There was a lot of anticipation for today’s Warner Bros. presentation, because every year, they really seem to bring their A-game, and coming off the enormous hit of last year’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, they got to do their presentation earlier in the week as part of the Opening Day Ceremony. Much of the excitement came from the knowledge that director Christopher Nolan would be bringing something for The Dark Knight Rises to the presentation, since he’s always had a lot of respect for exhibitors and theater owners. Also, the buzz broke out earlier in the week that Peter Jackson would show ten minutes of his upcoming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D at a higher frame rate of 48 frames per second, nearly double what’s considered the standard.
But first, everyone had to wait over an hour to listen to speeches from MPAA Chairman and CEO, Senator Chris Dodd, and John Fithian, President and CEO of NATO, who had a lot of interesting things to say about the state of the film industry. Probably the most significant revelation was that 20th Century Fox would stop all non-digital film stock distribution in roughly two years and only be releasing their films digitally.
Once the Warner Bros. presentation began in earnest, Tim Burton started off by showing an extended trailer for his Dark Shadows after bringing Johnny Depp out, who barely said much of anything.
We’ll jump right ahead to the movie everyone was looking forward to, The Dark Knight Rises, although Nolan chose instead of showing the trailer or any sort of long clips with dialogue, to just show a series of hand-picked images that he had cut together with music, with some footage we’d seen before either in previous trailers or stills but also some new bits. It was still quite powerful, even if there wasn’t enough dialogue to really have any sort of context.
It opened with pretty much the same airplane hijacking scene that was showcased in the six-minute IMAX preview last December, although you could clearly understand everything Bane was saying in this case. We see Bruce Wayne back in Wayne Manor in a bathrobe and cane, clearly a broken man eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. We see Selina Kyle sneaking out of Wayne Manor, having been in disguise as a maid. In fact, the footage included quite a bit of the fetching Anne Hathaway both in street clothes as Selina and prowling the night as Catwoman, as well as a bit more footage of Bane walking onto the football field and setting off explosives in the middle of the play as the quarterback dodges them. We saw quite a bit of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as young rookie cop John Blake caught up in the war being waged by Bane, including a scene where he shows his shield to Selina, possibly trying to arrest her? We see lots of shots of the destruction of Gotham by Bane, as well as brief glimpses of the Batmobile, the Batpod and the new flying vehicle known as “The Bat,” throughout the carnage. There were quite a few shots of Selina and Bruce together, but we also see Bruce kissing Marion Cotillard’s character in another shot, leaving us to try to figure out what’s going on there.
Throughout the whole thing, there was only the tiniest bit of dialogue amidst all the images and that was Catwoman saying to Batman, “You’ve given them everything” and him responding, “Not everything, not yet.” Then, it closes with Michael Cain’s Alfred saying, “Don’t worry Master Wayne. It takes a little time to get back into the swing of things.”
Not sure if we got too much more out of the footage than we have with what’s come before, although it’s clearly not a trailer that would work for audiences looking for some idea what the story might be. But it really was quite a brilliant way to set the tone of the movie, having it driven by the music, presumably from regular composer Hans Zimmer, doing something more like what he did with Inception, really driving and sounding more electronic.
Rock of Ages director Adam Shankman didn’t seem too pleased to have to follow that spectacular “Dark Knight” footage, using a bit of profanity as well as joking that he wants to be Christopher Nolan when he grows up. After describing his movie as “Hairspray with booze and strippers,” he showed an extended trailer that builds up on what we’ve already seen before and it was obvious that Alec Baldwin will probably have some of the funniest lines in the movie. We got to see some longer portions of the musical numbers with Catherine Zeta-Jones as the conservative Patricia Whitmore who wants to shut down the Bourbon Room, performing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” with her congregation and Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx performing Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive.” It looked like a lot of fun, although it also appears like it might diverge from the Broadway musical quite a bit.
Jay Roach’s The Campaign was another one of the unknowns going into CinemaCon, because all we knew was that it was Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as campaign rivals in a fierce battle, and no footage had yet been released. Produced by Adam McKay and Chris Henchy, Ferrell’s long-time Gary Sanchez Productions partners, the footage got a similar reaction as the first The Hangover three years ago and Horrible Bosses last year, which makes us think that Ferrell and Roach and company have another big comedy hit on their hands.
If you liked Ferrell as George W. Bush, then his Cam Brady seems to be cut from the same cloth. His character is about to win reelection having no one running him against him when Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins shows up to throw his hat in the race. This character seems to be far more effeminate even than his character in Due Date, but he’s clearly a devout Christian and family man, possibly less likely to get into the shady tactics of his opponent. There seems to be a lot of madcap comedy as well as great improvised banter between the two of them. The funniest scene involved the two candidates trying to get to a baby first to kiss it, and Cam sees Marty is closer so he swings his fist to knock him away and we see that his fist instead is heading right for the baby. That got a huge laugh yeah, exhibitors have a weird sense of humor.
Next up was Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, adapted from the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the big question of why he’d make a drama in 3D was finally revealed as we watched some unfinished footage in 3D that still looked fantastic.
It was immediately apparent what 3D brought to the mix as we watched a car speed up to Gatsby’s Hamptons estate and Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway gets out of the car and experiences a wild swinging ’20s party scene that could only have been orchestrated by the director of Moulin Rouge!. We get to see a bit of Isla Fischer’s Myrtle Wilson in this scene, as everyone talks about the mysterious Gatsby who never seems to be around at these parties. We then see Leo as Gatsby for the first time as fireworks are going off behind him, but there’s a sadness in this man, something we can tell as we watch a fantastic wordless scene where Leo’s Gatsby walks inside the mansion from the rain, wipes off his hair and then walks to a room where Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan is standing surrounded by what looked like white lilies. A lot of the footage included shots of Leo cuddling with Carey Mulligan, who will forever be known to women all over the world as the “Luckiest actress in the world.” It’s hard to talk about the visually-driven footage too much, but the 3D was used to great effect to create the mansion’s vastness. Much of the music accompanying the footage seemed contemporary, which was an interesting choice. From what we saw, we expect the movie to be huge, maybe not as big as Titanic, but definitely up there with The Aviator or some of Leo’s other movies because women are going to be flocking to see this one again and again.
Warner Bros. pretty much saved the best for last as Peter Jackson came on the screen to present some 3D footage from his anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but first, he gave a brief history of film frame rates in order to explain why he decided to film the movies at twice the normal speed.
Jackson was at CinemaCon last year pushing higher frame rates. Back when sound was introduced, the standard film frame rate was increased to 24 frames per second, although it was never made higher essentially to save money on film. With digital, there’s no reason to stick to 24 frames, because you have unlimited time when recording footage to a hard drive and Jackson claims that the 3D is much easier on the eyes without the strobing or flicker from the lower frame rate. His decision to screen ten minutes was because that’s how long it takes for the eyes to adjust, and the 48 FPS was noticeable right away, especially if you’d previously seen the trailer on a big screen or even a laptop, but we’ll talk more about that after discussing the actual footage.
It opened with lots of sweeping shots of the mountains and landscapes of Middle Earth set to Howard Shore’s distinctive score leading into an introduction by the older Bilbo, played by Ian Holm, telling the story of his journey to Frodo, and we see a brief glimpse of Elijah Wood as his “Lord of the Rings” character. This then leads into the opening from the trailer of Gandalf approaching Bilbo to go on a journey with the dwarves. We watched a good section of when Bilbo encounters trolls around the campfire early in his journey and they’re trying to decide how to eat him, and as one of the trolls lift Bilbo up, Thorin leaps forward and the rest of the dwarves come forward to save him.
There’s also a significant scene where Gandalf is presenting “the Immortal Blade” to a council made up of Christopher Lee’s Saruman, Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, and Hugo Weaving’s Elrond as they discuss the sword’s origins and how Gandalf was able to get it from the crypt of the Witch King where he was buried in a tomb covered with spells preventing it from being opened.
We then see Gandalf going through that same tomb, peering around a corner when a bird flies out and startles him, and standing behind him is a dwarf – one we couldn’t identify or remember, thought it was a kindly older dwarf rather than a warrior like Thorin. The birds flying around land on his head as if his hair was a nest and he puts his cap over them. With his staff, Gandalf lights up the way ahead which is a steep stairwell leading straight down.
The scenes of the group walking across the green fields and icy mountains of Middle Earth (i.e. New Zealand) were definitely reminiscent of “Fellowship of the Rings” and we even saw a little bit of Gandalf on his steed and a scene where the dwarves first encounter Orlando Bloom’s Legolas.
The highlight though was an extended conversation between Bilbo and Smeagol/Gollum where Bilbo is trying to get directions from the strange creature who seems to be more interested in playing a game of riddles. Andy Serkis’ ability to switch Smeagol’s schizophrenic personalities still seems to be intact, and from what we saw, Martin Freeman seems absolutely perfect as Bilbo and we think audiences will like him as much as they did the Hobbits in the “Lord of the Rings” movies
So what about the 48 frames per second? That’s the thing. It’s kind of hard to tell with the unfinished footage missing FX and important aspects of the scenes. Everything looks crystal clear but it also looks a little too perfect and lifelike and because of that clarity, the fact that we’re looking at sets and actors in costumes and make-up seems much more obvious. One of the nice things about film is that it adds a glossy look that smooths out the rough spots in sets, costumes and make-up.
I’d probably compare the look a bit to the old “Doctor Who” television shows in terms of it looking a lot like it was shot on television cameras, which may be hard to adjust to for those used to a certain way of watching films for 80 odd years. This may be a non-issue though because who knows how many theater owners will want to spend the money switching over and if movie fans will really care about seeing the movie at the higher frame rate just because that’s the way Jackson wanted to shoot it. Personally, I’m a little concerned that too many people were put off by the look of the footage and how different it looks, even though to be fair, it’s unfinished footage.
That’s it for our Warner Bros. coverage. Look for more CinemaCon coverage over the next couple of days.