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Jul 31, 2008

2008 SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON: DAY 1 - WOLVERINE, TRON 2 and why are all those girls screaming over TWILIGHT?

I always love July, not because it’s summertime (although I do like that as well) but because every year it’s time to make the pilgrimage to San Diego for COMIC-CON International, and after the mayhem and chaos of last year, this year was looking to be bigger and badder than ever. First of all, the schedule is so jam packed, there’s something going on almost every minute that can’t be missed. Me, I tend to stick to the big movie panels, so luckily most of them are focused in the main hall, Hall H, and usually, Thursday is a pretty low-key day. But not this year as 20th Century Fox’s panel was at 10:30am and it was a full day after that.

Initially looking at the schedule this year, I figured that this may be the year that Comic-con would kill me. I knew I was going to have to force time to even eat let alone sleep as the con pretty much goes from 9:30 when the exhibit hall opens, until well past midnight with film screenings and previews. My initial trip to Southern California only added to the stress in that on Monday I left my job and finished moving out of my apartment, spent all day Tuesday traveling and then had a marathon of meetings in Wednesday that actually kept me from getting to San Diego when I had originally planned, and I missed preview night. Although I was smart to get there early (and took Amtrak) as many people reported that the 5 freeway from Los Angeles was bottlenecked thanks to a big rig accident, and the usually just over 2 hour drive became a 6 hour ordeal (as a friend of mine experienced first hand, as did many convention panel members). So when the doors opened at 9:30 that morning and the hordes of people descended upon the exhibit hall looking for freebies and giveaways, I did a quick once through then was off to Hall H to get in line for 20th Century Fox.

The entrance to Hall H was delayed thanks to an “incident” inside the hall (as it was described by a security employee) which I was guessing had to do with a downed curtain (it’s a huge curtain) and they had to close off the area until everything was deemed to be safe again. Thanks to everything now running behind, by the time I entered the hall, the panel had already begun and on stage Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, director Scott Derrickson and producer Erwin Stoff were already discussing the remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I have to say I was unimpressed by the initial trailer that had come out some weeks earlier, so I wasn’t as excited for this panel as I was for others that were to follow. There was also a different vibe in the hall as I would say there was a larger female fan presence thanks to of course the participation of Keanu Reeves who was more convincing than the director was in selling the movie. The director was going out of his way to reference just how much attention was paid to the original film, and also announced that the Internet rumors were not in any way true, and indeed there would be a GORT in the movie (how could there not be?). So as usual, we got a treat of some advanced footage, one scene being the expanded interrogation sequence from the trailer which has Keanu taking a lie detector test, then turning the tables to escape his Earth captors which was followed by a quick clip of Keanu bonding with the child character of Jacob (played by Jaden Smith) and ended with a significant montage of footage which featured quite a bit of Klaatu’s space vessel which in this case instead of a huge saucer, is a giant glowing sphere. None of this however was successful in convincing me that this was going to be in any way a good movie and I feel like I should just stay home on December 12 and watch the original which I own on DVD instead of hitting the multiplex – but I did get a cool T-shirt out of the deal.

Next up was the film adaptation of the video game MAX PAYNE and the panelists included stars Mark Wahlberg (inciting more female screams of joy) Mila Junis and Ludacris as well as director John Moore. This is another movie which I was not that excited about, and the footage shown really didn’t change my outlook – essentially a couple of action sequences, one which was decent of a gun battle in a subway restroom.

It was the next “surprise” guest that really incited the fan boys of the crowd. Out walks Hugh Jackman and after the howls subsided and he went on and on thanking people (including the creator of the Wolverine character) for the career he has been given thanks to playing Wolverine, he had a surprise exclusive sneak preview (they had just completed principle photography, and you don’t DARE show up to Comic-con without footage or else…) of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. Unlike the previous 2 films, this one I was excited about and the footage did not disappoint including first looks of the characters Deadpool and Gambit. Liev Schreiber looked great as Sabretooth and needless to say the crowd was more than pleased with what they saw and it left me pretty much forgetting everything from the previous 2 movies that had been presented.

Seeing as how all the big presentations are in Hall H, Thursday was going to be spent almost entirely in there, so next up was the Summit Entertainment panel which was the company’s first Comic-con presentation. The moments leading up to this panel however were quite something. It became very obvious very quickly that the crowd was primarily composed of young females as they started yelling and screaming every time the TWILIGHT logo appeared on the screen which took my by great surprise as I had known that this movie was being made, but didn’t think it to be a big deal whatsoever. It got so crazy that the crowd of ecstatic girls began chanting relentlessly TWILIGHT, TWILIGHT, TWILIGHT which by this point had me completely lost as to what all the buzz was about. More on TWILIGHT in a moment, for the fans first had to suffer (or so you would think they were suffering by the way they reacted) through 2 other film presentations, the first being PUSH an X-MEN/HEROES like story dealing with people with extraordinary powers being hunted by a government agency. The panel had several cast and crew members including Camilla Belle, Chris Evans, Djimon Honsou and director Paul McGuigan and was supposed to have star Dakota Fanning who ended up coming at the tail end thanks to being one of the casualties of the bad traffic on the south 5 freeway. There of course was a sequence shown which was a fairly intense chase scene through a marketplace-like food court. Next up was KNOWING Alex Proyas’ new film starring Nicolas Cage (a past Comic-con panelist who was not present this year) about a teacher who discovers a coded sheet in a time capsule which spells out a series of nasty disasters. I love Alex Proyas’ work. Finally the crowd got what they came for, TWILIGHT.

So TWILIGHT is the first in a 4 book series of books popular with teenage girls and it’s basically a vampire soap opera. As the cast of largely unknowns (well to me at least) was trotted out on stage with director Catherine Hardwicke and book author Stephanie Meyer the teenage girl screaming reached an almost deafening crescendo. The couple beside me (a little older than most of us) had their ears plugged almost the entire time and sat with a very sour look on their faces while the women a few seats over kept screaming at the young (male) stars “TAKE OFF YOUR SHIRT” (that was coming from a lot of areas of the auditorium…it was surreal) mostly targeted at star Robert Pattinson, best known for playing the role of Cedric in HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. So this cast was composed entirely of young and beautiful people, all of which had absolutely nothing of interest to say whatsoever, but the girls in the crowd didn’t care. When one of them was asked what drew him to the material and the decision to play his role, he floundered uncomfortably for a good 5 minutes not having a clue what to say (he should have just said what it more than likely was…the paycheck) and what was even more funny was the fact that nobody on the panel even tried to come to his rescue. With all the teenage frenzy going on in the crowd, and the panel members pretending to get all flustered and humble when the crowd kept screaming how hot they were (Pattinson was the worst…he had that young rock star/James Dean wannbe look and you could tell in his eyes that he knew he was hot even when he was trying to fake the “what, surely not me” approach) this panel was quickly becoming kind of annoying, yet the scene they showed, a pretty extensive fight scene between the main vampires, was pretty good and the whole experience made me want to at least check out this book so I could at least know what exactly the big deal is all about. The next day the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER even picked up on this and had an article about how TWILIGHT had the most excitement out of anything shown that day. It really was something to behold (and finally made me feel old as there was finally a pop-culture phenomenon that finally had managed to slip past me without notice).

Next up was a Disney panel for the film RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, a modern updating of the 1970s ESCAPE FROM and RETURN TO WITCH MOUNTAIN films (both from Disney) starring Carla Gugino (SPY KIDS and she is hot, hot, hot), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and directed by Andy Fickman (THE GAME PLAN) all whom were on the panel. Johnson is always entertaining, and Fickman revealed that the original kids from the 1970s films had major roles in this one, and that they had gone back to the original book which is a little darker. A mock-up trailer was shown (with many effects shots not completed) and I have to say I was excited by this as it looks pretty good. But it was the surprise to follow that really made this panel worth attending.

People got up and started to leave, and the moderator requested that we all remain seated as they had a little something extra they wanted to show us. The lights came down, and up comes the Disney logo followed by a first ever look at a film I didn’t even know they were making (although I know it has been talked about for AGES) and that is TRON 2. Now being a child of the 80s, and a fan of video games, TRON is one of those movies that define my generation, and this is one sequel that would be difficult to sell given that video games now look like photo real environments with real 3D characters and situations. But TRON 2 had me sold with an updated version of the cycle race, and quick shots of returning star Jeff Bridges, and man did this thing look bad-ass. Needless to say, the crowd went absolutely nuts, and for me, this became the highlight of the day and my guess was could be the highlight of the weekend as a whole. I’ve heard this is now somewhere online, so I would check it out if you can find it.

We were then treated to an advance look at the Lionsgate direct-to-DVD animated release of HULK VS. WOLVERINE. Over the past few years, these direct-to-DVD animated films have gone where live-action features are prohibited thanks to rights, costs, etc., and past entries have included IRON MAN, DR. STRANGE and 2 AVENGERS movies. The film itself was about ½ hour long, and thanks to the direct-to-DVD status, it was extremely violent with a lot of blood and action. The crowd was pleased with that as well as the featuring of fan favorite character Deadpool. I thought the story was kind of weak and crammed too much into the 30 minutes, but overall wasn’t horrible.

The final panel of the day in Hall H was the Dark Castle presentation moderated by producer Joel Silver and featuring the new Guy Ritchie movie (and he was on the panel) ROCKNROLLA starring Gerard Butler (300). This movie looks to be Guy Ritchie’s return to SNATCH and LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS territory, and didn’t look too bad, and again the females in the audience swooned over hunk Gerard Butler. Also presented was the film NINJA ASSASSIN starring Asian singing sensation Rain, who was kind of annoying and pompous as he kept stating how great he was (was he kidding? It was hard to tell with the choppy English, but again, the females were in 7th heaven). Silver kept going on about how he wanted to make a kick-ass Ninja movie which begs the question from me….were we all wanting a kick-ass Ninja movie? I thought the footage was so-so, and wasn’t overly excited by this.

So you would think that would be enough for one day but NO, there was still plenty of nighttime programming to be had starting with the Lionsgate panel promoting PUNISHER: WARZONE (with producer Gale Anne Hurd), SAW V and REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA and “star” Paris Hilton was in the house. However, I stupidly decided that eating had to occur, and regardless of the fact I arrived at the door ½ hour early, the lineup was so extremely long and the house already full that I had to abandon all hope of entering. I was very bummed as I definitely wanted to check out PUNISHER, and the SAW panels are always a lot of fun. So I shifted gears and went to check out the tail end of the STAR WARS FAN FILM AWARDS. As always, there were some insanely geeky entries, and some were good and most were not. The final award is chosen by Lucas himself and a video presentation of him announcing the winner gave Lucas the appearance of being Jabba The Hutt. The winner was PADME, a Star Wars rip-off of JUNO and the film itself was pretty awful.

So to finish off day 1, I decided to stick around and take in the new Warner Premiere direct-to-DVD sequel to THE LOST BOYS, THE LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE. Introduced by Corey Feldman, the movie itself wasn’t that bad at all, perfect for the made-for-DVD format, and showed that Warner Premiere has a mandate of making quality films even though they won’t be getting a theatrical release. Exhausted beyond belief (it was after midnight after all and I had been there since 9am) I did not take in the cast and crew Q&A, and called it a day knowing that if this was only day 1, I had better have energy enough for day 2.