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Hugh Jackman, Neill Blomkamp Talk ‘Chappie’ at Historic Hologram Press Conference

Sony Spain beams in actor and star from Berlin, opening the door to novel Hollywood cost cuts

MADRID – Could Sony in Spain have come up with a solution to the costs and hassle of stars tub-thumping their latest movies worldwide?

On Saturday, in what Sony Pictures Releasing de España calls cinema’s first-ever holographic press conference, in this case staged for “Chappie,” the holograms of Hugh Jackman and Neill Blomkamp fielded questions from the Spanish press in Madrid — which the real-life Jackman and Blomkamp answered sitting in a hotel in Berlin.

Using Musion 3D holographic projection, in technical terms, the press conference was a stomping success. Bar a typical second-or-so delay in satellite sound transmission, the South African director and star of “Chappie,” quiescently sitting on stools, hands folded, came over loud and clear. There were no cuts or blur. And neither spent the whole time, as in many video satellite link-ups, trying to stuff an electronic gizmo further into an ear.

In the case of the presser for “Chappie,” Blomkamp’s sci-fi actioner that Sony releases March 6, format, of course, matched substance.

Starting with the deployment of the world’s first police force of robot droids, the movie centers on Chappie (“District 9’s” Sharlto Copley, then a lot of CG work), an experimental robot who is stolen by its inventor (“Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel), and programmed and educated to think and feel for itself, starting out like a little child. Jackman stars as Vincent, a corrupt law enforcer, piloting his own highly destructive monster-droid, and hell-bent on destroying Chappie.

“I loved the way that Neill has given a traditional, out-and-out villainous role a very valid argument against artificial intelligence,” said Jackman.

“My character is not alone. Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have apparently come out with warnings against artificial intelligence. When you work on a Neill Blomkamp film, you have that current of complexity,” he added.

“I used A.I. as a way in, an excuse to discuss in a popcorn, fun way the idea of what the soul and spirit are, what it means to be conscious and aware, and if they are definable by science or beyond what it can sum up,” Blomkamp explained.

He continued: “You have a fresh, childlike, innocent, pure soul born into a world which is a violent place,” referring to Chappie. “I wanted A.I. to be more human than the humans. My views on A.I. are actually a little bit different from what is portrayed in the film. The humanistic nature of my films makes me want to use the science simply as an excuse to get to something human.”

Asked about 20th Century Fox’s new “Alien” film, to which he is just officially attached, Blomkamp said, “My job is to give the fans, including me, a movie that feels as linked to the first and second film as I can possibly handle. Everything about it needs to be connected to those movies. If I can make it my own in the way James Cameron made ‘Aliens’ his own, I can do it to that percentage, but never harming the tone of the first two movies.”

Sony in Spain has a reputation for fun, innovative pressers. A “Fury” press conference was held at an army camp. A “The Smurfs 3D” junket took journalists to an Andalusia village, Juzcar, whose houses had all been painted blue.

‘Chappie’ is a film of action, of relations, but also highly technological. So we wanted to do something which was innovative and nonconventional, the first holographic press conference in the history of cinema,” said Ivan Losada, director general, Sony Pictures Releasing de España.

“The holographs allow us far more marketing not just because of the press conference’s content but also format,” he added. “In this business, you’ve got to be very serious about numbers, but also have fun.”

Will Europe no longer see Hollywood actors in the flesh? “I’m a little worried that the studios will say: ‘This is so much easier than having Hollywood divas traveling round,’” said Jackman. “As a kid, I used to have a map of the world next to my bed. Not of rock stars. As cool as holograms are, I really don’t want to stop traveling.”

Actor’s holograms open up large possibilities, as Losada observes. As Spanish box office has plunged with crisis, with Spain’s slipping out of the top 10 overseas territories, fewer stars have begun to visit.

“We always want the talents to come to our country to promote the movies, but if they don’t, we are not going to waste our time just moaning, we have to find the way around. Necessity is the mother of the creativity,” Losada added.

The question could be, if stars agree to holographic press conferences, whether they would then travel less, or visit the same major pit stops, then knock off, say, 20 additional major cities in Latin America in one day, via holgram pressers. As international markets are so important these days, there’s a case for making a virtual virtue out of necessity.

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