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CinemaCon Day One: First Preview of the Year Ahead in Movies

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2011-03-30-cinemaconlogo.jpg With thousands of movie exhibitors and theater owners in attendance, CinemaCon -- until this year called ShoWest -- kicked off yesterday at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. This is the National Association of Theater Owners' trade show where studios come to showcase the upcoming year in movies, stars come to meet, greet and convince theater owners to show their movies and the technology developers come to show us how they are making the film going experience better than ever. For people who love movies it is four days of bliss and for the exhibitors and filmmakers it is a time bursting with hope that this year, as each year before it, will be better than the last.

The first day of CinemaCon on Monday was owned by Paramount, Dreamworks and Marvel Studios. It began with a small press reception that served as a preview for the big event of the day, a three-hour kickoff called, "CinemaCon 2011: Celebrating the Moviegoing Experience."

Jack Black -- who later demonstrated some nifty kung-fu moves -- explained that, for the first time ever, he was selling, and selling hard. "Last time I was here I was given the comic actor of the millennium award," he said. "Now I want everyone to show the movie."

Black talked about the role of parents in a child's movie viewing experience, noting his two-year old has seen Kung Fu Panda. "I have to be there to explain, to cover his eyes when the scary parts come. That's my job, to cover his eyes."

Asked if there was a question he'd never been asked by a journalist that he'd like to be asked, Black went into deep-though mode. "Yes," he said most seriously. "No one's asked me about my relation to the cosmos. It's deep."

Black's director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, is one of the few women to direct animation. She explained that she started as an artist and had worked on the first Kung Fu Panda film. Her enthusiasm and love of her medium is obvious.

We'll likely be seeing a lot of Chris Hemsworth because he's playing Thor in the Marvel franchise. The Melbourne, Australia native looked a bit startled to be there, but he is clearly having the time of his life. He acknowledged that being the title character in the film is like a long, "good" marriage. He grew up with the Thor comics and was drawn to the heroism of the character.

The clip from Thor was an interesting one, as was the bit of Captain America. While both are generally not the type of films I always choose to see, I won't miss either.

Chris Miller, who has a long career in animation -- from a variety of voices since 1988 to writing (Shrek 2, Shrek the Third) and directing (Shrek the Third) was there to promote Puss in Boots, the Shrek spin-off starring Antonio Banderas. He reported that his star is "wonderful," that he "loves the movie" and that the entire moviemaking process was "great."

JJ Abrams, who has to be one of the busiest people in the universe, was there to promote and preview his Spielberg-produced movie, Super 8.

He said in an interview that this film -- about kids making films -- is his "most personal and has the most of me" in it. In introducing the brief scenes from the movie, he recalled that, like Spielberg, he and his best friend made movies when they were teenagers.

"Back then," he said, "all directors seemed to have beards. The LA Times ran a story about us called 'Directors Without Beards.' The next day, Spielberg's assistant, Kathleen Kennedy [now his partner and a very successful producer] called and asked if we'd restore the movies Steven made when he was our age."

They did so and, Abrams added, "there was a frame in the film that said it was directed by 'Steve' Spielberg. I wanted to take it as a souvenir but my friend wouldn't let me because that's stealing. But, seven years later, at my first meeting with Steve, I told him about it."

Since then, Abrams has written and/or produced a host of movies and TV shows, including Lost, Mission Impossible III, the newest Mission Impossible, and the cult favorite Cloverfield among them. Now, Spielberg is producing Super 8 and, judging from the audience reaction to the brief preview, it will be a blockbuster.

Of course CinemaCon is not only films and surprise appearances by the famous. It's also about new technology and ideas in every area from theater seating, screens, 3D projection and food.

It's an exciting event, CinemaCon is, and I look forward to seeing it all.