Thanks to CinemaCon, Hollywood is hyped for "The Hobbit," "Life of Pi," and the return of Tom Cruise

Picture a multi-day version of the ”coming attractions” that play before every movie, and you’ll have some idea of what it’s like at the theater owners’ convention CinemaCon (previously known as ShoWest). Elton John and Celine Dion got bumped from the 4,300-seat theater in Caesars Palace from April 23 to 26, as studios and stars flew to Las Vegas to showcase scenes from their biggest upcoming titles. Here’s what we learned.

Peter Jackson?s vision of The Hobbit is clear. Really clear.

Almost everyone thought Peter Jackson‘s Hobbit looked great. But maybe it looked too great? As happy as exhibitors were with the storytelling on display in Jackson’s two-movie return to J.R.R. Tolkien‘s fantasy world, there were loud grumbles about his decision to shoot it with new technology that uses 48 images, or ”frames,” to create every second of footage, instead of the traditional 24. The result was an ultra-clear image that the Oscar-winning filmmaker hopes will make 3-D less bothersome to the eye, but many at CinemaCon felt it made The Hobbit look more like a movie set than the atmospheric, textured world seen in Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The director was undaunted. ”We should, as an industry, be looking for ways to provide a cinematic experience in the theater that you can’t replicate any other way, combined with good storytelling,” he told EW at the event. ”Whether people like it or not, because they’re not used to it, they should give it a chance.”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (out Dec. 14) and its follow-up, The Hobbit: There and Back Again (Dec. 13, 2013), will also be released in the traditional format, but some big theater chains agreed to give his 48-frame experiment a shot. ”We’re happy with the visual aspects of 48 frames per second,” says Amy Miles, CEO of Regal Entertainment Group, which plans to upgrade between 2,500 and 2,700 of its 3-D projectors for The Hobbit. ”There are some guys in our industry where you just say, over time, they’ll figure this stuff out. It doesn’t hurt that it’s somebody like Peter Jackson.”

Life of Pi has serious awards buzz

Following 13 minutes of dazzling footage from Ang Lee‘s 3-D epic about a young boy lost at sea on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, awards pundits at CinemaCon came out breathlessly saying the O-word. Yes, it’s premature, and only the finished film (opening Dec. 21) can ultimately prove its Oscar worthiness, but the clip previewed by the Brokeback Mountain Academy Award winner certainly built up expectations.

Using 3-D to adapt Yann Martel‘s 2001 best-selling novel, particularly during the terrifying shipwreck that opens the story, allowed Lee to — almost literally — immerse the viewer in that world. ”You’re rocking and rolling,” he told EW at the convention. ”You feel that hopelessness. You feel how small you are in nature, in God’s hands.”

Tom Cruise is the man (again)

After previewing three titles at CinemaCon, Tom Cruise seems poised to officially regain his superstar status (if last year’s Mission: ImpossibleGhost Protocol didn’t already do the job). The highlight of opening night was three scenes from his crime thriller One Shot (out Dec. 21), based on the best-selling 2005 novel by Lee Child. Some readers have complained that Cruise is the wrong actor to play vigilante drifter Jack Reacher, and in a videotaped introduction, Cruise tried to assuage their fears. ”For those of you who know the books, I’m obviously not 6 foot 5 like Jack Reacher,” the 5-foot-7 actor said with a laugh. ”But Lee felt that I was the right guy to drive fast cars and kick the s— out of people.”

Cruise turned up on screen again midway through the convention as the swaggering, boob-autographing rock star Stacee Jaxx in the 1980s-era jukebox musical Rock of Ages (opening June 15). And he closed out CinemaCon, too, with the screening of a tense scene from the first days of production on the sci-fi dystopian epic Oblivion (due April 26, 2013), which Cruise is currently shooting in Baton Rouge, La.

That last project is why Cruise didn’t show up at CinemaCon in person. But thanks to the impressive footage, he didn’t have to be present to make his presence felt.

Brokeback Mountain
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