Day Three of Empire Big Screen, and things kicked off with a showcase from Paramount. The studio have had the best year of anyone, taking $2 billion worldwide so far, but there's a sea change coming: the "Transformers" franchise is losing its director and star, and the Marvel movies will be distributed by Disney starting with next summer's "The Avengers."
But you wouldn't spot any nerves from their confident presentation, headlined by two 3D animations that proved to be among the highlights of the weekend so far. Aside from a few widely-seen trailers for the likes of "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" and "Paranormal Activity 3," the first big clip came from "Footloose," the fall remake of the beloved 80s dance flick from "Hustle & Flow" helmer Craig Brewer.
A whole scene was shown, set at a diner where local teens gather to escape their small town's draconian dance laws. Once the cops clear out, the diner owner throws on a David Banner bootleg, with the warning "Don't get too crunk," and the kids get their dance on. New arrival in town Ren (Kenny Wormlald) is asked to show off his big city moves, and ends up dancing with the local preacher's daughter (Julianne Hough), to the anger of her boyfriend, until she's dragged away by the arrival of her father (Dennis Quaid).
It certainly looks to be on the upper end of dance flicks: it's handsomely shot, the music's well chosen and the performances aren't too awful. Whether Brewer is able to transcend the genre, and the original, is up in the air, but street dance fans are likely to be happy.
We also got the premiere of the trailer for horror flick "The Devil Inside," which is the first of the studio's new "Paranormal Activity"-inspired low-budget range, about the daughter of a woman who murdered 3 people during an exorcism, who joins a Vatican-based exorcist to get to the bottom of the mystery. Unfortunately, it looks like the same old derivative, found footage bullshit, virtually interchangeable with any of the other exorcism movies seen in the last few years.
Thankfully, things improved significantly with the first ten minutes of "Puss in Boots." We, like most of the world, have been burned out on the "Shrek" franchise for some time, but the footage from the spin-off looks pretty great. In the midst of a festival, Puss enters a bar, where he's taunted by locals, until he shows them his mettle. Looking for a big score, he's tipped off that local thugs Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) have obtained magic beans, which would enable them to climb a beanstalk and steal the golden goose.
Puss tries to break into their hotel room, but is thwarted by a mysterious masked fellow cat burglar, who flees, pursued by Boots. He catches up in a milk bar full of cats, and challenges the thief to a fight, only for it to turn into a dance-off, and then a sword fight, before the masks comes off to reveal...a lady cat, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). The clip got the best reaction we've heard all weekend, and deservedly so; there was more wit, zip and ingenuity in the ten minutes than in the previous four films put together, with some great action and genuinely laugh-out loud moments, and nary a pop culture reference in sight. In a weak year for animation, this could turn out to be an unexpected treat.
After that, another 3D animation brought the goods -- with a taped introduction from Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson -- as the pair introduced clips from "The Adventures of Tintin." In the first, Tintin, toting a gun, meets a stranger at his door, only for the conversation to be cut short by a hail of machine gun fire, and the stranger collapses, dead, leading to the reaction of the hero's landlady: "Not again." It was wonderfully atmospheric, displaying the noirish, German expressionist influences that Spielberg's talked up.
The second clip had Tintin captured on a boat, fighting off the bad guys, before being rescued by Captain Archibald Haddock (what looks to be another incredible mo-cap turn by Andy Serkis). As they try to sneak out, Tintin quizzes Haddock on his family background, which seems to tie into the larger plot. The spirit of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" seems to be firmly present; the action beats are classic Spielberg and the visuals are far more convincing than we were expecting, with no sign of the uncanny valley. The film is still flying under a lot of radars in the U.S, but after what we saw today, we're looking forward to this as much as anything else in the rest of the year.
It hits U.S. theaters on December 23rd, after bowing on Europe on October 28th, while "Footloose" heads to the dance floor on October 14th, "Puss In Boots" lands on November 4th and "The Devil Inside" in early 2012.