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Sony wows exhibs with star-studded lineup

LAS VEGAS — Sony Pictures Entertainment, harkening back to the Golden Age of Hollywood with a dais jammed with stars, unveiled an impressive pyrotechnic reel of its upcoming pics Tuesday at ShoWest ’97 that studio execs said they hoped showed exhibitors that the studio is back in business.

Sony trotted out dozens of the major stars and directors of its upcoming line, including Jack Nicholson, Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Roberts, Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford, Jon Voight, Ice Cube, Renee Russo, Dermot Mulroney, Rupert Everett, Barry Sonnenfeld, Alan Pakula, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Keaton, Andy Garcia, P.J. Hogan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jonathan Darby, Paul Verhoeven, James L. Brooks, Cuba Gooding Jr., Greg Kinnear and Helen Hunt.

Studio insiders said the turnout, which some claim was the biggest star showing ever for a ShoWest event, was a clear indication that the industry is backing president and COO John Calley in its restructuring. “They came out to support John,” said one studio exec. Those closer to the marketing and publicity lauded it as a masterpiece of coordination in arranging for so many stars, producers and execs to arrive for the 90-minute show.

Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures, which usually opt for more low-key events at ShoWest, pulled out the stops with a pricey display of the upcoming pics. The reel included heart-thumping clips from “The Devil’s Own,” “Anaconda,” “Buddy,” “The Fifth Element,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Men in Black,” “Excess Baggage,” “Air Force One,” “Desperate Measures,” “Blood Line” (formerly “Kilronen”), “Starship Troopers,” “Zorro,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Double Team,” “Amy Foster” and “Old Friends.”

It also included a room-shaking special effect, complete with exploding balloons, falling lighting fixtures and lasers, to promote “Godzilla” in its May 1998 release. Sources said it cost Sony “millions of dollars” for the complete presentation.

Post-presentation buzz was largely focused on Columbia’s “Fifth Element,” a futuristic thriller that stars Bruce Willis; TriStar’s “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” a Ron Bass-scripted comedy with Roberts, Mulroney and Everett; Col’s “Men in Black,” the Smith and Jones starrer based on the dark comic book about alien hunters in the future; and Mandalay Entertainment’s “Seven Years in Tibet,” the Brad Pitt starrer about an American who treks across the Andes to meet the Dalai Lama.

Interestingly, nearly all of the pics shown were developed and produced under the regime of former Col TriStar Motion Picture Cos. chairman Mark Canton, as well as former Columbia president Lisa Henson and former TriStar chief Marc Platt.

But Calley told Daily Variety after the show that it was probably one of the few times in Hollywood history where a new regime has so readily embraced the former team’s work. “We were very lucky to inherit this,” he said.

The only worry among the more than 1,000 exhibitors watching was the density of the slate, echoing a concern made clear in MGM chairman Frank Mancuso’s keynote address Monday night. One exhibitor said Sony may have too many big-ticket pictures, especially in a year where there are so many event films.

Calley and his recently configured team of execs — including distribution president Jeff Blake, worldwide marketing prexy Bob Levin, Col president Amy Pascal and prexy of production Barry Josephson and TriStar president Robert Cooper — sat at the back of the cavernous event center at Bally’s Hotel. The stars, introduced in groupings by their upcoming pics, relaxed on the dais.

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek was the emcee for the event, phrasing the titles of Sony’s upcoming pics in the form of questions. (Example: “What is President Clinton’s favorite barbershop in L.A.?” Answer: “Air Force One.”)

As they were introduced, the stars each offered a few comments, some of which were perhaps a bit too obviously scripted by the studio.

* Ice Cube, who co-stars with Jon Voight in “Anaconda,” said the location stint for the reptilian thriller was the most unnerving part. “We spent 7-1/2 weeks in South America. I couldn’t wait to get back to South Central.”

* Renee Russo, the lead in the gorilla pic “Buddy” from Jim Henson Pictures, said she was thrilled simply because for once she didn’t have to play “the girlfriend.”

* Roberts, Mulroney and Everett showed up for “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” one of TriStar’s summer pics. “We made a terribly funny movie,” Roberts cooed. “We’re here to beg you all to support that. For the love of God, go see the movie.”

* Smith, Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld were there boosting “Men in Black.” Smith did most of the talking, explaining that he has now become “the alien man” after “Independence Day.” Jones was intentionally silent throughout.

* Nicholson later quipped in his very brief greeting for “Old Friends”: “Thank you for having me. I just wanted to repeat what Tommy Lee had to say.”

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