The invitation-only event, which was not billed as a premiere, was the first time "Jupiter Ascending" was shown to the public. Variety broke news of the screening on Tuesday afternoon, but there were other clues the audience wasn't about to see a typical Sundance indie.
When attendees with tickets arrived at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, they were handed 3D glasses.
Despite the hype of a secret screening, clusters of seats inside the 300-person venue remained empty, and a handful of patrons walked out of the two-hour-plus space epic starring Mila Kunis as a princess and Channing Tatum as an intergalactic soldier tasked with rescuing her.
The Wachowskis' flair was fully on display, with sequences reminiscent of "The Matrix" or "Star Wars." But when the film ended, the usually gracious Sundance audience didn't clap at the closing credits.
"I hated it," said one of the festival's volunteers, who asked not to be identified for fear of irking Sundance. "It's just ridiculous."
Her husband was more forgiving. "It's a combination of a whole bunch of things wrapped into one," he said.
Neville Kiser, a screenwriter, thought the movie was hurt by the fact that it was debuting at a venue for highbrow films. "I actually liked it," Kiser said. "But the Sundance context is weird. There were so many people in the audience scoffing and sneering. They are forgetting they are watching a movie targeted primarily to teenage boys. I'm sure those 15-year-old boys, and hopefully girls, will like it."
The film's co-directors and stars were not in attendance. One industry expert speculated that the discombobulated story would mean that Warner Bros., which spent $175 million on the film, would lose a significant chunk of money.
"Jupiter Ascending" was originally scheduled for a summer release, which was later postponed. The movie now opens on Feb. 6.
Critics were not invited to the screening, and a festival programmer reminded critics who had snagged a ticket that their reviews are embargoed until Monday night.