CinemaCon: J.J. Abrams says movie theater owners 'have to adapt'

In front of thousands of cinema owners on Monday night, one of the most powerful filmmakers in Hollywood said the theatrical experience may soon be a thing of the past.

OK, he wasn’t quite that harsh. But J.J. Abrams did urge the crowd at CinemaCon — an annual gathering of exhibitors — to be open to the idea that consumers no longer only want to see films in theaters.

“Much has been said of other technologies that threaten the theater experience,” said Abrams, who was part of Paramount Pictures’ presentation. “We need to do everything we can in this age of piracy, digital technology and disruption to be thoughtful partners in the evolution of this medium.... We have to adapt. It’s going to be required of all of us. We need to meet that challenge with excitement, and create solutions — not fear.”

It should be noted that Abrams is one of the filmmakers, along with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, who last month came out in support of Screening Room, a start-up from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sean Parker that is proposing to offer movies at home for $50 on the same day they open in theaters.

Abrams was in town to accept the Showman of the Year prize from the conference, which was presented to him by his “Star Trek” collaborator Simon Pegg. Despite the pair’s attendance, however, the studio did not screen any footage from the upcoming third installment in the franchise, “Star Trek: Beyond” — a decision that perplexed many conference-goers. A trailer for the July release, which was cowritten by star Pegg, was met with criticism when it was released online in December.

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The lack of footage was just one of the baffling moments from the Paramount presentation, which was filled with a handful of uncomfortable moments. The two-hour event kicked off with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle 2” stars Megan Fox and Will Arnett delivering an awkward shtick that included them delivering a pizza to the chief executive of AMC, Adam Aron.

 “They really should have written something for us to say here,” Fox said as she and Arnett made the long walk from the stage to Aron’s seat.

And the bizarre moments weren’t just confined to the room, either. Tom Cruise sent a video from a London set to introduce footage from “Jack Reacher 2” in which he said he loved the “Reacher” franchise because “it’s Americana. It’s just real, classic, movie movie stuff.” (He did not explain how “movie movie stuff” is different from “movie stuff.”)

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There was also a clip from the cast of the “Baywatch” film, which is currently shooting in Florida. While male stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron were clothed on top and bottom, actresses Kelly Rohrbach and Alexandra DAddario were clad only in those revealing red bathing suits.

There was some news: The studio announced that Denzel Washington would direct a film adaptation of “Fences,” the Tony-winning Broadway show he costarred in with Viola Davis. “Florence Foster Jenkins,” starring Meryl Streep as a New York heiress-turned opera singer, got a release date: August 12. And the studio unveiled the first footage from “Story of Your Life,” a sci-fi drama in which Amy Adams plays a linguist tasked with deciphering what an alien life form is trying to convey after an egg-shaped UFO lands on Earth.

Adams and co-star Jeremy Renner traveled to Sin City to promote the film, and Renner told the audience in the Caesar’s Palace Colosseum that he signed onto the project largely because it was a female-centric story.

“There’s not enough cinema in Hollywood,” he said, “where we have a strong, bad-ass female.”

Follow @AmyKinLA for more from CinemaCon.

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