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Jul 23, 2009

SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2009 - THURSDAY, PANEL 1 - DISNEY 3-D

In the past couple of years Thursday at Comic-con, once the “light” day, has featured some substantial panels and bigger crowds. 2 years ago it started with Paramount and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, last year it was Fox with THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and Summit with TWILIGHT. This year took it up another 3 notches.

First off, for the first time Comic-con featured 3-D footage. Then comes the fact that the day is jam packed with high-on-the-fan radar panels like Disney 3-D, Summit with more TWILIGHT, James Cameron with Fox’s uber-anticipated AVATAR and Terry Gilliam paying his first Comic-con visit for THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS. Given the stature of AVATAR and TWILIGHT alone, I knew it was going to be a big (and tiring) day.

The TWILIGHTERS (or TWI-HARDS as they are oft referred to) are the ones who scared me. They invaded Comic-con last year and took over Hall H from the fanboys. Last night, 600 of them camped out over night just to be sure to get into this panel. So, I got there early, at 7am for an 11am panel.

The line – as predicted – was primarily the TWILIGHT faithful with T-shirts galore stating either TEAM EDWARD (after Robert Pattison’s Vampire character) or TEAM JACOB (Taylor Lautners’ soon-to-be-outed-as-a-Werewolf character). Not to mention that Burger King was handing out these really cheap cardboard crowns that the fans were falling over themselves for.

I have read all 4 TWILIGHT books and don’t really get the fascination – then again, I’m not a teenage girl. I’m shocked that the feminists aren’t all over this as it features a character who basically wants to give up her life – no college or career ambitions – to spend eternity with her Vampire boyfriend. Oh wait, they do discuss college, but only because he kind of forces it on her, and on her part, it’s just so she can be near him. The books themselves are badly written (the last 2 worse than the first), but the first TWILIGHT movie, which made a huge splash at last year’s Comic-con was much better than its source material thanks to the direction of Catherine Hardwicke, and the excellent casting. More on the Twilighters later though.

Comic-con 2009 promised to start off with a bang and that it did in spades. First up was the DISNEY 3-D panel (moderated by Patton Oswalt) which also served as the first 3-D panel ever. Hall H was adorned with extra large screens so it didn’t matter where you were, every spot had a great view.

We were all handed 3-D glasses upon entering, and the first movie featured was A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jim Carey (in no less than 8 roles), the film features the computer enhanced motion-capture style Zemeckis employed on BEOWULF and THE POLAR EXPRESS. I have always viewed A CHRISTMAS CAROL as the most over told tale in the history of story. Not only have there been several movies and TV specials, but I think that almost every show in existence at one point or another has had A CHRISTMAS CAROL episode. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much, but was I ever surprised.

From the footage shown – about 10 minutes starting with the full scene of Marley’s initial visit to Scrooge followed by a series of random moments – Robert Zemeckis has crafted a very atmospheric and exciting movie. It was spooky, had a few laughs (it is a Disney film with Jim Carey after all) but over all I would say the film looked stellar. The production design was outstanding, and Jim Carey looks absolutely fabulous as the motion-capture Ebenezer Scrooge. The footage grabbed me right from the start, and I was dying to see more. Luckily, I only have to wait until this holiday season.

Zemeckis took a few questions, the most significant being one of the guests asked him about that comment he made earlier this year about a possible ROGER RABBIT sequel. Zemeckis answered that he could neither confirm nor deny anything was in the works, but if it were to happen he said, the 2D characters from the first film would remain 2D – meaning no computer enhancements like from Pixar for Roger, Jessica, etc. Not that it rules out an appearance by Pixar characters, they are all part of the Disney family now after all.

Next up was another highly anticipated film, Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonheim Carter, and Anne Hathaway among others. Director Burton was the lone panelist, and the first ever footage from the movie was screened – and in 3-D. He had cut together a trailer which featured moments of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, Alice shrinking and growing, the White Rabbit, The White and Red Queens, Tweedle-Dumb and Tweedle-Dee as well as the Jabberwocky. The footage was outstanding, so much so that they screened it 3 times! Burton mentioned that it was based on every piece of Lewis Carroll’s writing – including the poems – and we saw the first ever image of the Cheshire Cat who will be voiced by Stephen Fry. The 2-3 minutes of trailer was all he had as Burton is still in the middle of cutting the movie. The movie is due in March of 2010, and the final moments of the trailer featured the two zeroes from the year fading into the Cheshire Cat’s eyes and grin.

The biggest surprise from the Disney panel came next. As Patton and Burton were wrapping things up, Patton asked if Tim was sure that was all he had for us. Burton said he had to think hard, and if he closed his eyes long enough his imaginary friend might appear and sure enough Johnny Depp stepped out from the wings. The crowd, as mentioned earlier, composed of mostly women thanks to TWILIGHT went absolutely berserk. Depp said nothing, shook Burton’s hand, waved at the crowd, posed for a few pictures and left the breathless crowd in a state of happiness never before seen at Comic-con. For a few moments, Robert Pattison and Edward Cullen were forgotten, and Johnny Depp and Jack Sparrow was front and center.

Last (but not least) was TRON: LEGACY, a sequel to the 1982 TRON. Featured on the panel were Jeff Bridges (reprising his character of Flynn from the original), Stephen Lisberger (director of the original) and the director Joseph Kosinski and 2 of the young stars - Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde - of the reboot. The film just wrapped this past Monday, but the filmmakers had cut together one scene (in 2D) of Flynn’s son going back to Flynn’s arcade, exploring through the cobwebs and powering it up. The original arcade was reconstructed and looked perfect from the 1982 original, not to mention they even played the same song on the jukebox.

The panel also featured conceptual art of the city, the vehicles and most importantly, the discus game which will be much more elaborate than in the 1982 original. They even had test footage of this athlete in a motion-control suit flying through the air in such an astounding way that it left the whole crowd in awe.

Disney wrapped things up with the test-trailer that they had shown at last year’s Comic-con, and had used to convince Disney to move forward on the project. This time though, it was in 3-D and it gave me chills just watching it. Only time will tell if TRON: LEGACY will do the same.