Paramount just loves using IMAX to screw with Warner Bros. For the third time, Paramount has put Warner Bros. in a somewhat awkward position. As you recall, three years ago a scheduling conflict between Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince left the sixth Harry Potter picture without IMAX screens for the first two weekends of its run. The loss certainly didn't hurt the box office much (HP6 was the first HP sequel to cross $300 million domestic), but it was an embarrassing scheduling snafu. This time last year Warner Bros somewhat shot itself in the foot by allowing the IMAX preview for The Dark Knight Rises to premiere in front of 'true IMAX' prints (about 40 screens) of Paramount's Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol even as the film opened in limited IMAX release against Warner Bros' Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows. Again, no real harm, no real foul, although the fourth M:I picture got tons of free publicity that otherwise would have gone to Sherlock Holmes 2 had *it* been the only place to see new The Dark Knight Rises footage. Warner Bros did Paramount a favor last year and it seems that it's payback time. Ironically said payback will end up hurting Warner Bros yet again.
As was announced yesterday, JJ Abrams is taking a page out of the Chris Nolan playbook by premiering the first footage of Star Trek Into Darkness in the form of what is apparently the first nine minutes via IMAX 3D to be played in front of digital 3D showings of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. That's right, Warner Bros' The Hobbit part 1 of 33. Why is this anything other than 'you scratch my back I scratch yours'? Well it normally would not be, save for the fact that Warner Bros. surely would have liked to use its best real estate of the next six or seven months to debut something buzz-worthy from Man of Steel and/or Pacific Rim. Both films, WB's big 2013 summer tentpoles, will be playing in IMAX 3D along with Star Trek Into Darkness. Now it's quite possible that all three films will have new trailers/footage attached to one or more of the 8,000 different formats on which The Hobbit: I Didn't Realize This Book Was So Long? is being screened. And we're all-but certain to see both a Star Trek Into Darkness IMAX sneak peak (which will likely be a disconnected prologue that may reveal who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing as the main heavy) as well as a conventional 150-second preview that will play in other screens showing The Hobbit part I. All of this promised trailer goodness is enough to make me rethink my intentions to pursue a press screening, since both Paramount and Warner Bros. will likely keep any traditional previews offline for the duration of opening weekend and any IMAX previews offline period (and good on them for that).
Frankly I'm quite pleased that J.J. Abrams and Paramount have been able to keep us in the dark about the Star Trek sequel for as long as they have, and in a perfect movie marketing world we'd get an IMAX sneak, a conventional trailer, and nothing else save for TV spots made up of trailer footage. And it's been clear since May, 2009 that Paramount was playing long-ball, hoping a well-liked Star Trek would parlay into an opening weekend for Star Trek 2 that rivaled The Dark Knight's debut. It's the Pirates of the Caribbean/Bourne Identity strategy and it's how you justify spending $200 million on a tentpole-starter/reboot that doesn't even cross $400 million worldwide. This move is a unilateral throw down announcing Star Trek 2 as the summer movie to beat in 2013, Iron Man 3 or Man of Steel be damned. Oh right, Man of Steel. Warner Bros was surely planning some kind of special reveal for The Hobbit's opening weekend and now their thunder has been completely stolen. Surely Warner Bros. will have something attached to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, even if it's just the epic and moving Comic Con trailer. But now come Monday morning, it's likely everyone will be talking about what I'm presuming is a spectacular IMAX-filmed 3D action sequence that kicks off the second Star Trek film. Man of Steel arguably needs the buzz far more than Star Trek Into Darkness and now they have given up a prime marketing opportunity.
Whether by coincidence or design, a probable gentlemen's (women's?) agreement has left Warner Bros. on the respective losing end of the stick two years in a row. It may matter more as an amusement quasi-coincidence than a story of real economic consequence, but it's nonetheless amusing how Paramount has used IMAX as a way to (unintentionally) stick it to Warner Bros yet again.