‘Hobbit’ preview divides CinemaCon auds

WB also shows 'Dark Knight Rises,' 'Campaign' footage

LAS VEGAS – Warner Bros. and Peter Jackson set frames racing Tuesday at CinemaCon, but did exhibs’ hearts beat faster? Maybe not so much.

Exhibs and press who gathered at Caesars Palace for WB’s presentation — including 10 minutes of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” — were decidedly mixed over what they saw of the pic’s 48 frames-per-second format, which James Cameron championed at last year’s confab but won’t arrive in theaters until the first half of Jackson’s adaptation, due Dec. 14.

Exhibitors would need at least software-level projection upgrades to show the format, and while the footage presented a dark and intriguing vision for the “Lord of the Rings” origin story, not all were enamored of the look of the doubletime frame rate.

The “Hobbit” reel looked distinctively sharper and more immediate than everything shown before it, giving the 3D smoother movement and crisp sharpness, while losing the cinematic glow of the industry-standard 24 fps. The realism gave CG characters a distinct presence, but human actors seemed overlit and amplified in a way that many compared to modern sports broadcasts (as high as 60 fps in HD) and daytime television.

“It reminds me of when I first saw Blu-Ray, in that it takes away that warm feeling of film,” said one owner of a midsized, Western-states exhib chain. “It looked to me like a behind-the-scenes featurette.”

Jackson has eight months to address imperfections in what is sure to be a rigorous post-production, given what’s at stake for public acceptance of faster projection.

While the demonstration was the talk of Caesars, Warner Bros. brought other major product to the Colosseum stage. The studio showed off explosive footage from “The Dark Knight Rises,” with Christopher Nolan on hand to introduce, and put Will Ferrell-Zach Galifianakis laffer “The Campaign” on the radar with a well-received reel. “Rock of Ages” director Adam Shankman came out to tout the upcoming tuner, while Tim Burton talked at length about Johnny Depp starrer “Dark Shadows.”

Depp came, too, and joined Burton onstage to say all of two words as the house went dark: “Have fun.”

Warner also showed a healthy amount of footage from “The Great Gatsby,” which director Baz Luhrmann admitted via a videotaped message he wasn’t quite ready to do. Though the several minutes of lavish sets and whirling parties from the 1920s period drama were apparently raw, untouched footage, the cinematic scope of the 3D largely impressed the CinemaCon crowd, immediately drawing comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”

Paramount kicked off CinemaCon the night before with its slate presentation. Though its relationship with DreamWorks Animation is still in limbo, DWA threequel “Madagascar 3” and all-new toon “The Guardians” made up the backbone of Par’s presentation, with Jeffrey Katzenberg onstage to present what he called “one of the most original and unique movies we’ve ever made at DreamWorks.”

Par also debuted footage from “One Shot,” its adaptation of Lee Child’s novels featuring towering antihero Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise. Thesp wasn’t in attendance but said via videoconference, “I’m obviously not six-foot-five, but (the filmmakers) felt I was the right guy to drive fast cars and kick the shit out of people.”

As he often does, Sacha Baron Cohen stole the show, arriving in character as Shabazz Aladeen after footage from his upcoming “The Dictator” unspooled (Par screened the pic later that night). Cohen used the opportunity to unleash a mini-roast on many in attendance — and nothing was sacred. “I thought I was going to be the only dictator in attendance,” he said. “Imagine my surprise when I saw that Jeffrey Katzenberg is here.”

He also took a shot at Disney, explaining that when one of his movies bombs, his response is to just “shoot the executive,” suggesting that they do the same for “John Carter.”

“Oh wait — they already did!” he said, drawing huge laughs (and equal groans).

Disney was set to make its presentation later Tuesday, with Sony going Wednesday and U and Fox taking their turns Thursday, marking the first time in a decade that all six majors participated in the Las Vegas confab.