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CinemaCon still coming to Las Vegas despite COVID surge, Disney alarm

COVID-19. It’s the gift that keeps on taking away.

CinemaCon, the annual gathering of the National Association of Theatre Owners that’s among the most star-studded conventions on the Las Vegas calendar, was an early casualty of the pandemic in 2020.

Now, just four weeks out from the event’s delayed 2021 kickoff at Caesars Palace, there are concerns that the delta variant and the surging COVID metrics in Southern Nevada could derail what was supposed to be a celebration of the return of the moviegoing experience.

Disney has cited the increase in cases here as the reason it’s scaling back its CinemaCon presentation and keeping its executives and stars at home. It’s the latest in a string of high-profile notices about the growing safety concerns of visiting Las Vegas, following travel warnings from officials in Los Angeles, Chicago and Hawaii.

CinemaCon already was pushed back from its traditional spring slot to Aug. 23-26 in an attempt to put more distance between it and the pandemic. The gathering also is requiring every attendee to present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative antigen/PCR test conducted within 48 hours of picking up their credentials. A COVID testing facility will be on site, as well.

Disney’s retreat, though, comes days after convention organizer NATO blasted the studio for continuing to release blockbusters, including “Black Widow” and this weekend’s “Jungle Cruise,” on its streaming service the day they arrive in theaters. The group’s statement specifically targeted “Black Widow” and its “disappointing and anomalous performance,” while noting that the Disney+ release helped make the Marvel title the most pirated movie in the world.

It doesn’t take much of a cynic to think that saving its executives the in-person wrath of theater owners, during what continues to be the worst economic climate the exhibition industry has ever seen, could be a contributing factor in Disney’s decision.

So far, none of the other participating studios — Warner Bros., Sony, Universal/Focus Features, Paramount, Lionsgate, MGM/United Artists and Neon — has announced any such reservations or deviations from their initial plans.

While sellers of everything from popcorn to projectors tout their latest advancements at the trade show, studios take over the Colosseum to show off footage from their upcoming film slates, bring out the stars of some of those titles for a little razzle-dazzle and, for one week at least, to make the pitch that the best way to watch their product is in movie theaters.

In 2019, for example, attendees cheered the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Kevin Hart and the late Chadwick Boseman while being a part of the first audience to see footage of “Joker.”

Disney officials have said they’ll screen a movie inside the Colosseum and possibly show footage from others. That’s not that big of a departure from what the studio typically presents at CinemaCon, though. Rather than ferrying A-list talent to walk across the massive stage and mutter a few words, Disney tends to let its movies do the talking. In recent years, the studio has used its allotted time to screen everything from the first 27 minutes of “Finding Dory” to the entirety of “Captain America: Civil War.”

Regardless of Disney’s actions, organizers have called the upcoming 10th installment of CinemaCon the group’s “most important outing to date.” They insist the show will go on.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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