Tonight, Paramount Pictures invited press from around New York City to the elegant Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center to experience a taste of what the studio giant has in store for the rest of 2011. Celebrating their 100th anniversary this year, Paramount doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon with what seems like a blockbuster every month from May until December.
On hand to woo the crowd and introduce 20 minutes of his latest film, Super 8, was the maestro of mystery himself: J. J. Abrams. But before Abrams could open his box of secrets (or, better yet, make sure it was kept sealed shut), Paramount CEO Brad Grey introduced a sizzle reel of clips from 2011 slate — with a few surprises thrown in to the mix.
Hit the jump for a recap of the event, including first looks at Footloose and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
The montage kicked off with rehashes of Super Bowl footage from Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger (which you can now see the first full trailer for), Kung Fu Panda 2 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Nothing new here. They also made sure to tease Paranormal Activity 3, with the flashbacks to the first two installments and required audience-acting-terrified shots, and note that Hugo Cabret and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn were on the way… but without actual footage to prove it.
The real treat was a first look at footage from Footloose and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, both of which look to surprisingly energetic and fresh. Those worried that director Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan) lost any of his edge transitioning to the remake of the classic ’80s dance movie, have no fear. The minute montage of footage gives off a gritty, southern vibe to the new Footloose, with plenty of dance moves and, at some point, an exploding bus. This isn’t Black Snake Moan, but it isn’t the Zac Efron Disney-fied version either. The film is vibrant and should be a balance between Brewer’s work and the world of Hollywood.
Then we got a quick-cut barrage of footage from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which features Tom Cruise back as Ethan Hunt, with hair length somewhere between movies one and two (yes, that’s important). The montage flew by at lightning speed, but we did catch plenty of glimpses of Cruise jumping off moving cars, unleashing weaponry fire and doing his spy thing. We also saw Simon Pegg dressed in a Soviet-like outfit, Paula Patton looking stunning while stepping out of a car , Josh Holloway making his usual angry face and Jeremy Renner in full out action mode. In fact, Renner is eerily reminiscent of original M:I Tom Cruise — obviously ready to take over the mantle.
The audience let out a welcome gasp when the footage went full-on IMAX scope a la Dark Knight for the much talked about stunt in which Cruise actually dangled from the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Duabi. The scene features Renner and Patton egging Cruise on as he attempts to swing into a window…which might be a little bit out of his reach. Fun stuff.
Then we got to the part we’d been waiting for: 20 minutes of Super 8. J.J. Abrams explained the origins of the movie, how he was a fan of Super 8 films when he was a kid and was able to integrate that concept into another Area 51-style story he was developing. The result is Super 8, which is part biographical part fantastical. Abrams also told a hilarious story about how, at the age of 16, he entered a Super 8 film contest with director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and won. The young duo caught notice of then Spielberg assistant Kathleen Kennedy, who personally asked if the boys would be interested in cleaning up and preserving Spielberg’s childhood Super 8 films. Even while retelling the story, Abrams was in disbelief — who would let two 16-year-olds handle Spielberg’s films?! — but they did and he’d never forget it.
Before the lights dimmed and the footage played, Abrams warned us that these were completely unfinished scenes. Incomplete SFX, incomplete sound, incomplete color. This was rough, and frankly, he didn’t want to show us. He also didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag on any spoilers, so for the sake of the mystery (because it’s more fun that way), you won’t find anything too shocking here.
Abrams played two scenes for us: a lengthier version of the train wreck scene featured in the trailer and a brief scene at a gas station post-train wreck. In the trailer we see the boys setting up camera before everything derails and that’s what plays out at length in the opening. The vibe is very Goonies in all the right ways — these kids Abrams have found are pitch perfect. They talk like 14-year-olds, they act like 14-year-olds. They’re dynamic is fun loving and they’re having a ball making this zombie movie.
That is, until a truck zips past them, pulls on to the train tracks and takes the locomotive off the tracks. The kids run for cover (as seen in the trailer) and the scene in full is miraculous. You don’t get a sense from the trailer, but the wreck scene is almost entirely practical. At one point a train car barrels through the station and the entire building explodes, wooden panels, metal beams, debris and all. Burning train parts fly through the air as the kids run through the warzone. The main character Joe, a loner kid who recently lost his Mom in a mill accident, witnesses something banging around in one of the cars, but loses focus when his friends call for him. Saying too much would spoil, but Joe and his friends do encounter the man who deliberately drove head on into the train — a man that they know, but we don’t. Creepy!
The shorter scene was a glimpse at an attack on the gas station by the “thing.” A cop and a station attendee mill about in the middle of the night only to cross paths with “it,” which we know from the trailers has some serious powers. In the trailer, we see the attendant being pulled across the floor of the convenience store. From the footage, we just know that he takes quite a walloping before then. Even in this scene, Abrams isn’t giving anything up — who or what was trapped in that train is very much a mystery. To the viral campaign!
Passing judgment on a chunk of out-of-context material is always tough, but worries that Super 8 would rely purely on nostalgia can be washed away. What’s great about the parts of the film we’ve seen are the kids, their tangible characters and how much that matters to the action. Yes, expect some big set pieces in Super 8, but plan on being emotionally invested before you get there. Joe and the gang are goofballs like we all were as kids and if there’s any nostalgia, it’s not for old movies — it’s for childhood itself.
Oh, and expect lots and lots of lens flare.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter: @misterpatches