I’m in Las Vegas at Cinema Con, the movie exhibition convention formerly known as ShoWest.  This is where movie theater owners, managers, industry merchants, the guys who design concession stand and projection equipment, and others gather to network with other professionals, learn about new equipment, trends and of course — get excited about upcoming movies. All the film studios come to town to present clips from their yearly slates, which is why I’m here.

Tonight Paramount Pictures, Marvel Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation presented footage from JJ Abrams’ Super 8, Thor, Captain America, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Puss in Boots. The DreamWorks Animation footage was basically a shortened version of the presentation we saw in Los Angeles a couple weeks back (article here). After the jump you can read my thoughts and reactions to the other footage screened tonight, along with a video blog. We try to keep everything as spoiler free as possible, and don’t get into anything detail-wise that you wouldn’t have picked up from the movie trailers. So feel free to read/watch my/our reactions without being spoiled.

Video Blog with Frosty from Collider and Alex from FirstShowing:

Super 8: We saw the same 22 minutes of footage that was screened to New York City press last week — 22 minutes that consisted of two sequences of the film:

  • The group of kids filming a zombie movie with their Super 8 camera at the train station right next to where the train crashes.
  • And a sequence later on in the film where, whatever escaped from the train, causes havoc at a gas station.

That is the extent of the plot details you’ll get in this report. Here are a couple observations:

  1. As you probably remember, the teaser trailer showed a pickup truck ram the train, causing it to derail and some sort of creature escapes. In the movie we see this action from the kids point of view, which is entirely new shots. I don’t believe any of the footage from the teaser trailer is actually in the film.
  2. The thing that impressed me the most about the footage was the authenticity of the interactions between this group of children. Elle Fanning is a stand-out.
  3. JJ Abrams is still rocking the lens flares. I know many people complained about this in Star Trek but I didn’t find distracting in that movie and believed it added a unique visual aesthetic to the look of the future. That said, the lens flares are a tiny bit more distracting in this period piece.
  4. I know that many people, including Abrams, are comparing this film to Spielberg’s Amblin-era movies, but the interactions between the kids seemed more comparable to movies like Stand By Me or maybe The Sandlot. I get the sense that this might be Abrams’ most personal story yet. It doesn’t feel like a homage. I don’t get winks and nods to the various Spielberg films. As far as I can tell, he isn’t referencing shots and sequences Tarantino-style. Sure, the movie feels like it exists in the same universe and time as Spielberg’s 1970′s-1980′s films.
  5. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the full movie. To be honest, I don’t want to see any more footage — this is the type of movie I just want to experience.

Thor: We were shown 20-or-so minutes from the middle of the movie

  • Thor is banished to Earth, where he encounters Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård’s characters.
  • He is in search of his Hammer which also fell to Earth, and as you saw in the Iron Man 2 epilogue, has been discovered by SHIELD.
  • We see the sequence shown in the trailers where Thor breaks into SHIELD’s compound to recover his hammer, which is stuck in the middle of a crater.

Here are my observations:

  • You may remember that I was very unimpressed by the 5-minutes of footage they screened at Comic Con. They even mentioned that director Kenneth Branagh was upset that Marvel screened the footage in 3D, since it was far from finished (many people ragged on the horrible nature of the 3D conversion). I came out of the presentation tonight very impressed with the Thor footage, and I’m now even more excited to see Thor than I am Captain America.
  • I’ve been under the belief that Thor would pose the biggest marketing challenge for Marvel as the Asgard wardrobe could be easily mocked. I was shocked at just how accessible the footage we saw was to non comic book or fantasy viewers. That said, most of the footage we screened took place on Earth (aside from the first scene and a closing shot) — so that might be why. I have also talked with some people (like Alex from FirstShowing) who were put off by the jokes and interactions on the Earth segments. I personally think they nailed the right balance of trying to appease comic book fans and have the story appeal to wide audiences.
  • When movie studios present early footage to press or fans, it is usually footage from the first or third acts, the beginning or the end of the movie. Any screenwriter will tell you that the first and third acts are easier to write than the middle. Act two is the hardest, and is usually where a lot of movies fall apart. The fact that Marvel chose to screen 20 minutes from the middle of the movie probably means something. Either they feel they nailed act two or they are nervous about the Asgard footage of the first act of the movie.

Captain America: They screened 20 minutes of footage, which was made up of four scenes (three of which were shown briefly in the trailers):

  • Opening scene from the movie which is set in present day with (possible spoiler invisotext) people discovering Captain America’s shield in Antartica. (invisotext end)
  • Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and  Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) inject Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) with the super soldier serum.
  • Captain America meets with Howard Stark to look at his high tech weaponry, and has a run in with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)
  • Captain America gets his shield, which Peggy tests out (as shown at the end of the recent trailer)

My Observations:

  • I’ve been very much looking forward for Captain America. Coming out of Comic Con, it excited me much more so than Thor. I’ve even really loved the recent trailers, and have been getting that Indiana Jones vibe that director Joe Johnston has been aiming for. And while I’m still excited to see the movie, I was left slightly disappointed by the footage at CinemaCon.
  • My main worry is the film’s tone — it kind of has this slightly cheesy jokey vibe about it. I guess the scenes are probably comparable in tone to The Rocketeer, which was also directed by Johnston. A couple people around me in the theatre vocally groaned at some of the jokes. But with any presentation of this kind, I’m very aware that we’re seeing the footage out of context — it might work a lot better within the film itself.
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