Here's the first ever Comicon report by film ick's roving spy in San Diego.
I'm going to go into itallics and then everything that follows will be the work of one Elisabeth Rappe. Give me a while and I might get to drop back in and proof her text a little too - don't hold Elisabeth accountable for any typos or grammatical skews, it's all my responsibilty.
To begin with though, here's the whole big wodge, unfiltered. It's a very
good read and there's a lot of info in there, as well as some keen opinionating. Enjoy.
This was my first trip to SDCC and I really hope it will not be my last. I say that with some surprise, because it was a really exhausting, insane experience. I consider myself to be a pretty tough fangirl, but it was overwhelming. There’s too much to do, see and buy. You compete with hundreds of fans to get a glimpse of a Sideshow Collectible. People wear poster tubes slung on their backs like samurai swords. You look around and wonder how there can be as many geeky people in the world as you...
Still, by the end of Thursday, I was really quite depressed. My sister and I had managed to make two animation panels and explore the entire exhibition hall by the end of Thursday and were perplexed. THIS was the SDCC we’d heard so much about? A bunch of booths of Jack Sparrow and Wolverine statues you could, in theory, own someday? A lackluster animation panel? Pins and keychains? Where was the stuff you could BUY? Where were the comics? Where were the amazing panels? Where were the movie displays? I really thought I had just wasted my money. This may be because I was going on exactly two hours sleep and nothing no food but a single granola bar.
By Friday, we had it down. We started to see what this was all about. There’s nothing like sitting with thousands of geeks laughing about "Snakes on a Plane," or having studios schmooze you with those exclusives and previews. Coming from Denver, where our one bragging point is that Kurt Russell has a house in Telluride, it’s truly odd to have Richard Donner walk into a panel and have it seem like no big deal. The biggest celebrity our lousy sci-fi convention got was John Travolta for "Battlefield Earth" and well, we all know what happened with that. More than anything, it was cool to see Hollywood giving fans some respect. They come here to tempt us to give them good buzz online—they are slow on the uptake, but they’re starting to see the kind of power we really have. Geeks can make or break a film and it is smart to get on our good side.
On the other hand, some of SDCC smacks of pandering. As they kiss up to us, they’re pandering to us, thinking that a graciously given free t-shirt will endear us to their films. Maybe I am just a cynic, but I couldn’t help feeling condescended too occasionally, such as in the 20th Century Fox panel where they trotted out "Eragon" boy and read us speeches about the exciting year ahead. Given that the studios are taking over more and more of the exhibition areas, driving out the comic books and dealers, I wonder if this attitude will become more and more prevalent. That would be truly disappointing. SDCC is an event where, for four days, geeks come out to play and rule the fate of film. I hope it stays that way.
I think SDCC can help by taking a firmer handle on the convention as a whole. Cater to your fans first, not the studios and not your pocketbook. Cap admission. Keep your comic sellers and private vendors happy. Make sure you have a friendly and well-informed volunteer staff. Use common sense when controlling the crowds—if you’ve got a whole wall of doors, don’t funnel hundreds through two! Oh and lower those food and water prices!
And some advice to the studios—you’ve got to have your stars mingle with the fans. This convention once boasted LOTR and Hugh Jackman signings, now you can’t even get the unknown kid from "Eragon." Book them—and be open about it. Nothing is more annoying than getting a smirking, hushed "We don’t really know..." when asked who might show up for a signing. It’s one thing to surprise people in a panel, but it’s another to bring out Tarantino for a half hour and snipe at inquiring people they’ve missed a posted signing. You miss enough at SDCC without having to be denied a chance to meet your favorite actor or director because of studio smoke and mirrors.
Also, you might want to hire actual film fans to man your booths instead of pretty faces. There was more than one that I visited where the staff had absolutely no idea what they were promoting. The most ridiculous example was the IGT/Manga booth, which was running a trailer for "Beowulf and Grendel." People stopped and asked about this film and the vacant-eyed brunette model could only blink. I had to fill in the curious. Surely you should have people who can actually SELL your films?
But hey—enough ranting. Once the trauma of heat, crowds, food poisoning, nasty Red Shirts and hysterical studio employees had passed, I realized I had a pretty good time. And that I would very much like to come back. Dammit, SDCC—you hooked me!
Now, for what I managed to see...
The only panels I managed to attend Thursday was the end of the Sony Animation Panel and the Warner Bros Animation panel. They were pretty lackluster, though we did get a nice Happy Feet thermometer keychain from Warner Bros.
The last film Sony previewed was Surf’s Up, about a surfer penguin voiced by Shia LeBeouf. Let me say, I love penguins as much as anyone and I cried at March of the Penguins—but enough with the penguin movies already. They haven’t even come out and I find them ridiculous. This is largely because unless you’ve come up with a charming Arctic tale, a movie about penguins simply doesn’t work. Surfing penguins and tropical themes do not work, even if your penguin is a macaroni penguin and has cool spikey "hair." The whole film is a mock-documentary of penguin surfing and it is just remarkably boring. You just can’t do an animated film that way.
Warner Bros previewed The Ant Bully, Happy Feet and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The whole hall was filled with very intense TMNT fans which was rather funny to me—I dug them as a kid, but I can’t say I thought of them too much beyond the age of 12. But when I encountered a guy covered head to toe in TMNT who insisted he couldn’t save my seat if I went to the bathroom...and he was no exception...I realized there was a whole segment of geeky fans I had somehow missed. So the whole room was buzzing because we were going to get an exclusive trailer.
Now, I will confess—I fell asleep during The Ant Bully because I had only had two hours of sleep the night before. I guess that speaks volumes about how interesting I found the preview. It looks basically like another ant movie in the vein of A Bug’s Life or Antz, no matter how the director insists otherwise. This one does have Bruce Campbell doing a voice of a heroic ant, so it has that going for it.
The next presentation was for Happy Feet and I perked up—I know I just said I was incredibly sick of penguin movies, but this one’s got Hugh Jackman as a penguin! And who can resist that incredibly infectious trailer with the tap-dancing baby penguin? Well, I am sorry to say that I now can. The cuteness of that trailer does not carry over to the rest of the film. Elijah Wood voices the tap dancing penguin and though he is clearly a baby penguin, he lusts after a sassy adult penguin voiced by Brittney Murphy. The premise is that out of all the penguins, he can’t sing and thus cannot find a mate. But he can tap dance. This just means that while he’s tap dancing, the other penguins are breaking into R&B. Once again, like surfing, funky soul and R&B just clashes with penguins...don’t ask me why, but it doesn’t work. Plus it has become a cliche of animated films to throw in "hip" music and expect it to carry the film. Maybe Jackman and Nicole Kidman’s penguins will be the highlights, but right now, I would pass on it.
And then came the preview everyone was waiting for...TMNT. Call me lame, but I can’t say one thing or another about the teaser. It is nice to see some gloomy, dark CGI for a change though, and it looks as if they took a slightly anime approach to their design. All we saw were the four turtles flip around an alleyway. Just as Leonardo stops before the camera with his two katanas, Michelangelo promptly trips, falls and lands in a dumpster, ruining their cool acrobatics. People went nuts for it. I can’t say I’m one of them, there just wasn’t enough to go crazy for. The director kept stressing that it would be geared more towards adults—somehow I cannot picture an adult TMNT film, but then again, I didn’t know there were adults wearing children’s TMNT backpacks.
Due to jet-lag and being completely lost around the convention, I didn’t see another panel until Friday, when we lined up for Warner Bros presentation of "The Reaping," "Wicker Man," and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."
"The Reaping," directed by Stephen Hopkins, looks like it might be a decent thriller. Hilary Swank stars as a scientist who makes a career out of debunking miracles and is called in to investigate a small Louisiana town that is being besieged by the plagues from Exodus. Swamps are turning to blood and herds of locusts swarm buildings. (Locusts abound in the film, I wonder if the rest of the plagues ever do show up?) They seem to be controlled by a little girl, played by Anna Sophia Robb. Now, if there is a flaw within the premise, it is this. Far too many movies seem to be relying on a young girl for the creep factor. Admittedly, this did provide a chilling little scene where Swank visits the girl’s home and the mother asks if she is there to kill her daughter. "No, of course not," Swank answers, horrified. "Why not?" the mother asks.
Swank and Hopkins promised lots of twists and turns, but I wonder if they accidentally spoiled said twists when they said Swank’s character was not what she seemed. Since the tagline is "Evil Has a Savior" I leave you to guess what the twist might be...
I am amazed that Warner Bros tried to claim they had a Harry Potter presentation, since all they produced as a video of Daniel Radcliffe and director David Yates talking about how great #5 was going to be. They excitedly rattled off a bunch of scenes which are straight from the book...Harry’s kiss, the battle at the Ministry of Magic...nothing new to anyone who’s read it and nothing revealing for anyone who hasn’t.
Next up was "Wicker Man," which Neil LaBute were allowed to see the first ten minutes or so of. Now, I haven’t seen the original and I’m not a big horror movie fan, so I haven’t actively sought it out even with news of a remake. The scene began with Nicholas Cage as a highway patrol officer, driving behind a beater car. A baby doll is flung out of the window and as he drives by, he reaches down to pick it up and waves the car to pull over. The car contains a mother and her young daughter, the mother nervously apologies to Cage for her daughter throwing her toy, explaining that she’s in an awful mood. "I’m bored," the girl says and throws the doll out the window again. Cage explains that she needs to stop doing that, it’s important to be safe while driving. He’s his usual dour self. The entire time, big semi trucks are speeding by, leading you to think Cage is going to get hit by one.
He crosses the road to get the doll, and right then a semi hits the car and it bursts into flames. Horrified, he attempts to wrench open the door, but cannot get the driver door open. The mother is slumped over the wheel and looks dead. The little girl is sitting, unharmed, in the back. Cage breaks the back window and tries to reach her, but can’t. He tells her to give him her arm—and is blown back by a wall of flame.
It was a decent beginning, but once again, the cop-out seems to be the creepy little girl factor. Are creepy little boys off-limits since "The Omen" or what? LaBute explained that he switched the villains to a matriarchal society from a patriarchal because he was more interested in a gender conflict rather than the pagan-Christian one that the original centered around. He said he was inspired by colonies of bees. Ellen Burstyn is taking the Christopher Lee role—he also wanted to avoid a male actor having to compete with Lee’s original performance. Lee does not make a cameo, but I think he said Aaron Eckhart did. Also, there will be no singing like in the original.
Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns panel came next. Everyone will think me a poor excuse for a fangirl, but I still haven’t seen Superman for various reasons, none of them very good. I’m more of an X-Man fan and nothing about the Superman promos really appealed to me. Singer’s panel made me feel absolutely terrible about having not gone! He was so passionate about the film and the character of Superman that even I am anxious to see what the next film will bring. And he needs to rethink releasing that Krypton sequence—everyone wants to see it and he really needs to justify spending that $10 million dollars.
The highlight of this panel was the gag reel. If there’s one thing DVD’s need more of, it is gag reels. Most of the scenes were of Brandon Routh tripping over himself either physically or vocally. My personal favorite was James Marsters in the now-famous "I Spent the Night with Superman" confrontation with Lois. In character and deadpan, he inquires about the article, "I 69’d Superman." Kate Bosworth managed to stay in character, but Marsters kept on with a whole litany of filthy sexual acts until she finally lost it and threw a towel at him. It had to be seen to be believed.
Singer handled the Q&A really well, deflected criticism with ease, graciously avoided criticizing Warner Bros poor promotion of the film and rose to the defense of Superman’s illegitimate child. He explained he saw it as a chance to show that there are all kinds of families and that he took it very personally as an adopted child. It was a brilliant retort to a moralizing fan.
The big surprise of the panel was the appearance of Richard Donner, who confirmed that his Superman 2 will be coming out on DVD, pieced together from existing footage and screen tests. This will really be something to see. The scene they previewed of Lois trying to pry the truth out of a stuttering Clark Kent was wonderful, classic Superman. I think I can safely say the entire room was left really missing Christopher Reeves.
20th Century Fox followed Singer—a pretty tough act to top. The first thing they showed was an exclusive trailer from "Eragon." I haven’t read the books, but personally I love the new trend towards fantasy films—it’s like the 80’s all over again. The special effect heavy weights of ILM and WETA teamed up for this one. That seems a really unlikely alliance, but a potentially brilliant one—I rather think between the two of them, they could just make a real dragon. And yet the effects in the trailer seemed remarkably cheesy, practically Sci-Fi channel quality. I hope that we were seeing a rough cut and they weren’t polished yet.
What may really carry this film is the acting. It boasts a promising cast of Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Dijmon Hounsou and Robert Carlyle. I suppose it could go towards campy, but the bits we saw seemed well-acted. And you heard it from a fangirl--I predict that Edward Speleers, who plays Eragon, will be the next Orlando Bloom. There were many high-pitched squeals when he walked onto the stage.
The next was "Reno 911: Miami." This panel was great fun as the cast came out in character to promote the "web of lies." I’m not a fan of the show, but I found myself really laughing at their panel. 20th Century Fox’s panels were completely studio orchestrated, no fan Q&A’s allowed and the studio guy was totally unable to deal with the antics of the cast. The trailer is a fun spoof of the upcoming "Miami Vice" and it’s odd that its not online yet, since the fun will quickly go out of it. Anyone who loves the show should love the movie as it is more of the same, even down to Officer Dangle’s short shorts.
I ducked out when they started previewing "Pathfinder" which just looks like another bad Viking movie. Why is it that anyone who makes a Viking movie has to turn out some direct to video film? (Or rather, they should be direct to video!) No studio will distribute "Beowulf and Grendel" in the US, but they’ll release "Pathfinder." Unfortunately, I missed the trailer and live appearance of "Borat," but I did score a pin, which was the envy of many at the convention.
I didn’t catch another panel until one on "Bones," which I feel incredibly guilty for not watching. The lowdown on the fall season is that they plan to really torment Boreanaz’s character. His ex-wife (or simply mother of his child—can’t remember which now) is going to show up and cause tension. The panel was mostly taken over by a Q&A of his fervent female admirers, but he was a very good sport. The highlight was a blooper reel—who knew Angel could do such a dead-on Christopher Walken impression?
Everyone’s favorite panel of Friday had to be "Snakes on a Plane." If there was the perfect way to cap the long hype of this film, it was this panel. We got to see a 10 minute clip of the film which—well, what can you say? It was alot of snake hacking, snake bites, slithering and screams. Beverage carts go flying and the plane is unmanned! This film is as wonderfully over the top as anyone can hope for. There is even the obligatory moment where Samuel L. Jackson comforts Julianna Margulies (say, where’d her career go?) telling her that he needs her "to be strong." I was disappointed that her flight attendant didn’t immediately burst into tears and demand to know why bad things happen to good people...
Saturday, I lined up early to catch the "300" panel. This was the main thing I had attended SDCC for and was the highlight of the trip. It didn’t disappoint me. The actors on display, Gerard Butler and David Wenham, were clearly having a good time and were good sports with even the silly questions.
For anyone who doesn’t know by now, "300" is based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel and follows those famous 300 Spartans to their death at the hands of the Persians. Read it if you haven’t already so that you can look cool when the film comes out. The film is directed by Zack Snyder and has quite a nice cast, mostly made up of young and handsome men —Gerard Butler, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro and Dominic West. Lena Headley is the lone female, Queen Gorgo.
The film was shot in the same style as "Sin City," all green screen to capture the look of Miller’s panels. Now I thought this was a smart move as it would distinguish the movie from the parade of Greek flops that we’ve had in recent years. Many of the book’s fans disagreed, feeling it should be shot as a straight-up historical epic. Just wait until they see this trailer.
This film is going to be huge, if Warner Bros doesn’t blow the promotion of it. (Word to the studio—do not release this in March 2007! Release this in May to give it the summer blockbuster status it deserves!) Snyder insisted it was a rough cut, but if this is unfinished, I can’t wait to see what the polished film will look like. It began with an "origin" for Leonidas and the Spartans, narrated by Wenham, describing how they were examined at birth and trained to be warriors. It featured all the highlights from the book—Leonidas kicking the Persian emissary into the pit ("This is madness!" "Madness? THIS IS SPARTA!"), the Oracle (topless), the deformed Spartan and that wonderful line out of Herodotus , "I have so many archers that their arrows will blot out the sun." "Then we will fight in the shade." Gorgo’s part, known to be fleshed out, was hinted at—and we got glimpses of one hell of a sex scene between her and Leonidas. (Snyder must have felt his male audience needed some breasts with all those half-naked men running around.) It’s going to be violent, raw, sexy and contemporary—everything the book is and more. The audience was completely blown away and the actors, Gerard Butler and David Wenham were so thrilled to see it on the big screen they asked that it be run again. We ended up seeing it three times and honestly, we could have all gone for a fourth. Amazingly, for it being THE film of the convention, precious few I talked to had seen the panel. One WB employee told me he had seen it and that it was "incredible." I actually believe him, not just because of the trailer, but because he confessed to falling asleep during all the WB promo meetings. So if it kept his attention, it must be cool.
Because I ran to Warner Bros to catch Butler’s autograph (a girl has to have her priorities) I missed all the big panels because I could not get back into Hall H. My younger sister caught them all. I’ve pieced together her highlights, so apologies for the lack of good detail:
The Grindhouse Panel—the trailer was gory and hilariously funny. Rose McGowan apparently loses her leg and has to hobble around on a wooden table leg. Kurt Russell will play the villain in Tarantino’s half, as everyone knows by now, and promises a performance that no one has ever seen. I’m really anxious to see this—if there’s anyone who will cast people in roles no one else would offer them, and get brilliant performances to boot, it’s Tarantino.
Pirates—I really kick myself for missing this one. Who knew "Behind the Scenes" would include a preview of #3? Jack Sparrow has to face down his prostitutes ("No, I never loved you—yes, I lied--"), Elizabeth Swann is presented to Captain Sao Feng (who apparently has "very creepy eyes"), the undead monkey sports a Chinese outfit, Norrington is back in powdered wig, Lord Cutler Beckett gets passage with our heroes and much much more...
Nicholas Cage and Ghost Rider—I caught about a minute or so of this, but I am with the consensus that Cage was high. Apparently, he has a flaming skull tattoo—but it’s NOT a Ghost Rider tattoo, it’s a symbol of truth and honesty...so there you go.
Well, this is a pretty shoddy report (not at all - Brendon) from a very lost SDCC newbie. Next time I will take my laptop with me and try to capture this stuff as it happens—though I am amazed at the endurance of anyone who can hit a full day of con and go home to type up detailed coverage. Hopefully I will get to hit it again and be more prepared.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Here's the first ever Comicon report by film ick's roving spy in San Diego.