big time into the multiplexes. Of course that is music to this crowd’s ears. So is any unknown movie that can be favorably compared to two previous hits.

Of the rest of the slate that appeared in the opening reel there are some not-so Oscar contenders like Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (oy, really?) and a 3D SpongeBob Squarepants. And then there are some real promising Oscar contenders like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Brief footage (but nothing new) was shown from that featuring voice over narration by star Matthew McConaughey. At the same Rebels With A Cause event where he sat at Brad Grey’s table on the Paramount soundstage, Nolan told me he doesn’t have much to show yet for the November release, but said he thought McConaughey was just extraordinary in the big scale and much-awaited movie. Nolan will be here on Wednesday for a discussion of the future of film (close to his heart) and other topics close to the convention’s heart. Another film very briefly touted was Jason Reitman’s second-film-in-a-row (after Labor Day) for Paramount, Men, Women And Childen starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner in a movie that promises to show off the more serious side of Sandler (thank God). It’s another fall release to look forward to.

As a strong beginning to a week of talking nothing but movies, exhibitors to whom I spoke seem excited by what the studios have in store. Of course it always helps when the studios trot out their stars, just like Paramount did for its traditional CinemaCon starting berth on Monday night. (Next up is Universal Tuesday morning.) At the beginning of the evening, CinemaCon’s Mitch Neuhauser paused to remember three special people: Tom Sherak, Ray Dolby and the late Fast &Furious star Paul Walker who was on this stage just a year ago touting his own movie here.

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