This year, the big comic book “event” movie being touted definitely is WATCHMEN, directed by fan-boy favorite Zack Snyder, released by Warner Bros. next March, and to begin Friday with a bang was the WATCHMEN panel. In the past, Warner Bros. has done what most of the studios do is stake out an hour and a half, and roll out as many films in that time as they possibly can. This year WB has split up their panels with their two major films, WATHCMEN today and TERMINATOR: SALVATION tomorrow. So of course the line to Hall H was super-long, but things were running more smoothly than they had for the Fox panel – I guess no curtains fell this time.
Last year, WB had featured a WATCHMEN panel with Snyder and the entire cast, and the movie hadn’t even begun production yet so there was no footage whatsoever. This year, the movie had wrapped and the trailer had premiered in front of THE DARK KNIGHT…but instead of just showing us what we had all obviously already seen (yeah, like there was anyone at Comic-con that HADN’T seen THE DARK KNIGHT or the trailer) they introduced a montage of footage that looked pretty great, including a lot of Billy Crudup’s blue-man character making people implode (I am ashamed to say that I have never read the WATCHMEN graphic novel, and probably was the only one in the convention hall that had not done so. Needless to say, I have purchased it and will be fixing that immediately). The entire cast was on stage, and the 6,500 seat hall was jam packed as was expected. Of course, as always the case when dealing with an Alan Moore property, the subject of Moore’s disdain for the filmmaking process was broached, but the co-creator of the WATCHMEN graphic novel was enthusiastic in his praise of how his material had been handled. As they did when the 300 footage premiered at Comic-con and blew absolutely everyone away, they replayed the WATCHMEN footage to an overly receptive crowd. We were all handed tickets for a free WATCHMEN t-shirt that featured the famous tagline (“Who Watches The Watchmen”) and the bloody, tilted smiley face. However, I almost didn’t get one. I went to the booth mentioned on the ticket only to be told that they were all out. I was completely bummed. Luckily, when I swung by later, they had re-stocked. I had experienced the same thing at the convention T-shirt booth for when I went to buy one, they were all sold out of everything except for XL, and anyone who knows me knows I would swim in that size. It shocked me how they could run out knowing that the place is jam packed (and this was barely into day 2 with 2 days left), so it shocked me even more when WB ran out of shirts knowing that at least 6,500 people had tickets for them, and this all in the span of a few short hours.
I had planned to take in a few more panels that afternoon, including the Universal WOLFMAN panel, Lionsgate THE SPIRIT and Activision’s GHOSTBUSTERS: THE VIDEO GAME, however, I had received a call and had to run off for an hour or so to fill out some paperwork for a personal issue and it interrupted my pre-planned schedule – but none of those was an earth-shattering loss. However, usually my Thursday consists of hitting one panel and taking the rest of the time to roam the exhibit floor, and since Thursday had been back-to-back panels, I decided to take the day to jaunt around and see what the studios were doing this year.
Most of the studios were there with big impressive booths and plenty of signings and giveaways, Warner Bros. had their usual set-up, and Paramount/Dreamworks, even though they didn’t have any panels scheduled (surprising given that next year there is TRANSFORMERS 2, STAR TREK and G.I. JOE), had their usual T-shirt/poster giveaways. They had a great promotion where you were given a scratch card with a Star Trek rank on it, and you had to find 5 other people with different ranks to collectively get a swag bag. I didn’t have the patience or time to go through with this, but liked the idea that the studios just weren’t tossing freebies out randomly, but making people actually work and think to get the cool stuff. I did however manage to get a collection of G.I. JOE character posters.
As always, DC, Marvel, Star Wars, IFC, ABC Family, Sony and Lionsgate had huge booths and most of the time, you couldn’t move between them. Walt Disney Home Video’s booth was really bare bones this year, primarily focused on the promotion of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS Collector’s edition due on Blu-Ray this fall. Also I noticed that the studios, with the exception of WB were limiting the number of bags they gave out. WB on the other hand had differently branded bags promoting titles like PUSHING DAISIES, CHUCK, WATCHMEN, WONDER WOMAN (animated made-for-DVD movie) and SMALLVILLE. Every year there is one company that has a big bag that you see everyone carrying, and for the second year in a row, WB held the title for best bags. SCI-FI also had a great branding idea taking off from Saks’ Big Brown Bag, in this case with a BSG themed BIG FRAKKIN’ BAG. I had to stake out the booth for quite a while to get my hands on one of these. I also want to say Fox did a great job by supplying us with free poster tubes rather than bags. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten exclusive posters only to freak as they nearly get crushed in my swag filled bags.
I was surprised to see that NEW LINE CINEMA, even though they had been swallowed up by Warner Bros. still had their own booth, and it was sharing space with WB’s direct-to-DVD label WARNER PREMIERE. With New Line, you could get your picture taken behind bars and on a unicorn as a promotion for HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY, and Warner Premiere’s area was focused on THE LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE direct-to-DVD sequel which I had seen (and liked) the previous night.
The comic book vendors and independent press though couldn’t bee too happy, as it seemed their booths were all kind of shoved to the outskirts of the exhibit hall, and were definitely less populated than the big media area which thanks to the masses, you could barely maneuver through (I think I stepped on or bumped into at least 100 people in a few short minutes). Even so, most of the areas seemed to doing well sales wise as most conventioneers were heading out to the nether-regions to escape the insanity that was focused in the middle seeking peace and in the process making purchases. A popular comics retailer who every year writes a daily newsletter from San Diego was really bitter this year, slamming the convention for its treatment of the comics people and selling out to Hollywood. I can see what he was saying, however I also think that right now Hollywood is driving the comics business more than the books are, and the crowds wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for those big tent-pole movies like IRON MAN and THE DARK KNIGHT. Plus, this has been rapidly growing over the past 3-4 years, so this can’t be that much of a surprise to him. Every year I keep thinking that the convention is going to combust, and this year, I thought it was more on the verge of doing so than it ever had been and it seemed everyone else thought so as well. I also noticed that most of the hired models walking around in skimpy outfits had gone down, as well as the adult area had disappeared.
There were also a lot more video game companies represented this year as Capcom, THQ, Activision, X-Box, Playstation 3 and others had large booths and a section of the hall all to themselves. I got the chance to play a little bit of a level of GHOSTBUSTERS: THE VIDEO GAME and have to say I was pleased with what I saw (I’ll definitely be purchasing it). Also took a look at THE FORCE UNLEASHED which had stations set up at the Lucasfilm/Lucasarts/Star Wars booth and was greatly impressed. BLU-RAY was also in full effect, especially at the Sony booth who gave a full demonstration of the enhanced qualities every half hour.
As with past years, Friday was also Star Wars day, but you could tell that the amount of costumes in the hall way was much less than they have been in the past. I could usually count at least 10-15 Darth Vaders and several full units of Stormtroopers on the floor, but those numbers were about half what they usually are. It may be the fact that the show sells out so fast that the usual people just aren’t able to make it in like they used to…or are being scared away. I also noticed a lot more old-school Star Trek uniforms around…probably thanks to the upcoming JJ Abrams movie out next spring. Recently Star Trek has become very passé, but you can always tell the current fads by the amount of costumes at the con. As you would expect, there were an abundance of Jokers, most of which went for the new Heath Ledger look.
So back to the issue of standing in enormous lines…first off, I don’t think there was a single booth in the convention hall that didn’t have some sort of line going into or from it. Even if you wanted a bag from Warner Bros., you had to stand in a line that went all the way around the (sizeable) booth. Then there were the lines to get into panels. Usually, unless you are silly and show up for a big panel 5 minutes before start, you’ll usually get into Hall H because let’s face it, 6,500 people is quite a few, and most people seeing the crazy line will give up before they decide to waste time for what they think is a fruitless effort. However, I noticed that thanks to so many big events happening at the same time, many big panels were taking place in smaller rooms, and if you weren’t prepared to dedicate more than an hour or 2 to standing in line, you weren’t getting in. This I discovered the hard way as I tried to get in the line for the ADULT SWIM panels for THE VENTURE BROTHERS and ROBOT CHICKEN. Knowing it was in a smaller room, I quickly gave up hope after walking a good 10 minutes (and this was more than an hour before start) to find the end of the line only to find that there was no room left so people were turning away. Needless to say I did not make it into Adult Swim which in the past has been one of my favorite panels (first time missing it) as it’s a complete and utter riot, and the giveaways are usually great! I think that in future years the planners might need to reconsider how many big panels they line up against each other given the smaller rooms. I even found that most of the smaller comic book and graphic novel panel rooms were also jam packed, as was ballroom 20, the 2nd biggest room that primarily houses all the TV themed panels (although I notice that Saturday’s schedule has LOST and HEROES in Hall H which is usually reserved for feature films only).
It was nice to see though that at least Comic-con keeps the tradition of Anime rooms going, this year with 3 rooms of back-to-back anime programming running all day and all night. I have to say that this is a welcome rest from walking around, and I enjoy chilling out in a cool and not-so-full room while enjoying some anime on a big screen, many of which I have never seen before. I do however miss the films room. Up until about 3 years ago, there used to be a room dedicated to just running 16mm prints of feature films all day. That has now been limited to nighttime only, and the prints are now digitally projected from DVD and Blu-Ray. The basement kind of feeling that the 16mm projection had made it feel like we were the hard cores that truly enjoyed watching films, and this wasn’t just like going to the multiplex and watching something with the general masses. Oh well, I guess all good things must come to an end and technology must take over at some point, plus logistically I’m sure it’s a lot less difficult to manage.
So by this point, I was so absolutely exhausted, and having only eaten pretzels and granola bars all day, I decided to eat an actual sit-down meal of REAL food, and rest up for Day 3/Saturday is a day that is not for the faint of heart!