LAS VEGAS – The big headlines out of Warner Bros.’ buzzworthy CinemaCon presentation were over their DC movies “Wonder Woman,” “Aquaman” and “Justice League,” but that’s not all that created a stir from the studio on Wednesday.
Hollywood power player and WB worldwide distribution and marketing chief Sue Kroll threw down the gauntlet as the first studio to bring up the polarizing issue of distribution windows during the convention.
“We need to address the changes in the marketplace,” Kroll said. “We are consistent and long-time partners. Together is the way to move toward the future that will be beneficial and profitable for all of us.”
To say that didn’t go over well with everyone in the room is an understatement, but Kroll knew what she was doing. A dialogue has to start somewhere and from the studio’s perspective, theater owners have to realize they aren’t bluffing this time around.
The issue at hand is that a number of the studios want to shrink the window of time in which they agree not to sell or distribute their films to anyone but theater exhibitors for a set period of months (or in rare cases, weeks). What’s made it so difficult for the studios is a new premium VOD option where consumers could rent a movie for anywhere between $30-50 after its first weekend. Most of the major chains are dead set against this, but for the first time in recent memory are facing an almost unified front from the major studios in favor of it. This is a contrast to last year’s CinemaCon where WB made a major statement against PVOD, indicating it would damage the relationship between distributors and the theatrical exhibition community. How times change.
One filmmaker who made a point to speak about his support for the theatrical experience first was none other than Christopher Nolan. The acclaimed director was on hand to introduce an extended sequence from his new summer film “Dunkirk,” but couldn’t remain quiet when he took the stage just minutes after Kroll’s eyebrow raising comments (and don’t think she didn’t realize he might contradict her).
“[‘Dunkirk’] is a story that needs to carry you through the suspenseful situation and carry you with it,” Nolan says. “The only way to do that is through theatrical exhibition and the only reason I’m here. The only platform I’m interested in talking about is theatrical exhibition.”
As you can guess, those remarks earned one of the loudest reactions from the audience in any presentation so far this week. Sadly for those in attendance, Nolan didn’t show any new footage from his WWII dramatic thriller. Instead, he screened the same extended preview that played in IMAX theaters over the holiday season. He did make it clear, however, why the movie is so important to him.
“I believe Dunkirk to be one of the greatest stories in human history. Dunkirk and the legend of it is something that British people grow up with. It’s in our DNA practically,” Nolan says. “And, so, the idea of taking this impossible paradoxical situation and putting it on screen in modern cinema is something that has been close to my heart for a long time.”
Nolan claims ‘Dunkrik’ is the “ultimate suspense story” noting, “I wanted to tell it in the most visceral way possible. I wanted to put the audience on that beach. I want to put you on the spitfire flying over that beach. I want to put you on a boat coming over to try and rescue those troops. I shot the film entirely on large format celluloid. And it’s the first time we’ve ever been able to use the IMAX cameras to their full effect. We’ve been using this format more and more through the years starting with ‘The Dark Knight’ and trying to push boundaries with what we can do with these cameras and were we can do it. “
He continues, “When it came time to do ‘Dunkirk’ I felt ready to try and find ways to put these sometimes difficult to use, enormously complex cameras in the cockpit of an airplane, on the water, on the beach, running with the troops. Whatever it took really.”
Warner Bros. showed footage from a number of its other 2017 releases including the R-rated comedy “Bastards” (with Ed Helms on hand), “King Arthur” (Charlie Hunnam surprisingly popular with the audience), “The House,” “Geostorm” and April’s “Unforgettable” (Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl on the promo trail), among others. The two other films that really stood out besides “Dunkirk” and the DC movies were “Blade Runner 2049” and, no joke, “Annabelle Creation.” Let’s start with the latter first.
You may find this hard to believe, but the “Annabelle: Creation” footage that was screened was much scarier than the trailer for “It,” another New Line and WB property, that was released online earlier that day. “Lights Out’s” David F. Sandberg directed this follow up to 2014’s “Annabelle,” itself a “Conjuring” spin-off, and he’s brought some unique, creative scares to a movie you’d likely dismiss without a second thought. That would be a big mistake. Expect to be surprised when the trailer hits over the next month or so because this is one sequel that should easily surpass the original creatively.
On Monday, Ryan Gosling made a surprise appearance at Sony Pictures’ presentation to introduce new footage from Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” (and you read about that here). Sony Pictures co-financed the follow up to the 1982 classic and is releasing it overseas. Alcorn Entertainment, who financed the rest of the picture, is releasing it through their longtime distribution partner Warner Bros. in the U.S. So, sure, Sony got to go out first and had Gosling in the house, but WB might have had the better show.
Villeneuve and Gosling’s co-star Jared Leto appeared on stage to introduce what was billed as a behind-the-scenes featurette, but it had arguably more new imagery than the Sony preview. The video featured Harrison Ford talking about how his clothes from the first movie still fit him, legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins breathless on how he’s never had to do so many lighting set ups in his career, production designer Dennis Gassner remarking on the delicate line between homage and originality and even Ridley Scott seeming shocked the original movie became as revered as it did. But in that mix of talking heads we saw new shots of the film’s “modern day” Los Angeles (including the iconic Tyrell Corporation building) and much, much more.
Moreover, this is the sort of piece that absolutely sets the film up as an absolute awards season player. The underlying theme is that this is a piece of art painstakingly put together by some of the great visionaries working today. WB is probably weary of that sort of hype this early out, but all you have to do is look at Villeneuve’s career and that Oscar friendly opening weekend (Oct. 6) and realize it’s going to happen eventually. And with both “Dunkirk” and “Blade Runner 2049” they should get back in the Best Picture race.
And here you thought CinemaCon was just all about superhero movies.