Last year, Saturday was utter chaos. Not only was there a heat wave in San Diego taking the temperatures up into the low 100s (oh those people in Darth Vader and Chewbacca costumes were hating life), but the line for registration on top of the people already attending was the longest it had ever been. By noon, they had to start turning people away…most of which had stood out in the intense sun for hours, some in costumes that couldn’t have been comfortable in the heat. Then there were the lines, so immense that they clogged hallways as they snaked around the building for miles. The exhibit floor in most places you could barely move there were traffic jams everywhere. So this year when it was announced that all 57,000 4-day passes had already sold out, as had the 1-day Saturday passes, I expected that this year’s to be just as chaotic if not more so. But luckily, the convention planners had thought ahead. First they had come up with a reasonable and very efficient way of handling the lines, so every line moved fast. Second, they cut down the amount of people they let in this year – I’m not sure if that is their doing, or the convention center administration or the City/Fire Marshall. Either way, Saturday felt pretty normal considering the sell-out, although there were still the lines. One thing I noticed this year that was lacking in the past is that EVERY room and every panel no matter how small or large it was had a line up. The programming department went out of their way to spread things around, putting big panels up against each other meaning if you missed one big ticket item, you definitely had the chance to get to another. Then there was the fact that they spread the hot ticket content over the 4 days a little more rather than just sticking it all on Friday and Saturday when the crowds are larger.
Okay, so I had plans to take in at least 3 panels, with a possibility of a 4th. Thanks to the fact that I hadn’t eaten all day though, I only got my 3 which I was ok with because the titles for the 4th panel were good, but not enough to get me to the point of possibly passing out from lack of food.
I skipped the first panel, THE SIMPSONS, a yearly entry on the Comic-con schedule which as the creative team discussing the upcoming season, showing surprise clips, and this year also discussing the feature film which opened the day before nationwide in theatres from 20th Century Fox. I like THE SIMPSONS, but have been to the panel in past years, so felt that I would take an hour or so and cruise around the exhibit floor as many booths bust out some new things for the big Saturday crowd.
So after giving the exhibit hall a thorough once-over, and running into a few friends of mine in the process (not to mention making a couple of cool purchases) I got a copy that a friend had provided to me of the classic ARCHIES animated show signed by the series creator and musical voice behind the ARCHIES (the guy who sang “Sugar, Sugar”). Very old-school, but brought at least a little geek nostalgia into the now very forward thinking Comic-con experience.
Then it was back to Hall H for the panels. It was at this point that I realized that all the panels I attended were in the same big room, as I pretty much focused on all the big bling items meaning the Motion Picture Studios. While I missed some of the intimacy of the smaller rooms (if Adult Swim had presented this year I would have at least gone to that - that panel is usually an absolute riot and they have the best giveaways) I was very content with the press conference-like panels that have now become the major drawing point of the convention.
First off was Rogue Pictures. They started with a title that I am very much dreading, BALLS OF FURY. I have seen this trailer quite a few times in the theatre, and think it looks absolutely dreadful. However, I did not realize that many of the creative minds behind RENO 911! were involved with the film, and last year, the RENO 911!: MIAMI (ironically I am writing this while waiting for a connecting flight in Miami International Airport) was one of the funniest as all the actors did the panel in character and never broke for a second. So when this started, Reno director/star and director of this Ben Garant and main star Dan Fogler were on hand and then out came Thomas Lennon (Lieutenant Jim Dangle in RENO 911!) wearing a spandex workout jumper, waving a ping-pong paddle (if you don’t know, the movie is a comedy dealing with an ENTER THE DRAGON-like Ping-Pong competition). Lennon and Garant had some back and forth about how they had discussed to do the panel in character again, and the director bantered back that he changed his mind since the jumper looked “too gay.” This set the tone for what was an absolutely hilarious panel (everything being “too gay” was the main theme of the comedy). Christopher Walken is in the film (but was not on hand) and was the butt of most of the cast member’s jokes. And any guest that dared ask a question had to be prepared for a little ribbing. One of them, a very attractive woman, was dressed in that oh-so-provocative Princess Leia slave outfit from RETURN OF THE JEDI (Ross from FRIENDS would be very happy about that) and she became a major target for the panel. Another came up with a voice altering OPTIMUS PRIME mask on (and announced himself as Optimus Prime) and they ripped into him pretty badly, but all in good fun. Just when you thought this panel couldn’t get any more bizarre, veteran character actor James Hong appeared (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, BLADE RUNNER, and many more!) and started to threaten the panelists challenging Lennon to a ping pong duel. Then he turned to the crowd and started making jokes about his character in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and later started caressing one of the panel members and they broke out into a provocative tango while Lennon was speaking. This panel was so funny and entertaining, that I may even break ranks and see the movie in a theatre (I would have seen it at some point anyway) just to show these guys some appreciation.
Next up was a thriller/horror movie entitled THE STRANGERS with Liv Tyler making her first ever convention appearance of any kind (and oh yeah, she’s gorgeous) and Scott Speedman. After the usual exclusive trailer, the panel took some questions, Liv of course getting many about her experiences on LORD OF THE RINGS and she even bust out a phrase in Elvish for us. She was delightful and very considerate to anyone who asked a question as was Scott Speedman who just had a natural kind of confidence that made him instantly likeable. I’m not sure about the film though as the footage shown made it look like any run of the mill thriller out there. It concerns a couple, who buys their first house, and are terrorized by a stranger wearing a cloth sack mask who is intent on killing them. The good cast may be the only thing that can save this one.
Neil Marshall was at Comic-con last year to promote THE DESCENT and here he is back again this time to promote DOOMSDAY, a post-apocalyptic MAD MAX-like epic where the world after having befallen to a deadly virus has descended into, what else, chaos. They showed an exclusive clip with a voice-over by Malcolm McDowell and while the moderator of the panel raved about it, and asked that it be shown twice, I was less than thrilled by what I saw. I found it looked too much like MAD MAX, and just seemed to have every post-apocalyptic cliché imaginable – crazed warriors, government cover-up, deadly virus, society locked behind large walls, etc.
Now was the one thing I dreaded, the point where nature called and I had to exit my seat in a super-packed hall to take care of business just as the Disney panel was about to start. So because of this, I missed the exclusive footage from THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (#2 behind THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE) and arrived just in time to see the panel introduced including producer Mark Johnson (RAIN MAN, THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE) and some key personnel including the costume designer, production designer, weapons designer and one of the visual effects team. Live via satellite was director Andrew Adamson (who also directed THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE) and the Ben Barnes who is playing the role of Prince Caspian in the film from London where they had just wrapped shooting for the day. They had done this same thing 2 years back with LION, THE WITCH…and there had been a 2 second delay which had created quite a few awkward moments with panelists talking over one another, and the same problem was present here but handled much better. Most of the questions mentioned “the awesome footage” and the amazing looking creatures so I was super bummed I missed. That’s what I get for trying to stay hydrated. They also announced that they plan to finish the series of books, 1 a year with THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER to follow Caspian in 2009 (directed by Michael Apted) much in the fashion of LORD OF THE RINGS so that they don’t lose their production team and can deal with their aging child stars. Luckily, unlike Harry Potter, the characters in NARNIA age in the books, so it will seem more natural.
In between the 2 main events they premiered the new trailer for NATIONAL TREASURE : BOOK OF SECRETS which looked great! I liked NATIONAL TREASURE but didn’t love it, and this trailer impressed me. The story this time involves Nicolas Cage trying to get his hand on a secret book outlining every conspiracy theory and answer to every US Historical question that only the President has access to so that he can clear his ancestor of having been involved in the assassination of President Lincoln. Another film to look out for this December in theatres (21st I believe is the exact release date).
I was very excited for the next segment of the Disney panel, as it was the ever-popular PIXAR section. RATATOUILLE has been one of the best movies of the summer, further cementing the creative genius that is the Pixar team. So when Andrew Stanton came out, he made a very impassioned speech about how he felt the sense of wonder he had seen in the 70s and 80s with films like E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND had kind of been lost somewhere. So here was this story of WALL-E, a robot tale that the creative team had discussed years before following the success of Toy Story, but somehow kept being pushed to the back burner. His speech was interspersed with several small promotional clips giving us an idea of what the character of WALL-E was all about. Then he brought out veteran sound effects master Ben Burtt (STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES) who outlined a sound structure for the robots along with some test footage of each of the major characters. That is when it clicked in. WALL-E is going to virtually be a silent film. Imagine a movie populated entirely with R2-D2s and you get an idea of where they are going with this. You really got the sense that the Pixar team was taking great care to push the character of Wall-E over the film itself and the Pixar brand, and it had the effect of really getting me behind this movie. And if that wasn’t enough, Stanton then introduced a 5 minute or so scene from the movie. The movie involved our robot friend Wall-E, a garbage compactor druid who has been left Earth to clean up while all the humans have left in order that the planet can be cleaned up. The humans, who have now become lazy and fat on their spaceship, just never came back, and poor Wall-E kept on doing his job for years while others of his kind died off. During this time, Wall-E gets an imagination, and starts to feel and dream. The clip had him compacting garbage and finding things from human past that he collects for future study. Then a spaceship lands almost on top of him, and the clip ends as Wall-E stares out at the ship in amazement. I thought RATATOUILLE was great, but after seeing this presentation and the corresponding clip, I am of the belief that WALL-E could be nothing short of a magical masterpiece. I hope Stanton and company prove me right, and since it is Pixar who have more hits than misses (and their misses aren’t even that much of a miss at all – CARS for one) there is about a 90% probability factor that it will meet expectations.
Knowing what the lineup looked like outside, there was no way nature could haul me out of that hall for the next panel as it was the highly anticipated Marvel Films panel. This is after all Comic-con so the fusion of film and comic books, especially with what was on the menu for the day, was going to bring in a lot of people.
Marvel didn’t disappoint either. First off was THE INCREDIBLE HULK and actors Liv Tyler and Edward Norton were on hand (William Hurt was supposed to be there, but his shooting schedule didn’t permit it) as was director Louis Lettier (TRANSPORTER), producer Gale Anne Hurd (ALIENS) and Marvel heads Kevin Feig and Avi Arad. Since the film started shooting only 2 weeks ago, they had wrapped shooting for the day that morning at 7am eastern time in Toronto, and immediately boarded a plan for SD only to have to get BACK on a plane to go back to Toronto that night for shooting. Also due to the fact that production had just started, there was no footage to be shown BUT the producers did show a mock up of what they were planning the Hulk to look like and I have to say, it looked 100 times better than the one from the 2003 Ang Lee film. As you may already be aware of, the panel revealed that they are pretending that the 2003 Lee movie doesn’t even exist and are starting from scratch. Edward Norton showed how much of a comic book fan he was by revealing his inspirations for the script (he is one of the writers) and which Hulk books and storylines were his favorite – but he did look exhausted. They also revealed that they were using the popular 1970s/80s CBS TV show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno as inspiration as well. This was a very informative panel especially given the early production fact. Louis Lettier did mention that the movie will be packed with homages and easter eggs that should keep many of the fans happy.
IRON MAN had already been presented by Jon Favreau at the Paramount Pictures panel on Thursday, but since Marvel is producing it, here it was again only this time Favreau was joined by cast members Terence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey, Jr. (Feig and Arad remained on stage for this as well). So they showed the footage they had premiered on Thursday again, and the crowd went absolutely nuts. Earlier in the day, they put the “early” Iron Man costume out on the exhibit floor at the Marvel booth (picture will be attached at some point) and it seemed as though fans of the comic were very happy with what they saw. Robert Downey, Jr. was a natural on the panel. He was funny, he riffed off his fellow panelists and generally gave them all a hard time (especially Gwyneth Paltrow) and then Favreau brought out Stan Lee (who has his usual Marvel adaptation cameo) and he and Robert Downey, Jr. made fun of each other a bit. Stan Lee told a story of how he had lunch with Robert Downey, Jr, and was treated like a superstar at the restaurant. Downey kept mentioning that since they went to lunch, Lee could now get the best table and service. Overall a great panel, and I was excited to see the footage again (which they screened twice this time) which was the highlight of all the comic-book movie adaptations sneak peeked at the show.
I missed the Columbia/Screen Gems panel because I hadn’t eaten all day and finally it caught up to me. So to avoid passing out, I went for dinner but hear I didn’t miss much. The highlights were the new RESIDENT EVIL movie entitled RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION (another series that just keeps going, and going) and Milla Jovovich and writer Paul Anderson were on hand. I heard this was also one of the few times they had to employ the kill switch as Anderson, who directed the abominable ALIEN VS. PREDATOR was told by a fan the movie sucked…but the rest was caught off. Anderson answered “I’m sorry” and Jovovich quipped “that’s because I wasn’t in it.”
Then they previewed SUPERBAD which is released nationwide on August 17, and the cast and creative team were all on hand. I like the looks of this movie, and from what I hear, it received a great reaction from the crowd. The kids from the film had been roaming the convention floor and reportedly were a huge hit, particularly Christopher Mintz-Plasse who plays “McLuvin.”
Saturday night is Masquerade night, and because of the now huge crowd that shows up, not only is there the main ballroom presentation, but it is broadcast on a large screen in 3 other rooms – a nice addition for those who don’t like standing in like for 3 hours just to get a ticket/seat (and they feed us in one of the rooms with a full service bar something the people in the main ballroom don’t get). I stuck around for most of it, and it was better than it has been in past years. There were 3 that I found particularly amusing. A kid dressed as GHOST RIDER came out on a “motorcycle” (a bicycle dressed up) and then couldn’t get the kick stand to take so the guy he was supposed to “battle” on stage came over to help him with it. It was sad and hilarious at the same time. Then a couple came out in killer PINKY AND THE BRAIN costumes and did a whole routine and then my personal favorite, GREASY POTTER as a group of kids in Harry Potter costumes did a whole production number to GREASE tunes (greased lightning in this case being a broomstick, summer lovin’ between Hermione and Malfoy, etc.). Both the Pinky and the Brain and Greasy Potter entries won prizes.
Also notable, they had a “10th Anniversary Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” screening that night of 2 episodes (one being the season 6 musical episode ONCE MORE WITH FEELING) and the line for that was ridiculously long! The charms of Buffy and the Scoobys never seem to die.
So by this point, on the verge of collapsing from sheer exhaustion, I called it a day, but what a day it was! Long live Comic-con!