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Aug 2, 2008

2008 SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON: DAY 3 - HEROES, LOST, TERMINATOR: SALVATION and THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS

You know Saturday is crazy the moment you walk up to the convention center. The crowds are larger, there is an indescribable energy in the air, and the line leading into Hall H is (and I’m not exaggerating) miles long. Right from the door, it stretches on, then zigzags 4 ways, then goes all the way down the side of the convention center, around the back all the way to seaport village and beyond. Luckily, I get there early enough so ultimately I don’t see truly how far it goes, but the crowds walking past give an indication that it could in fact stretch all the way up the 5 freeway into Orange County. The comedy of course is listening to all the newbies freak out about the line, and all get worried about whether or not they are going to be able to get in. However, even though it took me about 10-15 minutes to get to my spot, the previous year I had been farther back and got in with plenty of room to spare (again, 6,500 seats are a lot to fill).

Saturday is of course THE day to be at Comic-con. The biggest panels, the best costumes which of course all leads up to the Masquerade later that evening, and it always seems that the biggest panel always kicks off the day – and today was no exception as the programmers had moved the HEROES panel into the room usually reserved for Motion Picture panels which ultimately was a smart idea given the number of people trying to get in. NBC Universal had used Comic-con to kick off HEROES (as did ABC with LOST), and ever since then it has been one of the most popular and hardest to get into panels of the con. So with an absolutely jam packed Hall H, out came producer Jeph Loeb and creator Tim Kring who introduced the entire cast who then took the stage. Kring then holds up a briefcase that is handcuffed to his wrist, and reveals that it holds a DVD of the season 3 premiere episode to the absolute insane jubilation of the crowd. This was a very smart move on their part as season 2 was a huge let down, and had lost the faith of a large number of fans. Kring and crew knew that this panel was essential to win back the disenfranchised, hoping of course that all 6,500 of us will go and do exactly what I’m doing now, blog positive feedback. Indeed, my feedback is in the positive, because this season 3 episode had so much more going for it than the entirety of season 2…it had major developments for all the characters we know and love, brought back a couple who had not been in season 2, and didn’t have any of the problems season 2 seemed to have in that there were no lame new characters introduced that when all was said and done, we didn’t care much about. There were so many moments that had the crowd yelling in joyful glee, it was very obvious that this sneak peek had won us all over. The Q&A however was pretty bad since some of the dumbest questions I had heard over the weekend were being dropped on the panelists. The first 3 – someone asking for a hug, another going on about how they camped out but had never seen an episode, etc. – were the type of questions the screeners had been very good about not letting slip through over the past couple of years, unlike in the very distant past. Luckily, thanks to the length of the episode, the Q&A was short-lived.

The organizers of the convention had lined up a fantastic triple feature as HEROES was followed by LOST which was followed by TERMINATOR: SALVATION, so the usual migration from Hall H after HEROES was minimal as the producers/creators of LOST took the stage. Now given the fact that they have yet to start production on the next season, there was no footage to show. Now I don’t actually watch LOST, but didn’t want to leave the auditorium in the event that somehow I wasn’t able to get back in for TERMINATOR, so I sat through an hour of Q&A and a quick presentation made by a guy (obviously an actor, and something to do with the show) from the DARMA INITIATIVE (which I had no clue what it was, but everyone else seemed to). Seemingly this Darma Initiative segment as well as fake news footage concerning “The Oceanic 6” gave away some hints from the show, but since I have only seen maybe 3 episodes total, I was completely lost (no pub intended). Also on hand was Matthew Fox who answered a few questions….but no other cast members as the producers said they were spread all over the place given that they were in between shooting seasons. I had thought that maybe the actor who plays HURLEY would be on hand as I had seen him at the baggage claim at LAX mere days before, but alas, he was nowhere to be seen. As funny as the panel was, it still didn’t inspire me to want to go home and catch up on the DVDs or watch the show regularly, so this was one for the already initiated, and I believe they already knew that going in.

Next up was Warner Bros.’ presentation for TERMINATOR: SALVATION. McG moderated with cast members Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard (who won me over 2 years earlier at the SPIDER-MAN 3 panel), Moon Bloodgood and Common all participating. McG started off by calling up Christian Bale – stating he was in Japan promoting THE DARK KNIGHT (of course no mention that he had been arrested a couple of days earlier for supposedly assaulting family members) and having us yell like maniacs. There was as usual, a montage of footage, and again the footage left me a little cold. Set in the future, just as the war with the machines is kicking into high gear, the story focuses on the rise of John Connor and a young Kyle Reese (Yelchin, who is now making a career of playing pre-established characters in their youth as he is also a young Mr. Chekov in the new STAR TREK movie). I’m not sure if the footage didn’t impress given the over abundance of TERMINATOR material thanks to the new Fox show THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES (which I don’t like very much) or the fact that the movie literally just finished shooting, and there really wasn’t enough that they could have shown to properly represent the movie. That being said, the panel was in fact an absolute riot thanks to one of the question askers who had a spot-on impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and McG was so impressed by it, that he had this kid come on stage and continue “being” Arnold. McG also did a classy thing in thanking producer Gale Anne Hurd who was in the audience and had been a strong creative force on the first 2 TERMINATOR movies. McG, no matter what you think of him as a filmmaker definitely had the crowd on his side, and the “Arnold” yelling “DO IT NOW” when McG had us screaming louder to see the footage again truly made the panel great. Too bad I didn’t come out of it as excited as I thought I would for the film, but I did again get a kick-ass T-shirt out of the deal.

If all that wasn’t excitement enough, Disney Animation/Pixar was up next. First off, the creative team behind BOLT, an animated tale of a TV show dog who thinks his show is real life, dog voiced by John Travolta. They had 20 minutes of footage, and I have to say, I was already sold on this movie by the trailer which I saw in front of WALL-E, and the footage didn’t disappoint. The fact they had 20 minutes though told me they felt they really had to sell this thing…that’s an awful lot of footage. There is this character of a hamster in a plastic ball, and he truly is hilarious!

Then came one of the panels I was most excited for, and the most let down by. Pixar was on hand to show off their next film entitled UP. Nothing has ever been seen from this yet, so this was a completely fresh introduction. Director Pete Doctor was on hand to show a couple of scenes and introduce the main character. UP is about an old man (voiced by Ed Asner) who attaches balloons to his house so it can fly and he can travel to South America. He is accompanied by an over-eager boy scout who needs his “help the elderly” badge. Ok…so I wasn’t sold by the premise at all, and the footage left me feeling REALLY flat. This panel last year blew me away as we got our first peek at WALL-E, and if you read my blog from last year you’ll see that I noted it to be instant magic, and predicted the film would be the best Pixar has ever done (and they backed that up in spades). I actually give some credit to Pixar for having the guts to work outside of their regular box, but UP just didn’t give off the feeling of that inspired Pixar magic. I of course will wait for the film to come out for ultimate judgment, but let’s face it, they can’t hit a home run every time, and they are due for something to hopefully not flop, but at least be flat (not that I am in any way hoping for that).

I hate spending all day in one room, so I decided to skip the Universal panel seeing as how THE MUMMY would be out in just a couple of weeks as would DEATH RACE in a month, so no need getting pumped up for those….so it was off to the exhibit hall to check out the mayhem and all the great costumes. However, I did get back for the tail end of Universal just in time to see an advanced teaser for LAND OF THE LOST which had Will Ferrell talking while a Dinosaur crept up behind him. Nothing too exciting, but again, they are just fresh into production, so not much to show yet.

Saturday was also the day of the big BATTLESTAR GALACTICA panel, but knowing that it was in a smaller room, and how much trouble and how early I would have had to stand in line to get in, I decided against it…and that killed me…but better to enjoy the day then spend it all in line waiting for something I may or may not even get to see.

Next up was Sony, and there were two featured movies the first being UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, a prequel to the 2 previous UNDERWORLD movies…and stars Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra and Kevin Grevioux as well as director Patrick Tatopoulis were on hand. The footage was so-so, but granted I am not even remotely a fan of the previous 2 movies, so I’m a bit jaded. Next up was THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, moderated by Judd Apatow and featuring Seth Rogan, James Franco, Amber Heard and director David Gordon Green. As one would expect with Apatow, the panel was hilarious including a Q&A with set up questions (3 people came up asking how it was to know Frank Miller and could they get his autograph) and the panelists mocking many of the question-askers….and as expected with this movie, a lot of weed questions. There was quite a bit of footage shown, all good, but you really got the sense that again there was a lot riding on this, and some over-selling was in progress. However, the comedic tone of the panel was a great way to finish off crazy Saturday. I would almost think though, with the way the hall had emptied out through-out the day, maybe the organizers might think of having the panels that inspire miles long lines more in the middle of the day, rather than having to deal with extreme crowd control in the morning. Then again, it does give the con a bit of bling to have people see such a huge line, and think “wow, this is the greatest event ever” even if it does in fact scare some of the people off. Also, standing in line in the morning does tend to be better than standing in a July afternoon heat wave. There are definitely pros and cons to both arguments.

Saturday night is of course masquerade night, and because of the new insane crowds, there are now 4 places – live and 3 video rooms – to view the show. The main room has a bar and snacks, and the turns into a party afterward, but I never stick around for that as the masquerade always goes long, and I’m always exhausted after a full Saturday. I stuck around for about half, and have to say, there were some cool costumes and presentations, but kind of lackluster in comparison to previous years. Could it be the economy keeping people from being over-elaborate with their costumes? The same went for the exhibit floor during the day. It did end up though that out of the half I did see, all the winners were displayed, my favorite being this kid that came out dressed like Luke Skywalker and an x-wing fighter costume complete with R2. The crowd seemed to like this one best as well.

All-in-all I would say that outside of the HEROES episode, this probably was the weakest Saturdays I had been to out of my 11 years of Comic-con (not that it wasn’t good, it was….just didn’t have the big WOW that past years have had), which I just think has a lot to do with the off year (last year had THE INCREDIBLE HULK, WALL-E, IRON MAN, INDIANA JONES, THE DARK KNIGHT) with not that many huge comic adaptation titles coming, and the lack of a Paramount/Dreamworks panel which would have at least brought a STAR TREK glimpse which would have gone over like gangbusters.