'Inside Out' goes deep with Dolby Vision at CinemaCon

ScreenerBlog

Based on what’s been happening at CinemaCon in Las Vegas this week, the movie exhibition community is taking the competition from home entertainment very seriously indeed. On so many fronts, technology companies are looking for new ways to distinguish what happens at your local multiplex from the experience of watching a movie in your living room. Barco and the Korean company CJ Group are extending the image beyond the rectangular screen with additional side-wall projections via their “Escape” and “ScreenX” presentations, respectively. Immersive sound systems are gaining more ground, with a new entrant, Harman’s 32-channel Quantum Logic Immersion, joining the fray. Director Ang Lee revealed via a prerecorded video at CinemaCon that his new 3D movie Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is being shot at an unprecedented 120 frames per second. And Dolby unveiled its new Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range laser projection system, which enables much higher contrast and bolder colors.

Dolby Vision HDR couldn’t have found a better premiere showcase for its groundbreaking process than the new Pixar film Inside Out, which takes place largely inside a young girl’s brain and uses a riot of colors in depicting that imaginative terrain. CinemaCon has embargoed any detailed comment on the film, but suffice it to say director Pete Docter (of Up fame) has returned the studio to peak form with a wild brain-teaser of a movie that’s also quite moving. The screening was followed by a session hosted by Dolby senior VP of cinema Doug Darrow in which Docter, production designer Ralph Eggleston and cinematographer/color grader Kim White extolled the creative benefits of the new format. Docter said he was “pretty blown away” by the screening, and noted that the format’s visual impact “gives us another tool to emphasize emotion.” Eggleston felt his palette had been expanded: “Now I can imagine scenes in darkness.”

Dolby also recruited Paul Feig, director of Tuesday night attraction Spy, to watch a scene from that film projected in Dolby Vision, and he marveled at the level of detail and the deepness of the blacks in the action sequence. He speculated that his upcoming Ghostbusters reboot could benefit from the subtleties of the format for its supernatural effects.

Before Feig’s appearance, Darrow displayed a white circle against a “black” background in current digital-projection setups, then switched to the same simple image in Dolby Vision. The stark contrast drew audible gasps from the audience: The black background was so much blacker! (The difference in contrast ratio is one million to one, compared to the usual 2,000 to one.)

The crowd also voiced strong approval of the new Star Wars trailer in Dolby Vision, and were treated to a dazzling 3D test sequence from the 2010 film TRON: Legacy. We’ve seen the future, and it’s in true black and white and color.

Also looking toward the future (and hoping to move beyond its recent past) was Sony Pictures. At Sony’s late afternoon product preview, worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer made reference to “the few stories written about Sony last year” (centered, of course, on its controversial release of The Interview, the devastating hacking of corporate files, and the departure of top exec Amy Pascal), but vouched for the boldness and competence of the company’s personnel. ‘This is a studio with serious momentum,” he proclaimed. New chairman Tom Rothman, appearing later in the program, also noted that this had been “as challenging a time as any modern company has faced,” but defiantly declared, “we have more than survived, we have thrived, unbroken, unbowed and pushing to new heights.”

Sony emphasized filmmakers in its presentation, bringing out directors Robert Zemeckis, Chris Columbus, Genndy Tartokovsky and Rob Letterman. Veteran Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Castaway) previewed the knockout trailer from his 3D The Walk, about daredevil Philippe Petit’s legendary tightrope walk between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. “I prefer to see movies on a really, really big screen,” he stated, noting that The Walk was always conceived as “a huge theatrical spectacle.” Pixels director Chris Columbus seconded that, advising that his fantasy about alien versions of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong invading Earth should be seen in a theatre “on a hot summer night with 300 of your closest friends.”

Letterman and producer Neal Moritz (who couldn’t resist taking a victory lap over Furious 7’s billion-dollar gross) introduced footage from Goosebumps (based on the R.L. Stine bestsellers), which looks to have real box-office potential. And the trailer from the Seth Rogen/Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Anthony Mackie starrer Xmas (“from the guys who almost brought you The Interview”) drew big laughs. Footage was also shown from the alien-invasion disaster pic The 5th Wave; Ricky and the Flash, with Meryl Streep as an aging rock star who neglected her children; the George Clooney-Julia Roberts thriller Money Monster, with Clooney as a Jim Cramer/CNBC type held hostage by a disgruntled investor; and a quiet but intriguing scene between Daniel Craig and Naomie Harris in the latest James Bond outing, Spectre, introduced on video by director Sam Mendes.

The biggest news scoop revealed by Sony at CinemaCon was that the hugely successful team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie, Fox TV’s “The Last Man on Earth”) are preparing a fully animated version of Spider-Man (because one Spider-Man is never enough). Unable to tame his enthusiasm, Rothman called Lord and Miller’s approach to the franchise “fucking awesome.”