The Pros and Cons of Comic Con

My first year attending the San Diego Comic Book Convention was an eye opener, to say the least.  Imagine attending the biggest Best Buy, Suncoast, or any personal favorite entertainment store, with everything you’d ever want to buy that you don’t need but GOT TO HAVE, and its the size of a small city.  Now imagine going there the day after Thanksgiving or a few days before Christmas.  This is the kind of pandemonium that Comic Con delivers every year, and this was reportedly the first time they actually sold out admission tickets!  Its only going to get more crowded, crazier and packed with Trekkies, Hobbits, Storm Troopers, Pirates, Snake Plisskens, X-Men and Jawas standing shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting in line for eight seconds with Kevin Bacon or just foolishly trying to rush through the enormous crowds.  In all honesty, as much fun as Comic Con is, I still prefer smaller, more intimate geek conventions, namely the Starland Starfest that we have every year in Denver- it’s less than half as big as Comic Con, but with basically
the same vendors, movie previews, expansive panel options and with far less attendees.

Don’t get me wrong- Comic Con is quite the experience, is a ton of fun and I’m already planning on returning next year.  The biggest and most obvious difference between Comic Con and all the other cool, nerd-friendly, fan-boy catering conventions is the participation of Hollywood.  It’s one thing to see the trailer for “Get Smart”, its another thing to have Steve Carrell and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson appear on stage shortly after and field questions about what we just saw.

There’s so much to see at Comic Con that it simply isn’t possible to go to every cool event on the schedule.  I did the best I could but missed a few gems:  Kevin Smith’s stage performance/t.v. series promo, Liv Tyler’s rare convention appearance (said to have been her first ever), and I missed seeing the pilot of “The Sarah Conner Chronicles”.  Here’s what I DID SEE.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Paramount Pictures Panel:
As the news reported, seeing the on-set footage from “Indiana Jones IV” and having J.J. Abrams personally introduce us to the New Spock (along with Leonard Nimoy, on hand to give his blessing) was thrilling for the kid in everyone there.  The presentations were solid, with only the lengthy sneak peak of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” going too long.  Then, of course, there was “Iron Man”, introduced by Jon Favreau himself.  The footage was a knockout:  only the closing shots of Iron Man flying around were CGI.  The majority of the reel (basically an extended trailer) was of character-driven exposition and pumped up action.  If the footage is any indication, this will be huge (I understand now why Paramount positioned it for May 2nd, the first summer movie of the box) and the film will do for Robert Downey Jr. what “Pirates” did for Johnny Depp.

Warner Brothers Panel:
This one peaked early, with the jaw-droppingly great footage from “Get Smart” being the highlight of the WB line-up.  It looks like a drop-dead hilarious comedy with James Cameron-level action.  Steve Carrell has his “True Lies” (and it was good to see that he’s making Maxwell Smart his own character, rather than doing a film-length Don Adams impersonation).  The director and a few of the co-stars took the stage, but when Carrell and The Rock appeared, I thought I was at a rock concert (and yes, I screamed too).  The one and only Joel Silver appeared later, to push “Speed Racer” (no footage, but he said that “Emile Hirsh IS Speed, Christina Ricci IS Trixie”, a way of saying that the film is extremely faithful to the series), “The Invasion” (which had a different trailer, followed by Silver saying he liked the film and found it relevant and interesting) and “Whiteout” (with Kate Beckinsale, who put in an appearance).  Truly, Silver looked bemused and was awfully polished- he could’ve been there promoting “Hudson Hawk II” and he would’ve sold me on it!

“Superbad” Premiere:
At the Gaslamp Theater (just a few blocks from the convention center), the cast , director and creators of “Superbad” were in attendance, along with a handful of fans and family members. Judd Apatow was there, along with Leslie Mann, and Seth Rogan and the three principal leads of “Superbad” (Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and “Mclovin” himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse), as well as co-writer Evan Goldberg and director Greg Mottola.  To my amazement, Nick Frost was sitting right behind me!  The film itself is the funniest I’ve seen so far this year, and a crowd pleaser that will likely go over big when it
opens in a few weeks.  Rogan said he was especially happy to see how the audience reacted to the film’s most soon-to-be-infamous gag and that you can hear the audience reacting to the joke in horror at different times as the gag reveals itself.

“The Monster Squad” Reunion:
The night after the unveiling of “Superbad”, the Gaslamp only let 200 people in to a one-of-a-kind showing of “Monster Squad”, with a handful of cast members (including Squad leader, Andre Gower) and the director, Fred Dekker, in attendance.  The Q&A was very low-key and relaxed, with on-set memories and where-are-you-now updates from the cast being the main talking points.  I asked Dekker about the status of his great, never-on-DVD “Night of the Creeps”; he said he was working on it and hoping for a disc as packed and satisfying as what Lionsgate put together for “Monster Squad”.  Seeing the
film itself, 20 years since it first popped up in the summer of ’87, I was struck by how clever the dialogue is (no wonder, as Shane Black co-wrote wit with Dekker!) and how good the special effects still are.  I was a big fan of the film back in the day and was pleased to see how well it holds up.

“Beowolf” Preview:
On the first night of Comic Con, Paramount offered a sneak preview of (according to Neil Gaimon, who introduced the footage with co-screenwriter Roger Avery) the only 20-minutes of the film that is entirely finished, as the motion capture CGI film is still far from complete.  The footage was dazzling, though my reaction was mixed:  I wonder who the target audience for this is, as, from what was shown, a PG-13 rating is a stretch, as the
violence and nudity is well beyond anything ever done for CGI films before.  If the film is promoted as another “300”, that could attract some, but the scary, intense clips shown may make this a tough one to break even during the busy holiday movie season.  The added dialogue to the classic tale makes the story accessible to audiences, the performances look top-notch (Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar and Crispin Glover as Grendel look phenomenal) and seeing the footage in 3-D immersed me completely into the film’s world.  I wasn’t crazy about Ray Winstone getting a CGI likeness that looked nothing like him, while Angelina Jolie (as Grendel’s mother) looks EXACTLY like her
real self, though her peekaboo nude scenes won’t get any complaints from me (or anyone else).  The plans to release the film in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX 3-D is ambitious and it looks like Robert Zemeckis has broken yet another barrier for visual achievement in film, but I wonder how the end result is going to play overall during the Christmas season.  I asked Avery if he and Gaimon would ever collaborate again on a screenplay, to which he said they’re writing an adaptation of Charles Burns’ dark, acclaimed novel, “Black Hole”.

Dimension Film Panel:
The announcer says “Rob Zombie!”. “Living Dead Girl” blasts over the loud speakers and out comes the More Human Than Human director himself, as well as Sheri Moon Zombie (who, in light of her film appearances, has never looked more beautiful or dressed up in public), Scout Taylor-Compton and Tyler Mane.  The clip shown was intense (involving Laurie Strode hiding in a ceiling duct and Michael Myers violently attempting to pulverize her), and the talk back revealed that Zombie’s uncompromisingly dark revision of the
Carpenter film attempts to be poignant, as well as disturbing.  Moon says audiences will likely fall in love with her character, while Mane elaborated on how easy it was to be Myers once the mask was on.  Best of all was Zombie, whose no-spin, I-could-care-less responses to basic questions and scarily obsessed fans resulted in refreshingly (and hilariously) unguarded soundbites.  Soon thereafter, Frank Darabont and a few cast members of “The Mist” (including Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden) took the stage.  The initial clip shown of this Stephen King horror film wasn’t promising (pretty standard- octopus tentacle pops out of the mist and grabs an unlucky town member), but what followed has me thinking this could be one of the year’s best; Darabont explained that the cinematographers are from “The Shield” and that the actors didn’t always know where they were being filmed from.  The result makes the action have an intimate, you-are-there feel, as the second clip (no f/x but solid acting and character exposition) more than
demonstrated.  Darabont and the cast kept quiet about the still-top secret plot, which, according to King in a recent interview, has a wild ending that needs to be kept under wraps until opening day.  Harden confessed to filming a scene where she has a sexual encounter with a giant bug (!) and Jane said that the less you know going in about the film, the better.  Also worth noting:  when someone asked Jane to elaborate about why he wasn’t going to play the Punisher anymore, he politely, but quietly (and sadly) refused.

Ray Harryhausen had his own panel, in which he spoke of the legendary films he worked on and projects he’s attached to that he’ll oversee, if not have hands on involvement with (after all, he is 87 years old).  He revealed that, at one point, he wanted to do a sequel to “Jason and the Argonauts”, but the violent nature of the story (in which Madea chops up her children) eliminated the possibility.  The coolest scoop of the panel: Ray Park, on hand to promote a Harryhausen-produced film he appears in, revealed that he will be playing Chuck Norris in a bio on the life of Bruce Lee.  Park let this nugget slip at this years Starfest in Denver, but the news is now out and official.

LETDOWNS:

The film clips were often hard to get into, as the scenes felt like they were in the middle of the movie, needed ample setting up or explaining and could be taken out of context.  The “Halloween” clip opens with Michael Myers dragging an unconscious Dr. Loomis on the  loor. All I could think was,” What?! What’s Going On?! What the Heck Just Happened?!”  Instead of the clip casting a spell on me, it made me feel like I just walked into a movie late and had to play catch up.  The same can be said for the clip Paramount showed for “Stardust”- not only was the ill-chosen clip seemingly from a random, uninteresting part of the movie, it made the film as a whole look weak.  The Simpsons panel was a low energy, mildly interesting affair.  It seemed as though the makers were burnt out from talking about the movie so much (which just opened) and that they took the stage without some much-needed sleep.  The only cast member to take the stage was Yeardley Smith, and the animators and Matt Groening, while clearly intelligent and talented artists, seemed out of it.  The highlight was Groening dropping a next season scoop:  it seems
the Comic Book Guy will get competition from a new comic book store that opens down the street.  The voice of his competitor will be by Jack Black and alot of famous comic book artists will have voice cameos.

The footage shown for the remake of “One Missed Call” showed some creepy footage but no dialogue, or anything illuminating the characters or the story.  In fact, someone from the audience asked the cast just what the film was about!  Edward Burns and Shannyn Sossamon took the stage and, unfortunately, it was the low point for the WB panel.  Burns, with his down-to-earth demeanor, answered questions well and even joked that films he’s in are rarely successful enough to merit sequels (his way of responding to a question on whether “Confidence” will ever get a follow-up).  Sossamon, on the other hand, was a disaster- whether she was nervous, had never been in front of an audience or has never had a PR person prep her for an interview, I couldn’t say.  I will be kind and say her response to questions ranged from sleepy to idiotic and you could hear the audience turning on her.  It began to get ugly (I heard some boos) until Burns announced that he
was giving away iPhones to a few lucky audience members.  Good save, Burns!

NICE SURPRISES:

Warner Brothers gave away posters to Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd”.  From the looks of the one-sheet, the eagerly anticipated musical looks moody, comically dark and utterly sick (these are all pluses, by the way).

The extended trailer for “Trick R Treat” showed an uncommonly atmospheric looking horror film.  Instead of the usual slasher pic, the clips shown (featuring the always sinister Dylan Baker, looking to give another knockout performance on top of his work in “Fido”) appear to be for an interesting, above average horror film.

PEOPLE I RANDOMLY RAN INTO:
Stan Winston
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Lou Ferrigno
George A. Romero
Kate Beckinsale

My Favorite Interview:
Milla Jovovich, a sweetheart and 6-months pregnant.

My Least Favorite Interview:
Paul W.S. Anderson, also on hand to promote “Resident Evil: Extinction”.  It was a round-table interview so, thankfully, I didn’t have to ask him anything.  My only question for him was: “‘AVP’, ‘Resident Evil’, ‘Mortal Kombat’ and now the ‘Death Race’ remake…WHY?!?!”

Overall, my first year at Comic Con barely scratched the surface of all there is to do there.  My two pieces of advice:  1.) If you want to move around the main floor to get to the many, many booths, just use the furthest-out walkways, as the innermost areas are always gridlocked with people.  2.) Bring as many of your friends as possible, as something this big is meant to be shared and spread around.

Comic Con wasn’t the life altering experience everyone hyped it up to be, but it was a big heap of fun and, for that reason alone, I hope everyone has a chance to go at least once in their lives.

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