I have been attending the San Diego Comic-Con for a long time now (and there are many others who have been going much longer than me) and I have seen the show expand by leaps and bounds every year. This year had more people camping out for panels, more outside venues hosting events and exhibits, some regular events that were front and center in the past shuffled off to barren corners of hotels, an army of more (mostly congenial though some not so much) security guards than usual barking what you couldn’t do (which was a lot) and Homeland Security officers patrolling the floor to ensure another Boston Marathon tragedy wasn’t about to happen. The show is bigger and crazier and it often feels like an impossible task to get into events and panels (or even into the convention itself as well as obtaining a hotel room). However at the core the spirit of the con is still alive and well – fans celebrating their love of comics, movies, TV shows and books and wanting to be the first to experience content they are anticipating up close and personal with the creators. It’s also an opportunity for studios to test out their footage and engage with the fans – no matter how obsessed and crazy some of them may seem. Comic-Con is a chance to be passionate about the things we love and experience them with others that share that passion. It’s how a room jam-packed with thousands people virtually on top of each other somehow manage to get along even with the heat, long waits and lack of sleep and food. No matter how big the show gets, this spirit remains and it’s why most people keep going back year-after-year.
The always packed Sails Pavilion
There are moments before Comic-Con starts that I begin to fear “could this be the year it sucks” but it never does and this year Saturday in Hall H not only lived up to its usual high expectations, but even exceeded them. This is also the first year where I found that I had to focus on what exactly what I wanted to see as there was really no time to spontaneously walk around and take in whatever caught my fancy.
It’s also become impossible to blog about the con at the con since there is so much going on it means missing out on something exciting. Back in the 90s and early 2000s before the advent of blogging sites, Twitter and Facebook, I used to update a page on MSN outlining all the panels which even then was difficult to keep up with. Now, I'm lucky if I get back to the room before midnight only to have to be up at 4am and on the way back to standing in line for something.
THE FANS LOVE AND CRAVE MORE CONTENT
The thing about the fans that attend Comic-Con is that they are a group of people who just want to see their favorite characters brought to life in any way possible. There is a reason that Hollywood has moved in on Comic-Con and I feel that this is it. In these fans they see hungry individuals willing to shell out their hard earned money on products that the creators have worked years and the studios have spent millions on. The fans will often ask celebrities or execs whether or not characters they have probably never heard of will make their way onto the screen one day. There are times when a writer will mention an obscure character and there are usually yells of excitement from the crowd. These are people who love their stories and want to see them done right.
"Spider-man" asks a question
You also always hear about how nobody is buying Blu-rays or DVDs anymore and how everything is going digital, but the Blu-ray panels prove that people still like their content on physical media as each of the Home Entertainment panels I attended were filled to capacity. One panel for Scream Factory, Shout Factory’s amazing label for collector’s editions of horror movies on Blu-ray and DVD, even elicited screams (no pun intended) of joy from the audience when upcoming titles were announced (at one point a woman spontaneously screamed “OH MY GOD” at one and immediately put her hand over her mouth in embarrassment). This is a crowd that usually gets pegged for being prime pirating offenders, but that isn’t the case at all. These are people who want to ensure their content continues to be made and want it in the best possible format possible and will even buy multiple editions to keep their collections up-to-date.
Bill Hunt moderates The Digital Bits DVD Producers Panel
To further prove this, I posted 3 videos of segments from panels from Hall H on YouTube and so far (2 days later) have received 4500, 35,000 and 238,000 views respectively. These clips don't even contain footage from the movies! The fans want to be a part of this, no matter what.
When you leave Comic-Con it’s almost a shock to the system as you explain to people at work the excitement about the footage and the characters you have just seen, but they just don’t seem to get it looking at it only as a movie or a comic that they might have a passing interest in. It’s almost like being pulled from the Matrix and suddenly you start counting down the days to next year’s Comic-Con.
WHAT, NO TWILIGHT?
The Twilight Saga is over, but its effect on Comic-Con is still felt. The year the New Moon panel was held was the first that a large group of fans camped outside Hall H to not only ensure they made It into the panel, but were up front to tweet and get pictures of the stars they obsess about. Ever since then the overnight camping line outside Hall H has grown yearly to the point where some associates and I assume that in future years the only way to get in at all will be to camp outside. For instance, I arrived before 5am, and the line was already long enough to almost reach room capacity.
Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost - The World's End
However, Hall H proved once again that camping out is worth it providing huge surprises and stars that drove the crowd into a frenzy time-and-time again. Friday was not as big as Saturday (for me anyway) with panels for The World’s End, Veronica Mars Movie, Kick-Ass 2, Riddick, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and the Sony/Screen Gems panel which included Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, RoboCop and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (I left before the final panel of the day which featured Metallica).
Most of the material was met with enthusiasm – especially The World’s End and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with the weakest being Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones as both received polite applause but nothing more. What the day proved though is that although Comic-Con has spread out to include other movies, shows and genres that aren’t tied to Comic books, that the core base is still there for comic book based fare with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 being the most anticipated and the one that received the loudest reaction. Andrew Garfield appeared dressed in his Spider-Man outfit to the delight of fans and was gracious with the people asking questions. The Game of Thrones panel was the most awkward with radio host Elvis Mitchell moderating and spending too much time focusing on the “Red Wedding” episode leaving a long line of fans unable to ask their questions.
Andrew Garfield arrived dressed as Spider-Man
One movie that fans have been divided on is the RoboCop reboot. The footage was received with a cautiously optimistic response, but definitely not the overwhelming reaction the studio was probably hoping for.
Saturday on the other hand started big (literally) and just got bigger as the day went on. Starting out with the Legendary Pictures / Warner Bros. panel (which must have been awkward since the two companies recently split with Legendary now partnering with Universal) the big surprise from last year – Godzilla – is finally in production so there was actual movie footage to be shown. Teasing the crowd with the amazing for-the-con only trailer that sent Hall H into a mad frenzy, it was followed with a series of clips that teased not only mass destruction by Godzilla, but a creature that looked very much to be Mothra as well. Given that Godzilla was an unannounced surprise last year, the footage this year – which was expected – didn’t get as big as a reaction but still it looked as though this will be closer to the original Godzilla concept than the 1998 Roland Emmerich disaster.
Warner Bros. as usual had huge star power on display with Sandra Bullock appearing to promote Gravity and Tom Cruise on hand to promote Edge of Tomorrow. I like the trailer for Gravity, but the footage from the film they showed really sold me on this movie. It is intense in a smart way and with names like George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, it should be a solid hit.
With Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise was great with the crowd, and hammed it up with moderator Chris Hardwick who was himself floored by the attention he was receiving from the star. Cruise even called Bill Paxton up on stage who was sitting in the crowd – and is also in the movie – and asked him to recite lines from his characters from Aliens and Weird Science. The panel proved him to be every bit of the movie star he is, and the film which looks like a sort of Science Fiction-action version of Groundhog Day looked intriguing.
Sandra Bullock talks about Gravity
Warner ended on a high note, speaking again to the core Comic Book audience with an announcement by Zack Snyder (300, Man of Steel) that the next edition of Batman and Superman would feature the two heroes together in one movie. This can only be preparation for an inevitable Justice League movie, but what will be interesting is who is going to play Batman. Christian Bale has stated that he’s done with the role, so Henry Cavill could be matching up against yet another new actor under the bat cowl. Needless to say the announcement got a huge reaction from the Hall H crowd.
Zack Snyder with the first surprise announcement of the day - a Batman/Superman movie
Warner was followed by Lionsgate who was promoting I, Frankenstein and Hunger Games: Catching Fire with of course Hunger Games taking up most of the spotlight. I think Lionsgate was hoping this would be on par with the Twilight fandom, but it didn’t seem have the same impact. The reaction was solid though and the movie is guaranteed to be a hit either way.
Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence - Hunger Games: Catching Fire
THE MARVEL “ROCK CONCERT” EFFECT
When Marvel comes to Comic-Con they mean serious business and generally leave the Warner Bros./DC team in their dust. I have found the majority of the past Marvel panels – especially since the introduction of Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man – to have the vibe of a Rock Concert with the fans on their feet screaming in a wild frenzy. The same can be said this year as both the Fox and Marvel panels turned the big Batman/Superman movie announcement from just a few hours previous into a distant, faded memory.
Matt Reeves, Keri Russell and Andy Serkis - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Fox panel as I was excited for the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes presentation more than anything, and wasn’t really thinking much about The Wolverine as it opens this week. There is something anti-climactic about a Comic-Con panel that features a movie that is about to open in mere days as the cool panels are always way in the future and the footage is coming directly from a shoot that is still happening.
The panel started out with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which is still very much in production and a teaser with footage that showed Caesar and the Apes being petitioned by the humans to try and work together. Then out came Hugh Jackman and The Wolverine with a for-the-con trailer that really got me excited for the movie. It seems more violent than any X-Men oriented movie that has come before. That’s when the surprise came. Jackman announced Bryan Singer was on hand to talk about X-Men: Days of Future Past which is currently shooting in Canada. The crowd was excited expecting something big but what came couldn’t have been expected by anyone. Not only was there footage which made this movie look like THE comic book movie event to come, but then the lights come up and the table for panelists was suddenly twice as long. After introducing the producers, Singer starting naming all the actors and one by one in a steady stream that almost matched the opening ceremony of the Olympics, each and every member of the cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past marched on stage. Needless to say Hall H lost their collective minds. The place was a mad house and probably the most exciting place to be in the United States – if not anywhere - at that moment.
The seemingly neverending march of the X-Men: Days of Future Past cast
Marvel studios was up next and after having Loki from Thor (played by Tom Hiddleston) in character on stage introducing footage from Thor: The Dark World, the panel moved onto Captain America: The Winter Soldier with footage that promised an action packed film that delighted the fans. The Guardians of the Galaxy just started production, but the director and cast where there – after shooting until 5am and flying directly to San Diego from London – to show early footage of the movie. It also was well received by a crowd that was literally high from the excitement of a steady stream of amazing announcements and footage.
"Loki' (Tom Hiddleston) introduces the first public footage shown for Thor: The Dark World
Of course they never just end there, and Joss Whedon appeared to introduce the title for Avengers 2 which is called the Age of Ultron. He’s still writing it, so there wasn’t anything to show but it was a strong way to end a mind-blowing day of panels.
Once again Marvel ruled Hall H.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT IS OFTEN BETTER THAN THE MOVIE
There have been many Comic-Con panels that I attended where the movie looked so amazing during the clips, and I was quickly drinking the Kool-Aid with the rest of the fans that it’s almost a shock to the system when you leave Hall H and are reminded that “oh yeah, it’s just a movie” and they still can let you down. Man of Steel is a prime example, a panel I loved but a movie I loathed. It’s something to keep in mind while sitting through these panels, and the one that quickly reminded me of this was the frenzy of Hall H at the Batman/Superman movie announcement especially given that it’s the same team that brought us Man of Steel. Still, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement.
CHRIS HARDWICK IS A GEEK GOD
In the early days of Comic-Con, the panels were moderated by publicity people and regular volunteers like Jeff Walker who made a brief appearance this year. Now though, they are run by individuals from big media outlets like Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. Elvis Mitchell from The Treatment also moderated a few panels including the aforementioned Game of Thrones event.
But the real star of the show was Chris Hardwick from The Nerdist. He himself a fan and a comedian, he moderated all the panels in costume and knowing all the material that these movies are based on was able to communicate the panel’s objectives from one fan to a group of 6500. Hardwick is extremely funny and even remembered the name of an attendee – Mike – who broke down into tears during last year’s Man of Steel panel even calling out to him in the crowd by name. If anything I think that if it were humanly possible, Chris Hardwick should moderate all the big ones. He knows the genre, the fans and knows how to entertain.
It will be interesting to see how all these movies turn out, but for the moment all of them promise to be amazing and the anticipation for them and next year’s Comic-Con is already killing me.