Last night in a screening room above a rain-soaked Times Square, Paramount Pictures unveiled a reel to show off their highest-profile releases through 2014, including footage from two films that hadn't been seen anywhere else. And no, before you ask, neither of them were Star Trek Into Darkness-- all we got from that was the same bit of director J.J. Abrams's appearance on Conan, where he cheekily screened three frames from the upcoming sci-fi sequel.
But Paramount-- whose only 2012 releases have been the comedy flop The Dictator, the animated smash Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, and the music doc Katy Perry: Part Of Me-- needed to prove they were still in the business of making movies at all, and the clip reel highlighted upcoming titles crammed with big names (Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Michael Bay) and promising stuff both from familiar franchises and original ideas.
And though Michael Bay's name came up attached to two upcoming franchise projects-- the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake, still scheduled for 2014, and Transformers 4-- the most appealing footage at all came from his first original project in nearly a decade, Pain & Gain. The footage, which could easily be the film's first trailer, was filled with plenty of Michael Bay flourish, from slow-motion running to golden sun flares to saturated colors to excessive use of helicopters. But it's also got a clear comic bent, as we meet Mark Wahlberg's meathead character doing inverted sit-ups hanging from a wall outside a Miami gym, chanting to himself "I'm big, I'm hot."
The Miami-Dade police show up and give him chase, and though this trailer doesn't get into the details-- in which Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie play a trio of muscle men who kidnap and torture a local businessman-- it plays out like a Coen Brothers-style dark comedy done in Michael Bay style. As bizarre as that sounds, it works-- Wahlberg seems to be in the funny, dim mode that made his The Departed and I Heart Huckabees roles such highlights, and scenes where Bay straps the camera to Wahlberg's chest as he runs from the cops look just the right level of manic and cool. The trailer ends with Wahlberg talking down Johnson's panic at all the violence on the roof, promising his co-conspirator "When this is over we'll all go camping." Call me crazy, especially given the godawful comedy of the Transformers, but somehow this tone feels like it will work. Pain & Gain is due April 26 next year.
Saved for the very end of the presentation was the first trailer for World War Z, the massive zombie apocalypse movie that's been mired in release date shifts, reshoots, and constant rumors of friction behind the scenes. Like Pain & Gain this footage could easily be the first trailer, but it also elides plot to focus on juicy bits of action, in this case shots of zombie hordes cascading over city traffic or fortified walls, and Brad Pitt's character being separated from his family (including The Killing star Meirelle Enos) to help fight the zombie plague. The footage opened with a tense scene of Pitt's family trapped in traffic while an arriving zombie army brings chaos, and featured bits of scenes that gave a sense to the film's scale-- an official-looking clock counting down the names of the dead, and official-looking people in a situation room reporting how other countries are doing as poorly as America at fighting back the invasion.
Zombie purists may want to know that the zombies of World War Z are clearly the fast-moving variety, though we didn't get a clear enough look at them to learn much else. Though Max Brooks's novel of the same name is an oral history told through scattered vignettes from around the globe, World War Z seems to have the scale of a massive disaster film, with Pitt's character somehow in the center of the resistance. As much as fans of the book might not welcome that change, a global-scale zombie movie sounds like the exact right way to freshen up the genre at this point, and World War Z seems to contain some terrifying set pieces to make it worth the wait. We'll find out how it fares for ourself when World War Z opens, at last, June 21 next year.
The other biggest highlight was bits of footage from Darren Aronofsky's Noah, the Biblical epic currently in production in New York City, having spent four weeks shooting in the spectacular landscapes of Iceland. Those locations are the highlights of the footage, with Aronofsky clearly stretching his legs on a big budget to show off stunning landscape photography for the first time (with long-time director of photography partner Matty Libatique). Anthony Hopkins, looking truly ancient as Methuselah, gets the main bit of dialogue, explaining that the creator is destroying the planet because "we" compromised it. And we got a look at the ark, which is not the merry rounded ship you saw in Bible school, but an enormous, rough-hewn box, looking exactly like something a man and his sons would build over a decade-- not to sail anywhere, but simply to withstand a massive flood. Noah isn't due until March 28, 2014, so it will likely be a while before any of that footage makes its way into the world.