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Jul 27, 2007

SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2007, DAY 1

(He-who-must-not-be-named is taking names and kicking ass on the convention floor)

What a way to start a convention!

It used to be that the San Diego Comic-con was well populated on Thursday, but nowhere near capacity. You’d get your hard-cores that show up every year, a few kids, a lot of the pros (like myself) who use the first days to schmooze it up, and the registration line was virtually non-existent past noon. There would be a few decent panels, but nothing huge. No longer the case. I walked in this morning just shortly after 10am to a crowd that almost matches Saturdays (of the past that is….I fear what this Saturday will look like). The place was hopping. There was barely maneuvering room around the exhibit floor, and the line up for the panels – both of them big for a Thursday – were around the corner (the 6000 room auditorium filled up in no time). In fact, the MC made the comment that this was the first time one of the major studios was presenting on Thursday, and they worried about low turn out. Yeah right. The studio that presented had 3 MAJOR geek-favored titles being talked about – more on that in a moment. Later in the day, the crowd did start to wane, and sanity was restored and I was able to settle into the fun and excitement that is my yearly Comic-con experience.

Over the years I have also noticed that each year, one aspect of the industry stands out over the others. In 2001 it was Anime/Manga. 2002 began the studio reign with Spider-Man and so on. This year, while Manga/Anime was still around on the fringes, I noticed that outside of the Motion Picture and TV companies/properties, Home Entertainment seemed to have the strongest presence this year…most of all, pushing the new HD and Blu-Ray formats. Both Sony and Disney have huge booths touting the Blu-Ray format, and I am even more certain that I am ready to drop my anchor on the Blu-Ray side of things. I also noticed that last year the show HEROES went from 2 people handing out buttons to having a dedicated booth. Hmmm…I wonder if the show is a hit… ;-)

So notice there is a key work missing in the above paragraphs. Comics. It is called Comic-con, right, so you have to wonder, where are the comics? Well, pop culture I think has so over taken comic books that they have literally been engulfed. Sure they are part of the fabric that makes this whole show and in many ways, the big tent-pole movies and TV shows happen, but let’s face it, comics are a little over-rated. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind them at all. I stay on top of certain titles and characters because 90% of every comic property is being looked at for film consideration, and most of the writers are crossing over into the world of feature screenwriting and even directing! Frankly, I don’t come to Comic-con for the comics at all, I come for the film and television announcements and swag, for the atmosphere and also for the opportunity to perhaps find that next great property that will be transformed into the next Harry Potter, etc. I’m a film guy at heart, everything else is just secondary, so over the next few days, don’t expect much in the way of comic reports unless something truly amazing reveals itself. I’d easily burn all my comics for the opportunity to see Orson Welles’ cut of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS the way we were supposed to see it before RKO cut it – just to put a perspective on things. What I’m almost saying is – screw comics, film is more important. I’d almost say change the name of the convention, but then that is just messing with tradition and with the thing that got this show to where it is today.

There were have been some nice changes this year to accommodate the insane crowds. First off, crowd control with exits and entrances were much more organized and civilized, but more importantly, the Q&A sessions. Finally they have gotten the idea to SCREEN the questions before they are asked, and now they have a kill switch. I can’t tell you how many uncomfortable experiences there have been in the past with people asking studio execs and directors to read their script, or asking for hugs from actors, or asking them to help them with their charity (one really put Halle Berry on the spot in 2003, it was bad). So nice additions to keep things running smoothly and still keeping the general public in the process.

Okay, so first back to the exhibit hall. The small guys and comics dealers are still around, but the bigger companies – Marvel, DC, the movie studios – have REALLY gone to town. New Line’s booth is fashioned around this winter’s THE GOLDEN COMPASS whereas Disney has focused on PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. Warner has a lot of riding on next week’s DVD release of 300, and their booth reflects that. They are giving away 300 Spartan shields but I keep missing them! Oh well...what would I do with it once I got it home anyway but shove it in the closet. IFC (the REAL one meaning the American one) and Fox Atomic have huge presences with great giveaways tied to viewing and rating online material (I love my new IFC.com shirt) and Spike and Sci-Fi are on hand as usual with other regulars like Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Tokyopop and others.

But now onto what you REALLY want to hear about…the PANELS. I attended 2 today, both being 2 hour long behemoths, but worth it (well, one of them at least).

First off, there was PARAMOUNT. There are a lot of hot properties coming out of Paramount (owned by Viacom and it also encompasses distributing Dreamworks material as well) and all of them made an appearance in a big way.

They started off with the weakest of their entries…HOT ROD. Hot Rod opens on August 7, and was written, directed and stars the SNL team that brought us the SNL/YouTube favorite, DICK IN A BOX. The guys were goofy and charming, but an extended sequence of the film they showed while funny for a minute, quickly lost it’s charm and just kept going and going. I found it (like the trailer) a pain to sit through, and although this movie will probably do alright at the box office, the movie looks to be forgettable trash.

Then there was STARDUST which was a big entry last year as well. The writer of the comic Neil Gaiman (one of those guys that every fan boy LOVES) was on hand to introduce a very long scene that played quite well. I was originally not excited about this film which opens in the next few weeks, but was kind of won over by the clip.

It was followed by BEOWOLF, the Robert Zemeckis directed motion capture film coming this winter with Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich among others, and Neil Gaiman again involved with this was on hand with the producer to introduce a trailer that went live online last night. The trailer was decent, nothing too exciting though.

To preface this next part, I need to mention that we were all handed a swag bag upon entering the panel, complete with a coupon that got us an exclusive tube of made-for-comic-con only one sheets. Neither Tim Burton nor Johnny Depp was in attendance, but we were given an exclusive SWEENEY TODD poster which was greeted with a round of applause.

Next up was the highly anticipated as-of-yet-to-be-titled J.J. ABRAMS monster film. They started out with the trailer which created a buzz in the auditorium followed by Abrams who came out and talked a bit about how he loves monster flicks, and felt that America needed something like Godzilla (but wasn’t Godzilla…sorry Roy) but that set itself apart from King Kong. He thanked us for the great response the trailer had gotten, and let us know that they are still hard at work on it and in the next six months we’ll be getting way more details like a new trailer, more of an explanation and even more importantly….an actual title. What a tease Mr. Abrams turned out to be but he did provide us with another of those nifty Comic-con exclusive posters which featured the Statue of Liberty with its head ripped off. The crowd didn’t react too well, and you heard a couple of people gasp as it did have a bit of a 9/11 creepy reminder to it. I still think the poster looks great and no Mr. Stinson you can’t have it.

For all this good stuff, you know there had to be one presentation that just didn’t have much to offer, and that was for THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES coming in February. Phil Tippet was on hand with the writer and producer introducing some work in progress footage, and it droned on a little too long without giving many thrills. Although I did like the look of the end product, it felt a little too JUMANJI/GREMLINSy for my taste. Tippet of course though is a genius, responsible for most of the miniature work on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI, so that is promising.

Another exclusive followed, starting with a videotaped message from Judd Apatow touting his next film DRILLBIT TAYLOR which stars Owen Wilson as a homeless guy pretending to be a teacher to help some high school students deal with some nasty bullies. We were treated to an exclusive trailer, and in typical Apatow fashion, it didn’t disappoint. The current Hollywood “it” writer Seth Rogan is one of the writers on it (he was in FREAKS AND GEEKS, 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP and wrote and is in SUPERBAD) so expect great things from this film.

Once past all that, there was only the BIG stuff left to present and we got all that we were waiting for and more.

So as most of you may know, Marvel Films decided that in order to stop letting other studios make more money on their comic property films than they do, they started up a distribution deal with Paramount stating that Marvel will make the films of some of their titles, and Paramount will make sure we see them. IRON MAN is one of the first from this deal, and there is a dedicated panel for Marvel Films featuring the Iron Man film on Saturday. So when the MC came out and mentioned he had a video-taped message from Jon Favreau, everyone got excited. Favreau comes on screen from the “editing room” stating he can’t get away, but that he has some footage to show – tests of what Iron Man will look like. This was followed by ridiculously bad footage from a 1960s Iron Man cartoon. This went on for about 2 minutes then the footage stopped and Favreau bounded onto the stage with a video camera stating that if “we’re going to put his stuff on YouTube, he’s going to put us on there as well”. Very funny. Anyhow, he goes on to push the Saturday panel and mentions that he has footage that he is going to show then, and that we have to go to that to see it. But then he states that he might as well show it now, and then began a almost 10 minute compilation of quick scenes cut together. First off we see a lot of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (pre-Iron Man) and anyone who feared that Downey would be weak in the role, well….this should relieve you that he is AMAZING in the footage. He’s smarmy, he’s arrogant, he’s bold, he’s cocky…perfection. Then, there is an explosion on a military convoy that Downey/Stark is on, and he nearly dies waking up to discover that someone has nursed him back to health by attached some life saving machine to his heart. This is followed by Downey/Stark building an early version of the Iron Man armor, and testing it out in battle. He dukes it out with a bunch of soldiers who try to fire a lot of bullets into him. One great moment has a soldier running up and trying to shoot him point blank in the head, only to have the bullet bounce off the armor and nail him between the eyes instead. But what really got the audience going was the shot of Downy walking through a door in the actual-final Iron Man costume, then shots of him flying around leading F-14s, and doing aerobatics. I’m not big on this character at all, have never read the comic, nor do I care to, but this footage got me pretty pumped for this movie. Who would have ever thought I’d be saying Robert Downey Jr. as a Marvel Super-hero, and he’s good? Downey has always been one of those actors who can do anything – and he’s been to hell and back and still remained a powerful entertainment force. He reminds me of Danny Bonaduce who seems to have more career-lives than a cat. Oh yes, did I mention we got a free IRON MAN Convention exclusive T-shirt?
Once this footage was over, the music we all wanted to hear came piping through the loud speakers. That’s right, Williams’ iconic RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK theme boomed and the reaction was near deafening. As the MC droned on about how the movie was coming next May, and that Spielberg and crew were on location shooting, the screens came on with Steven Spielberg LIVE VIA SATELLITE from the location of THE FOURTH INDIANA JONES ADVENTURE. Spielberg greeted us and we all thought we might be getting a title…but he stated “here we are shooting Indiana Jones and the” and just mouthed the rest with no sound, very funny but DAMMIT still no title. You could see Harrison’s arm breaching the screen from the left, and it wasn’t long until Spielberg introduces Ford who was sitting there in FULL COSTUME. Ford then tells about how much fun it is to get banged up and be all sweaty again, and introduced his first sidekick, RAY WINSTONE sitting next to him. Ray doesn’t say much, didn’t really need to actually. Harrison made a great line about how they’re all back and a little older and Spielberg with perfect timing stated “and a little richer” which I thought was pretty funny. So then Harrison and Spielberg introduce Shia LaBeuf and begin to basically kiss his ass. Spielberg has already stated that he believes Shia to be the next big thing, and TRANSFORMERS has backed him up. Shia on the other hand played it right, as the star struck guy who deemed himself lucky to be working on an Indiana Jones movie with such legendary powerhouses. Then came the big surprise. For months it has been rumored that Karen Allen who played Marion Ravenwood in RAIDERS was returning, but nothing had even come close to being confirmed. Harrison walks off and brings on a director’s chair and unfolds it to read the name Marion Ravenwood…so here it was confirmed as out walked Karen Allen and she was genuinely (or seemed it) excited to be back in the realm of Indiana Jones. So if you ever wonder if the studios take Comic-con seriously, I would say Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford being piped in live on location would be a pretty good indication on how important the show has become. Oh and we got lots of nice little Indiana Jones goodies.
The final movie to come up was STAR TREK 11. The Starfleet Academy prequel hasn’t even started shooting yet – isn’t even done casting so there was nothing to really talk about except that JJ Abrams, the Director of the film and writers Adam Kurtzman and Robert Orci (and another of the producers) were on hand to announce that some casting has been done. But first JJ went on to mention that they are trying to find a way to get Shatner in the film. They want to make sure that the role is big enough for him, and iconic enough for him to make the time to appear, and then went on to announce that Zachary Quinto who plays Sylar in HEROES has been cast in the role of the young Mr. Spock. Then they announced that Leonard Nimoy would don the ears one more time to appear as the older Mr. Spock. Both Quinto and Nimoy were on hand to answer questions. Quinto tried to make it look like he was in character, it didn’t work at all though and he came off looking like a pompous jackass instead. Nice try kid. Once again, more cool swag with an exclusive T-shirt and poster. WOO HOO.

So that ended the Paramount panel and whereas you think that would be enough for one whole convention, no, that was just one panel on one day with 3 days and several panels left to go!

Next up was Lionsgate, and Lionsgate has always had a great entertaining panel at Comic-con. Not so this year. It was dry, it was dull, and nothing really exciting came out of it. First title talked about was GOOD LUCK CHUCK and this was nice to see that the studios think more of Comic-con to bring a comedy rather than just focus on sci-fi, comic and horror properties. Dane Cook and the OMG SMOKIN HOT Jessica Alba were both on hand to talk about the film. Alba was charming, Alba was gorgeous, Alba was flirting with the crowd, Alba has us eating out of the palm of her hand. Dane Cook on the other hand was unfunny, and kept laughing at his unfunny jokes – he was the only one. Hey with TOURGASM coming to Action, does this mean I can now expense this trip? J Anyhow, the focus then moved to the remake of the 1957 Glenn Ford western 3:10 TO YUMA this time with Russell Crowe, Ben Foster and Peter Fonda. Foster and Fonda were both on hand to talk about the film and take questions, but unlike the Paramount titles which were fast and loose, this just went on way too long especially when none of the real major stars were on hand. Ben Foster got annoying after a while and Peter Fonda didn’t contribute much of worth at all. The footage looked good though. Then came MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN and on hand were the stars (can’t think of their names off the top of my head…oh wait…Vinnie Jones from SNATCH was one) and the writers, the director and short story author Clive Barker. Barker was a RIOT. He was so trashed, and so nuts that it was like watching a train wreck on stage. However, once again they chose to keep going when they should have moved on. They showed an exclusive trailer which was not so great, and I was happy when they finally went to the final film of the panel which was SAW IV. The director, producer and Tobin Bell (who plays Jigsaw in all the films) were on hand to discuss, and there was a finished clip. Some interesting information came out of this one though in that the MPAA has awarded SAW IV with an NC-17 rating and Comic-con banned the 5 minutes of footage the director originally wanted to bring to the show with him! I’m not surprised as this series has been getting nastier by the entry. Actually the SAW films have impressed me as to just how consistent they have been. I didn’t mind SAW III which I just saw a few weeks ago, and a SAW IV was inevitable. They also announced that a SAW V is in the works, and that the director after moving on to a personal project called REPO (in the spirit of HOSTEL and SAW – nasty) will be then remaking the David Cronenberg cult classic scanners.

Thankfully the Lionsgate panel then ended, and I went for another few rounds in the exhibit hall. Hungry and tired, I am now back in the hotel preparing for tomorrow which brings: Warner Bros.. – GET SMART (from my former employer Andrew Lazar), THE INVASION, etc.; 20th Century Fox – including ALIENS VS. PREDATOR 2 and HITMAN; New Line Cinema – THE GOLDEN COMPASS and Warner Home Video with 300 the special edition and BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT. Ridley Scott will be on hand as well for that one, so I am super excited. It promises to be a jam packed day, so I bid you adieu until tomorrow from San Diego.