Warner Bros. believes in franchises, none more than Superman, which studio chief Jeff Robinov has been struggling to reboot for some time now–after audiences protested Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns.” Thus “Man of Steel” was the high point of the 90-year-old studio’s CinemaCon presentation this week, hosted by the always awkward Robinov–who might as well let his popular distribution czar Dan Fellman do the honors. Robinov boasted about the studio’s fourth year marking over $4 billion worldwide in 2012, and being the only studio to pass the $1 billion mark domestically 12 years in a row, as well as current hit “42,” which pulled the studio out of a post-“Argo” box office dip.
Robinov finally pulled out “Man of Steel” by turning to Christopher Nolan, who had successfully rebooted Batman, as he neared the end of his trilogy, to rejigger the Superman equation. He came up with a story with David Goyer, who wrote the screenplay. And Robinov turned to visually gifted director Zack Snyder (“300,” “The Watchmen,” “Sucker Punch”) to realize their vision. Nolan was hands-on at the script and post-production level, leaving Snyder on his own during production.
While those of us who have lived through all these versions of the story–comic, various TV series, Donner, Singer versions et al. don’t really need yet another origin myth recast with the likes of Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Amy Adams and Henry Cavill as a Superman who really does fly faster than a speeding bullet, the footage looks mythic and shows a beating heart. “It’s full of emotion and action,” said Snyder, who admitted that he’s been a Superman fan his whole life and considers him the “greatest superhero.” He also wishes he could show it as he shot it–on film. The trailer below is attached to “Oblivion” this weekend.
The 3-D “Great Gatsby” footage was definitely more visually impressive than the material the studio showed last year. And Warners clearly felt the need to have Australian showman Baz Luhrmann explain his vision at some length on video to the theater owners. He admitted he was still “finishing up the movie,” which was originally destined for Christmas 2012 release but now will open May 10, just before its international premiere in Cannes. He boasted that the cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton were “at the height of their powers.” He described the F. Scott Fitzgerald story set in 1922 has having a “love story, tragic action and dramatic poetry.” It’s “a complex reflection of our time,” he said, although he wanted to capture the transgressive power of the era’s jazz music by adding contemporary beats from the likes of Jay-Z.
This movie falls in the category–along with Disney’s “The Lone Ranger”–of a leap into artistic risk that I want the studios to make but not at such great cost. It’s the inflated size and scope of these ventures that gets everyone into trouble, as if spending more money on stars and sets and pyrotechnics will somehow guarantee that audiences will show up. Why can’t these movies stay on a smaller scale? (We consumers may enjoy the films’ visual audacity, but if they lose money it only makes the studios less willing to take a gamble on another risky ambitious venture.) Also looking expensive is Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in outer space.
WB also previewed raunchy comedy “The Hangover 3” which actually looks better than the last 2011 installment, as well as “We’re the Millers,” which also had the house laughing at Jennifer Aniston as a stripper impersonating pot dealer Jason Sudeikis’s housewife; Ed Helms also stars. Horror flick “The Conjuring” starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga looked so effectively scary that I will never go near it. The footage from Noam Murro’s “300” sequel “Rise of an Empire,” while based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel “Xerxes,” made me wish he was involved in this one, which stars Rodrigo Santoro as the evil king, “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey and Eva Green; it looked underwhelming. Denis Villeneuve’s child kidnapping drama “Prisoners,” starring Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello and Jake Gyllenhaal, looked like an awards-driven quality project that will need to score high with critics. And thriller “Getaway” starring Ethan Hawke also deals with a kidnapping, this time of his wife.
On the horn from New Zealand, Peter Jackson hyped his next “Hobbit” installment, which returns Orlando Bloom as Legolas and adds Evangeline Lily, Luke Evans and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. And Guillermo del Toro’s super-sized “Pacific Rim” looked fantastic. “It allowed me to try a scope and palette I hadn’t tried before,” he said. “It comes from the deepest part of my being, full of love, the 12-year-old kid who fell in love with monsters, a guy who sees a giant robot and has a good day.” He wanted to create a “massive window to see another world populated by things you’d never see in real life.”