D’Works plays host at ShoWest

'Antz,' 'Saving Private Ryan,' 'Prince of Egypt' highlight pic slate

LAS VEGAS — In keeping with its iconoclastic image, DreamWorks took a decidedly non-traditional approach to its debut ShoWest presentation Tuesday night.

Eschewing the trappings of the typical ShoWest event — star-studded dais overlooking a sit-down meal for 3,000 followed by an hourlong product reel — DreamWorks instead gave exhibitors a brief glimpse of its six-film 1998 slate, and then set them loose in a state-of-the-art video arcade.

Saying that the studio “doesn’t have enough execs to film up a dais,” distribution exec Don Harris described the evening’s theme as “fun, food and fun.”

Attendees were bused to the UA Showcase multiplex, where half-hour product reel screenings took place simultaneously in several auditoriums. A different DreamWorks exec presided over each room. Presenters included Harris, exhibition topper Jim Tharp and production chiefs Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes.

Probably most warmly received among the offerings was the Joe Dante-helmed family-action adventure “Small Soldiers.” The film, which combines CGI animation a la “Toy Story” with live action, concerns a group of violent, highly-sophisticated action figures run amok. Tommy Lee Jones and Frank Langella provide voices for the tough-talking toys.

In addition to what many exhibitors agreed was obvious kid appeal, the film has more than 65 product tie-ins, including cross-promotional campaigns with Burger King and Coke. It opens July 10.

The studio also presented clips from “Paulie,” a family film about a talking parrot trying to find its long-lost owner, and Neil Jordan’s supernatural thriller “In Dreams,” starring Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea. The film, which DreamWorks honchos described as “very scary,” focuses on a woman whose dreams are haunted by a serial killer who may be real.

Exhibitors got a peek at two scenes from “Antz,” DreamWorks’ collaboration with computer animation house Pacific Data Images. In the first, a male ant, voiced by Woody Allen, complains to his psychoanalyst about his feelings of insignificance. The second, more action-oriented scene, finds the Allen character trying to rescue a she-ant who is stuck in a piece of gum on the bottom of a little boy’s sneaker.

DreamWorks showed only a teaser trailer for its late summer entry, “Saving Private Ryan,” but given its elements — including director Steven Spielberg and stars Tom Hanks and Matt Damon — many exhibitors were upbeat about the war film’s commercial prospects.

The presentation’s finale was “The Prince of Egypt,” the animated retelling of the biblical story of Moses. Those in attendance saw the first seven minutes of the ambitious and technologically advanced feature, followed by selected scenes from the film.

While announcing the clips, Harris took a number of swipes at Sony Pictures’ lengthy — and much-delayed — presentation earlier in the day. At one point, he remarked that the special effects in one scene from “Prince of Egypt” had taken 381,000 hours to render, “as long as all the effects in Jurassic Park — or about as long as it took to start the Sony lunch.”

However, DreamWorks’ event was not without its own odd moments. Before the screening began, onscreen slides flashed the familiar movie trivia questions, but with a twist. The brain teasers only concerned DreamWorks releases — all three of them. (Q: How many mice were used on the set of Mousehunt? A: 65).

After the lights came up in the theaters, attendees were directed to a reception at the nearby GameWorks game arcade, where revelers spent hours gleefully riding simulated motorcycles and blowing each other up in virtual tanks.

While most of the film clips received only polite applause from screening auds, several exhibitors questioned at the reception expressed optimism about the slate.

For example, Hoyts Cinemas senior exec VP Judd Parker said he liked all six pictures, particularly “Prince of Egypt,” which he believed would play particularly well in smalltown America.

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