If you were asked to use one word to describe CinemaCon, the annual gathering of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) in Las Vegas, that word would be "celebrate." And, this year, there's lots to celebrate and lots of people in the film industry coming to congratulate the celebrants (and, yes, themselves) on a record 2011. With 62 countries represented among the attendees, one gets the distinct impression that the art of film is alive and well.
Paramount led off the event in the Colosseum of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, there to show off its upcoming films and to celebrate both its 100th birthday and being the first-ever studio to surpass a $3 billion dollar year at the box office.
The state of the film industry -- according to NATO president and CEO John Fithian and Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America -- is very healthy and likely to get healthier. Revenues and attendance are up and technology is a welcome boon to theaters and audiences.
Noting that 27,000 screens in the U.S have switched to digital projection, and showing a letter from 20th Century Fox announcing that they'll no longer make 35 mm prints and only distribute films digitally in the next year of two, Fithian said NATO will help all theaters to make the switch to digital.
Dodd spoke at length of the need to prevent theft of intellectual property and of the partnership between technology developers and creators of such property to prevent such theft.
Doing much of the celebrating of movies and the people who make them were boldface names, including Johnny Depp, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (right), Chris Rock, Tim Burton, John C. Reilly, Mila Kunis, Jeffrey Katzenberg, John Chu, Sacha Baron Cohen -- the list goes on.
During the Paramount presentation, Johnson was there to receive the CinemaCon Action Star of the Year Award and to promote the upcoming G.I. Joe: Retaliation directed by John Chu. In presenting Johnson, Chu referred to him as "franchise Viagra" because "he brings everything up. He brings an energy to properties that need it."
In accepting the award, Johnson recalled being an eight-year-old boy in Charlotte, N.C., who saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and decided he wanted to be in movies. "Thank you," he said to the crowd, "for making the dreams of a little 8-year-old boy come true."
Chis Rock introduced a clip from Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. Tim Burton (left) came out to introduce a clip from Dark Shadows. and brought Johnny Depp out. ("Come on, Sweetsie.") Depp was greeted with thunderous applause and didn't say a word. He did wave at the audience, though.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, introduced director Peter Ramsey to show the audience scenes from Rise of the Guardians, based on a book by William Joyce who, Ramsey said, "got the idea when his daughter asked if Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny know each other." In his animated film they certainly do. The Guardians are Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny and the Sandman who protect children from the Bogeyman, here known as Pitch. Chris Pine, who plays Jack, talked about his role.
Next up was Tom Cruise on tape discussing his role in One Shot, based on the Jack Reacher series of novels by Lee Child. Three still rough-cut scenes were shown.
The last film of the Paramount DreamWorks presentation was The Dictator, the latest from the always controversial Sacha Baron Cohen. The trailer was shown and that was followed by an extended clip showing General Aladeen, the Dictator of Wadiya, in New York. That was over and, suddenly, there was a fuss at the rear of the Colosseum.
Down the isle came Baron Cohen (right) in full general regalia with some security from Wadiya. He stopped to ask a woman sitting in an aisle seat how much she would charge for her daughter. On the stage, he said, "It is a pleasure to be here to address Cinnabon," He said he was told he'd be the only dictator in the room that night but "imagine my surprise when I heard Jeffrey Katzenberg was speaking."
Before he left, he invited the audience to a surprise screening of The Dictator at 11 that evening in a local movie theater and, as he left, he stopped to kiss Katzenberg's head.
At the Warner Brothers presentation Tuesday, Motion Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov brought on Christopher Nolan and clips from Batman: The Dark Knight Rises . Nolan was followed by Adam Shankman, director of Hairspray, who talked about his latest film, musical Rock of Ages starring Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin, among others.
After he was introduced, Shankman said, ""I'm older than he is, but I want to be Christopher Nolan when I grow up. After I saw the footage [of Batman], I just looked at him and said, 'You f---er, that is some badass shit,'" Shankman added.
Shankman described his film as "like Hairspray but with booze and strippers."
The biggest laughs of the day went to the clip from Jay Roach's Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis comedy The Campaign. Roach said that a political comedy for the two was decided upon after looking at several possible scenarios. He noted, "We moved the release date up to Aug. 10 to make sure nothing funnier happens in real life."
Australian director Baz Luhrmann introduced scenes from The Great Gatsby his 3-D "threemake" -- the original starred Alan Ladd and the remake, Robert Redford -- starring Leonardo DiCaprio and, in the most anticipated event of the day, Peter Jackson introduced 10 minutes of his new movie The Hobbit. He filmed it at the now-unusual-now-but-sure-to-be-standard 48 frame rates per second. The audience loved it, talking after about how much watching it was like watching live acting.
Tim Burton joined the Disney people to show a bit of his animated Frankenweenie, a full-length version of an animated short he made in 1984. The new one will be released on Oct. 5, in time to build up a head of steam for Halloween.
The Disney preview included new movies from Pixar. Chief among these was the tent-pole film, Brave, of which John Lasseter showed a half-hour, noting that it was the first Pixar animated film with a female heroine.
Pixar is also planning a movie based on the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. The animated movie The Good Dinosaur will be Pixar's May 30, 2014 release.
Disney also showed the first scenes from Oz: The Great and Powerful the origin story of how the Wizard got to be a wizard.
There will be also be a Muppets sequel. In fact, Miss Piggy and Kermit were on hand to underscore the announcement. The latter came onstage riding a plastic horse and wearing a cowboy hat, announcing his wish to be cast as The Lone Ranger.
That, however, is not to be. That 2013 release will star Armie Hammer in the title role. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (right, with Depp) came onstage to talk about it and brought his Tonto, Johnny Depp, onto the stage. This time, Depp did talk -- but not a lot. Depp said there are some "interesting additions" to the familiar story and Bruckheimer-- explaining that The Lone Ranger has returned to Texas after working as a lawyer in the east and is a big believer in the justice system and the courts and Tonto, apparently, is not -- called it "The Odd Couple meets The Wild Bunch."
The theme of CinemaCon 2012 is "Celebrating the Moviegoing Experience" and, with more studio look-sees, a host of awards and excitement building, the first two days were, indeed, a celebration. The last two promised more of the same.
Follow Ellen Sterling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EllenSays