It’s only fitting that NATO/ShoWest, the annual convention of movie theater owners, is held in Las Vegas. After all, what better venue is there for Hollywood studios to display their showmanship? Where else would you expect 3,800 movie exhibitors representing 73 different countries to gather for indoor fireworks, animal shows, confetti bombs, celebrity-studded presentations, and — somewhere amid all the spectacle — a sneak peek at this year’s summer movies?
The 1996 convention certainly didn’t lack any of that Vegas flair. Even though several major studios opted not to show trailers, including Sony (which meant no previews of Jim Carrey’s The Cable Guy or Demi Moore’s Striptease) and Paramount (no promotions for Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible), the March 4-7 gathering was high on the hoopla and heavy on the star power. Among the highlights:
— When in Vegas…
Disney, as is its wont, pulled out all the stops for its presentation at — where else? — the Aladdin Hotel. Leslie Nielsen, promoting the upcoming comedy Spy Hard, buzzed the stage in a fake prop plane, and exhibitors were treated to a 23-minute segment of Disney’s summer centerpiece, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. After the clip, 600 costumed gypsy dancers paraded in the aisles under 300 pounds of fluttering confetti. ”Given that Disney can make even gargoyles lovable,” says Bert Manzari of California-based Landmark Theatres, ”it has the potential to be at least as successful as Beauty and the Beast.”
Of course, not all such publicity stunts came off so smoothly. There was one Cruella De Vil-ish moment: After showing a clip of the studio’s live-action 101 Dalmatians, dog wranglers unleashed a pack of adorable spotted puppies. Most bounded across the stage happily. But one lame pup that had strained its paw before the show limped slowly behind the pack. After the rest of the dogs had cleared the stage, the gimpy pooch painfully pulled himself to one side, where, to the audience’s relief, a trainer finally rescued him. (A Disney spokeswoman reports the puppy has recovered.)
— Blockbusters or bust
After Hunchback, the hottest tickets at the convention were for Warner Bros.’ disaster thriller Twister, Fox’s alien-invasion fest Independence Day, and Disney’s kidnap caper Ransom, all of which had heart-stopping trailers. Ransom reunites the Lethal Weapon 3 duo of Mel Gibson and Rene Russo; Twister and Independence Day boast crowd-pleasing special effects and are ”kicking ass already,” says an envious Chris Pula, head of theatrical marketing for rival New Line Cinema.
— The sporting life
Theater owners were also surprisingly enthusiastic about a slew of sports-based movies due this summer. Among the jock flicks that exhibitors were rah-rah about: Eddie, starring Whoopi Goldberg as a New York Knicks fan who gets a chance to coach the team; Tin Cup, featuring Kevin Costner and Don Johnson as golfing rivals; and Space Jam, starring hoop greats Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. Of course, Jordan and Bird are only second-stringers behind the real star: Bugs Bunny.