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Eleven Presentations And A Quasi-Funeral

CinemaCon, the annual convention of the predominantly North American but increasingly global exhibition community, seems to get bigger and better each year. This year’s edition, held between April 23-26 at its customary Caesars Palace, Las Vegas venue, kept the upward trajectory going with high wattage star appearances and a record 11 studio presentations.

Insightful seminars, a sold-out trade show and technology showcases aside, at the heart of this four-day event is the opportunity it offers the world’s leading film studios to wow exhibitors with their upcoming slates. Not surprisingly, virtually every studio rolled out the heavy artillery with exclusive film previews and stellar talent appearances.

The most star-studded presentation was arguably Sony Pictures’, which paraded a virtual conveyor belt of stars – Will Ferrell (introducing Holmes & Watson),  Matthew McConaughey (White Boy Rick), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario: Day of the Soldado), Claire Foy (The Girl In The Spider’s Web), Tom Hardy (Venom) and more. The massive cherry on the top: Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio appearing on stage to talk up their next, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which also stars Bard Pitt and is yet to start shooting.

Also scoring high on the celeb quotient was the Warner Brothers presentation. Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson and Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8); Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Melissa McCarthy (Life Of The Party), Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms and Hannibal Buress (Tag), Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald), Channing Tatum (Smallfoot) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Mowgli) were among those who showed up. The showstopper, however, was Bradley Cooper who introduced A Star Is Born, a film that marks his directorial debut and sees him paired, quite intriguingly, with Lady Gaga.

Universal didn’t hold back either, with Ryan Gosling appearing alongside his La La Land director Damien Chazelle and co-star Claire Foy, to introduce First Man that chronicles Neil Armstrong’s pioneering journey to the moon. Among the other star attendees were Chris Pratt (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish (Night School), Jack Black and Cate Blanchett (The House With A Clock In Its Walls) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween). Director M Night Shyamalan, alongside his Unbreakable stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson, and Split lead James McAvoy, introduced footage from Glass that combines the two universes. The presentation concluded on a glitzy and musical note with Cher performing ABBA’s Fernando live to mark the upcoming Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, in which she also stars.

Of particular interest in the Paramount presentation was what new boss, former Fox head Jim Gianopulos, had up his sleeve to turn around the struggling studio. Short answer to that question: plenty! Footage from Bumblebee, Book Club, What Men Want, Action Point, Instant Family, Wonder Park and Overlord and announcements on new films Eli, Dora The Explorer, Are You Afraid Of The Dark, Gemini Man, A Wonderful Sponge (a live action SpongeBob film) and sequels to A Quiet Place, Top Gun, Terminator and the Star Trek series marked a busy session. The ‘high’ light of the presentation, quite literally, was an appearance by superstar Tom Cruise who treated the audience to a very detailed run-through of his daring skydiving  stunt in the upcoming Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Later in the convention, Cruise was honoured with the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Foundation’s ‘Pioneer Of The Year’ award.

Unlike other studios, Disney did not parade any high-profile talent. Perhaps they didn’t need to with Black Panther still setting records and Avengers: Infinity War then lined up for release in a couple of days! Instead, the studio shared extended footage from Ant-Man And The Wasp, Christopher Robin, The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, Mary Poppins Returns, Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story. The studio’s mastery at constantly reinventing its IP was evident by the breathtaking first looks of upcoming live action versions of three of Disney’s classic animated properties: Aladdin, Dumbo and Lion King.

The elephant in the room at CinemaCon 2018 – and we are not talking of Dumbo here! – was Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, a work-in-progress in terms of regulatory clearances. While Disney’s pitch was silent on this deal of far-reaching consequences, its shadow hung heavy on the Fox presentation.

Not that Fox’s presentation was lacking in either style or substance – what with director Robert Rodriguez and producer Jon Landau showcasing footage from the James Cameron scripted Alita: Battle Angel, and actor Rami Malek introducing the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody (arguably the best received piece along with Cooper’s A Star Is Born). But, it was hard not to wonder whether this was the last CinemaCon presentation from the studio, whose storied filmography spans smash blockbusters (Avatar, Titanic, Star Wars et al) and classics (The Sound of Music, The King And I, The Grapes Of Wrath etc.) alike. That sense of poignant nostalgia was heightened by the manner in which the presentation concluded – a marching band’s live rendition of the banner’s iconic fanfare that accompanies its logo.  

Besides the six majors, presentations from STX Entertainment, Lionsgate, Amazon Studios, Focus Features and Entertainment Studios saw plenty of star presence too – Steve Carell, Mark Wahlberg, Jamie Foxx, Taron Egerton, Mila Kunis, Anna Kendrick, Jonah Hill, Dakota Johnson,  Felicity Jones, Jennifer Garner and more.

In sum, CinemaCon 2018 underlined that the Hollywood pipeline is packed with a diverse mix of films, many of which have the potential to resonate with audiences here in India too.

Not that we needed any reminding about Hollywood’s growing muscle in a week in which Avengers: Infinity War continued to lord over the Indian box office and became the highest-grossing import ever! 


-Nitin Tej Ahuja

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