Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
At the final big studio presentation Thursday at CinemaCon 2012 in Las Vegas, Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson joked that it was “obviously exciting to have another studio executive standing in front of you, entertaining you,” but luckily he brought along plenty of star power to ward off any waning energy from attendees. Fogelson previewed all of Universal’s summer movies, as well as a number of future releases stretching all the way to summer 2013.
First up was Battleship, which has already opened internationally (and reached No. 1 at the box office in 37 territories), but doesn’t open in the United States until May 18. “There are people who thought we were crazy to make the movie in the first place,” Fogelson said before showing a clip reel that began with skeptical quotes and barbs from when the movie was announced. Stars Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker took the stage to talk about their roles, emphasizing the realistic depiction of the military even among the special effects and alien attacks. “It makes the film legit,” Kitsch said about the close relationship with military support.
Next came the presentation’s highlight, a look at the stylish Snow White and the Huntsman (June 1). The preview started with a massive battle sequence featuring warriors literally shattering into pieces as they were struck, and continued with Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escaping from prison and into a dark forest full of nasty creatures. There were monsters, dwarves and giant fireballs along the way, giving the film an epic, somber feel.
Producer Joe Roth, director Rupert Sanders and stars Stewart and Charlize Theron (who plays the evil queen) came onstage, and Roth was just as hyperbolic as he’d been about Oz the Great and Powerful at the Disney presentation the day before. “I can’t imagine anyone over 10 years old isn’t going to enjoy this movie,” he said, highlighting the movie’s 1,500 visual-effects shots.
“When I was a little boy, I was read a lot of fairy tales, and I guess they scarred me for life,” Sanders said, explaining his interest in the material. Theron said she wanted her character to be “like Jack Nicholson in The Shining,” and said her attitude to the movie was, “If you want me to do this, we’ve got to go balls to the wall.”
Kitsch returned, along with director Oliver Stone and co-stars Salma Hayek and John Travolta, to talk about Savages (July 6), a crime thriller that marks a departure from Stone’s recent current-events dramas. The preview reel showed a colorful, explosion-filled crime story that Travolta said at first reminded him of Pulp Fiction. “It’s a very contemporary story,” Stone said, emphasizing the timeliness of the look at drug trafficking.
There was spontaneous applause in the auditorium for the next movie before Fogelson even said anything about it, as CinemaCon attendees were clearly excited about Seth MacFarlane’s Ted (July 13). The extended preview featured fairy tale-style narration in a British accent, telling the story of the teddy bear magically brought to life thanks to a young boy’s wish. The reel had plenty of the familiar vulgar jokes between Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) and the grown-up main character (Mark Wahlberg), and elicited lots of laughs from a scene featuring Ted beating the crap out of Wahlberg, eventually pulling the actor’s pants down and spanking him with a radio antenna.
MacFarlane and co-star Mila Kunis came onstage to talk about the movie, and Fogelson joked about being nervous at what MacFarlane might say. “In honor of my mother’s memory, I wanted to say ‘fuck’ as many times as I could,” MacFarlane joked, but otherwise he was pretty tame. He talked about wearing a motion-capture suit for some scenes so he could play Ted more directly, and both he and Kunis emphasized the character and heart buried beneath the movie’s crude humor.
The final Universal summer movie to be shown was The Bourne Legacy (Aug. 3), the fourth movie in the series and first without Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Instead it stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, another deadly covert agent on the run, with ties to the Treadstone program that gave rise to Bourne. The preview clips emphasized Renner and fellow new characters played by Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton, although it did feature glimpses of Joan Allen and David Straithairn as their Bourne series characters, with hints that some of the action might take place concurrent to the events of the previous movies.
Fogelson introduced Renner, who ran onstage and talked about the perils of performing his own stunts, including plunging into freezing water. “The Bourne series has always been about integrity,” Fogelson had said earlier, maybe a little defensively, and Renner asserted that “there was no reason to say no” to stepping in as the series lead.
Fogelson then moved on to presenting some future movies, with no special guests but plenty of early footage. First up was Les Miserables (Dec. 14), the adaptation of the classic stage musical from The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper. Fogelson showed footage from just the first two weeks of shooting, featuring star Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” and he noted that her vocals were captured live on the set, as would be the case for most of the performances, in contrast to the typical movie-musical tactic of recording songs in a studio beforehand.
Next was a brief teaser trailer for Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 (Dec. 21), the “sort-of sequel” to Knocked Up focusing on the married characters played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. It was only a small snippet, but it featured plenty of Apatow’s trademark vulgar humor with heart, and supporting performances from Jason Segel as a personal trainer and Melissa McCarthy as an angry parent.
Moving even further into the future, Fogelson introduced three movies with reels featuring very rough footage, concept art and unfinished special effects. First was 47 Ronin (Feb. 8, 2013), which Fogelson described as a mix of The Matrix, The Last Samurai and 300. It was also Universal’s only previewed movie being released in 3D, a marked contrast to the other studios at the convention. Fogelson explained the movie’s planned release in February, saying that Universal wants to spread its tentpole movies throughout the year. The preview reel showed a mix of martial-arts action and supernatural creatures, with Keanu Reeves playing a Neo-like warrior. “The whole third act is a siege,” director Carl Rinsch explained in the clip.
Another big event film, the sci-fi action-adventure Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, came next, with another unconventional release date (April 26, 2013). The very rough footage was from just the first days of shooting, showing Cruise taking a spaceship down to an abandoned city and exploring a decrepit building. Fogelson acknowledged that the clip gave no indication of the movie’s plot, but praised the vision of director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy), who is also the creator of an Oblivion comic book that will be released by Radical Publishing.
The last rough preview was for R.I.P.D. (June 28, 2013), the most unfinished-looking reel in the whole presentation. Based on the Dark Horse comic book created by Peter Lenkov, R.I.P.D. stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as supernatural agents who retrieve the spirits of the dead that refuse to leave the mortal world. The preview showed Reynolds’ cop character getting killed and then recruited by the head of the R.I.P.D. (Mary-Louise Parker), and demonstrated his buddy-cop chemistry with Bridges’ character, whom Fogelson described as a cross between Rooster Cogburn in True Grit and The Dude in The Big Lebowski
The presentation closed with teasers for two more summer 2013 films: Fast & Furious 6 (May 13, 2013), with no footage available but the promise of director Justin Lin and the entire cast of the fifth film returning; and Despicable Me 2 (July 3, 2013), which showcased a custom clip featuring main character Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) touting the movie’s upcoming release and even name-checking Fogelson himself.