Tuesday, July 26, 2005

San Diego Comic-Con International 2005

Comic-Con was bigger than ever this year, bursting at the seams with all kinds of pop culture fun for nearly 100,000 fans of all ages. From anime to artwork to movie stars to TV previews, the Con even managed to fit in some comics along the way. With so much going on, it's impossible for one person to provide a comprehensive review, but here's my experience if you're interested:

Thursday: the warm-up day, the least crowded and the least impressive programming. I started my adventure in the early afternoon with a presentation on the upcoming Philip K. Dick movie adaptation by Richard Linklater, A Scanner Darkly. This is being made in the same style as Waking Life, with animation drawn over live action to make the entire work look like a painting. The filmmakers showed us an exclusive trailer and completed scene which both looked very impressive, although the artwork is purposely sticking closer to reality rather than veering off into the hallucinogenic flights of fancy found in Waking Life. The panelists included an android Philip K. Dick (really!) who attempted to answer questions asked of him...the answers usually were way off base, but they were pretty funny. Trivia: the entire film is being made for $8M, even though it includes big shots Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. Oh, and we got free t-shirts, score!

While most of my crew hit panels featuring Clive Barker, the Ren & Stimpy gang, and Lou Scheimer (founder of legendary animation house Filmation), I had time for a little shopping before hitting Bruce Campbell's hilarious panel. He works a room just like Kevin Smith, totally taking over the proceedings and readily insulting anyone who dares to ask him a stupid question. Sample Q: "What will your role be in Spiderman 3?" A: (counting the words on his fingers) "I.Am.An.Actor.They.Don't.Tell.Me.Shit." or Q: "When will we see a DVD release of Alien Apocalypse?" A: "Why, because itwas so well made and so successful?" He was an excellent panelist, one of the best and funniest I've seen, definitely worth checking out if you ever get a chance.

Next up, David Cronenberg made his first appearance at the Con to promote his upcoming flick starring Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence. He's a bit of a crotchety old coot, but he had some interesting info and showed us a trailer and scene from the film...looks very promising.

Next was a Constantine panel featuring Rachel Weisz promoting the DVD release, but the room was full and I didn't want to wait to get in so it was a chance for some more shopping before heading to dinner and calling it a day.

After dinner, some of us headed to a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund charity event at a nearby hotel terrace featuring Mirrormask, where we were treated to more footage, exclusive high-quality mask pins, free snacks, and a bar while we hobnobbed with industry heavyweights...ok, we really just talked quietly amongst ourselves, but it was still kinda fun.

Friday: we missed the biggest panel of the day (thanks, SD traffic), but apparently Natalie Portman was there promoting V for Vendetta, Darren Aronofsky and Rachel Weisz were promoting The Fountain, new footage from Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, and new footage from the next Harry Potter. Potter t-shirts and Vendetta masks (scary) were distributed, I later scored a mask.

I popped into Sony's panel to catch Jon Favreau, he was promoting his next movie called Zathura which I'd never heard of before, but it looked very good. It's from the same author as Jumanji and is somewhat similar, with kids playing a magical game that changes the world around them. Favreau has his head in the right place as far as effects, he said he wanted to avoid CG when possible because it just never feels real to him, for example he vastly appreciates the model photography of the original Star Wars trilogy compared to today's slick computer-generated ships. So, he had Stan Winston make a big robot from scratch for him and used models in his outer space scenes. I'd never consider Favreau for an effects-heavy film, but his footage looked and sounded incredible...the story looks like it might be a bit lame, but this should be a fun ride for family viewing.

My biggie of the day was the Battlestar Galactica panel, if you're not watching this new reincarnation yet it has just started its second season so get busy. I know, it's on Sci-Fi so that bumps up the probability of lameness, but let me tell ya, I've never watched any other show on Sci-Fi and probably never will, but Battlestar is pure gold and absolute must-see TV, even if you hate sci-fi in general. We got to see Starbuck, Apollo, Boomer, Baltar, and the President and followed up the panel later that night with a viewing of the season premiere on the big screen there with no commercials. We didn't learn any major news, except that the Galactica will encounter Battlestar Pegasus around midseason...just like in the original 70s series!

I wanted to hit the Boondocks panel to get a look at the upcoming cartoon series, but shopping was more important. I ended my daytime programming with a visit to the Jim Henson Company 50th anniversary presentation, where we saw exceptional footage from 60s live TV appearances that hadn't been seen since then, as well as information on their upcoming project in conjunction with Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Mirrormask. Mirrormask looks like a visual masterpiece and should have a pretty decent story to go along with it from Gaiman. Just like A Scanner Darkly, this entire project is being made for a grand total of $8M.

After dinner, I headed to the most prestigious comic book awards presentation in the industry, the Eisners. This was the first year they were being held without the presence of their namesake, legendary graphic novelist Will Eisner who passed away earlier this year, so the ceremony was a bit somber but ultimately uplifting. The awards were generally well deserved and fair, although a couple of winners echoed my thoughts when they started their acceptance speeches with "have you seen the other titles in this category?"

Saturday: the biggest day, the most crowded, the one that puts the whole thing over the top for anyone who wasn't already impressed. While my wife headed over to see the Sawyer...um, I mean the Lost panel featuring Sawyer and Shannon, as well as an appearance from Shaun Cassidy promoting the new series he's producing, Invasion.

Most of us headed to the Superman Returns panel where director Bryan Singer made a point of flying all the way from the set in Australia just to bring us exclusive footage and answer our questions. The footage looked absolutely amazing, so good he ran it twice, and I think the fanboys all shed a tear of delight when strains of the original John Williams score filled our ears...I know I definitely got chills.

I was pretty skeptical of the new Superman when his first headshots surfaced, but seeing him in costume and as Clark Kent really sealed the deal that he can pull this off, he has a big time Christopher Reeve vibe going on. Singer confirmed that footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El will be used in the film (briefly) and confirmed that the score will incorporate the John Williams theme, although he's not doing this score. He also gave us the first look of Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, looks pretty good. I'm not convinced by Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane...I really like her, but I don't know about her in this one. Also don't like the angle of her seemingly being married (to the guy who plays Cyclops in the X-Men films), but we'll see what happens.

Next, the visual effects supervisor from War of the Worlds briefly discussed some of its effects, then made way for Charlize Theron promoting Aeon Flux, which will almost certainly suck but we certainly appreciate her making an appearance.

I headed out for my longest uninterrupted block of shopping on the main exhibition floor, then next up was another Sony panel, this time featuring Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman from the upcoming Underworld sequel, Eva Mendes from next year's Ghost Rider (along with director Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil) and Marvel head film honcho Avi Arad), and a quick look at The Fog. Beckinsale and Mendes both had interesting interactions with fans.

First, a teenage girl approached the mic to tell Beckinsale how much she admired her and loved her films and stuff and started crying, so Kate got up, left the stage and jumped down to give her a hug and take a couple of pictures with her. Then, a 12-year-old boy decided to try his future pimp persona on when he learned that Mendes would occasionally be called Roxy in the Ghost Rider film. His question: "So they call you Roxy? How about Foxy?" as he strutted back to his seat to cheers and high fives from the crowd. She told him to call her in 10-12 years. Mark Steven Johnson got slammed for his direction of Daredevil from a fan, but he took it well and gets much respect for even showing up and freely making himself available for questions from the largest contingent of passionate comic book fans in the world.

Although the Sony panel was supposed to be over at that point, they had a little surprise up their sleeves. First, director Rob Cohen (XXX, Fast and the Furious) jumped on stage to promote Stealth since he claimed he was already in town for their press junket. Hmm, I thought, if the press junket is in San Diego today, shouldn't the cast be around too? Sure enough, next thing we knew we had the surprise appearance of Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, and Jamie Foxx on stage. Some fan actually asked Jamie something along the lines of "how can you go from a great project like Ray to this?" He was a bit put off, but he stressed that this is a fun summer popcorn movie, not anything people have to think about too much.

The only thing bigger than Superman on Saturday was King Kong, and although we had no information about what would be presented other than learning that Peter Jackson would not be able to attend, we all knew this was a can't-miss presentation. Sure enough, Jackson had filmed an exclusive presentation for us where he apologized for not being able to make it to the Con due to Kong post production, talked about how the original Kong influenced his career, then walked us through behind the scenes work on a big fight scene between Kong and three T-Rexes similar to the updates he's been posting to kongisking.net all during its production.

Then we had a pleasant surprise, the entire primary cast: Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts, and Jack Black. This being a comic book convention filled with dorks who may not be all that familiar with the Oscar-caliber work of Brody and Watts, Black ended up with the most questions and many of them focused on Tenacious D rather than Kong, but it was still a great time seeing all of them on stage.

After they ended their panel, we were treated to a full live performance by Tenacious D, introduced by Kevin Smith. We got premieres of new songs they wrote for their upcoming movie, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (which Black guarantees will be the greatest movie of all time), as well as many of their old favorites. Black said they thought we only had to pay like $10 to get into the Con so they were originally only going to give us $10 worth of rawk, but once he found out that we had to pay $35(actually $30 for 1-day Sat pass), he knew they had to give us way more so they played for roughly an hour and totally owned! Really, what could follow the D?

That was the end of the presentations for the day, and the end of the Con for many people, us included. We missed so much but we were also completely exhausted and mostly satisfied with the stuff we actually caught. I ended up buying a grand total of one graphic novel at this "comic book" convention; there just wasn't time to fully explore the exhibition floor with so much else happening. I would have liked to have seen Ralph Bakshi, Forrest Ackerman, Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, Matt Groening and the rest of the Simpsons production staff, the upcoming Disney films panel, Kevin Smith, Todd McFarlane, the annual Masquerade costume contest, free screenings of Stealth and Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, independent film shorts in the Con's film festival, Brian K. Vaughan, Joss Whedon and the Serenity cast, the Lost cast...the list goes on and on.

Maybe next year!