Movie lovers crammed into the San Diego Convention Center today to kick off the 2009 Comic-Con International, the annual geek fest celebrating all things comic book and, as the official badge states, “related popular art forms.” Of course, in recent years, movies (the most popular of art forms, we think) have dominated the festivities; Thursday alone boasted headlining panels for upcoming event films like James Cameron’s Avatar and Summit Entertainment’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon, as well as a host of genre flicks ranging from Astro Boy to Tron 2 to Alice in Wonderland. Read on for impressions of Thursday’s panels, exclusive footage screenings, and more from ground zero!
Getting into Hall H for the morning’s first panel was easier than normal, thanks to a magic yellow VIP ticket courtesy of the fine folks at Disney. While yes, interest I’m sure was high for Disney’s 3D panel (the “first ever 3D panel at Comic-Con”) and for guest fanboy – er, guest moderator, Patton Oswalt — the real reason Hall H filled up as soon as the doors opened? The Twilight panel, which wouldn’t start for another three hours. Thus, thousands of Twilighters (and a few lucky “regular” folk) got a nice peek at footage from A Christmas Carol 3D, Alice in Wonderland, and Tron.
What were the highlights (and lowlights) of Thursday’s opening day festivities at Comic-Con International 2009? Read on for snippets and recaps of the day’s best movie panels.
Robert Zemeckis kicked off Thursday’s panels with an extensive look at his upcoming 3D animated film, A Christmas Carol. The art of 3D, he insisted, “is the future.” But will his latest effort be any better than the similarly crafted Beowulf?
Oswalt got the obvious question out of the way, asking Zemeckis to address the ongoing issue of the “uncanny valley” in animation – in other words, how real would Christmas Carol‘s human faces be? Zemeckis, who obviously has a thing for advancing the medium, gave a roundabout answer. The issue of the uncanny valley is an artistry issue, he said. “It has nothing to do with the technique.”
The takeaway from the Christmas Carol footage and Q&A with Robert Zemeckis? If you like Jim Carrey, you’re gonna get a LOT of him in this 3D animated adaptation of the Dickens’ classic. If, however, you find Carrey’s schtick tired and unappealing…well, perhaps you might still be a huge 3D enthusiast. Seriously, Carrey plays eight different characters, which will either make or break the film.
Tim Burton came out to show special footage from his upcoming Alice in Wonderland, a film for which the entire blogosphere was excited. Unfortunately, the special “exclusive” footage that had been prepared for Comic-Con turned out to be the very same teaser trailer leaked to the web the day before. That hardly mattered, as we got to see the trailer again in 3D, and the crowd – still full of teenage girls – screamed in unison at the sight of The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp).
Moderator Patton Oswalt was so taken by the Alice trailer that it was shown again. Burton, who admitted that he was still in the midst of production, so he didn’t have much to really show at Comic-Con. The lights turned out. Whispers rumbled through the crowd; would Depp make a surprise appearance? Nope. Burton took questions from the open mic, revealing that his version of Alice would be based not only on Lewis Carroll’s books, but also on the Jabberwocky poem. As audience members kept referring to co-star Helena Bonham Carter as his “wife,” he felt the need to correct them: “For the record, we’re not married, thank you very much.”
Finally, Oswalt and Burton’s schtick paid off. Wrapping things up, they nonchalantly introduced a last guest. Depp walked onstage from the wings, quite literally there only to show up and wave (and get the audience riled up). Mission accomplished.
Wrapping things up for the Disney panel was Tron 2, or, as they revealed on the giant new screen of Hall H, Tron: Legacy. In addition to trotting out the cast (Olivia Wilde, Garrett Hedlund, and Jeff Bridges) and filmmakers, Disney offered a generous look at concept art; after all, Tron 2 won’t hit theaters until 2010.
Slides revealed updated versions of familiar Tron surroundings, vehicles, and adornments, including completely new and upgraded vehicles like the Light Runner, the Recognizer, and the new 5th generation Light Cycle.
However, the fun came with the showing of a rough cut of an early scene, screened in 2D. Young Garrett Hedlund rides up and parks a motorcycle in front of a familiar building: Flynn’s Arcade, which has been shut down and now languishes, unused. Inside, he flips a switch, causing the roomful of old ’70s and ’80s arcade games to light back up. Against a back wall, he finds what he’s looking for: Tron. He inserts a quarter, which comes back through, rejected. But the coin activates a secret passageway behind the console, and he steps through.
From what was shown and discussed on the panel, Tron: Legacy will have a lot to offer existing fans: cool graphics, an updated “grid,” new vehicles, martial arts (a style called “loop kicking,” or “tricking” – essentially, cool-looking aerial acrobatics), and a score by Daft Punk. A Daft Punk-Tron promotional tour is not only possible, it’s “guaranteed” by director Kosinsky!
Thursday morning began with a pre-panel press conference, a rarity of sorts at Comic-Con, where the masses (at least, 6,000 of them at a time) trade hours of standing in queues for the chance to be the first to preview footage from Hollywood’s biggest upcoming films. But with so much hubbub over this November’s vampire sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon (and after The Twilight Panel Heard Around The World that revealed the existence of legions of fan girls last year), Comic-Con organizers felt a separate press conference might be in order.
And so, at 9:15 am sharp at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel down the road, a mass of journalists and bloggers gathered to lobby questions at Twilight: New Moon director Chris Weitz and his three main stars, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, and Robert Pattinson.
IGN’s own Eric Moro moderated the press conference, which perplexingly played host to many of the same questions answered later in Summit’s massive public panel. (Why get valuable time with the elusive cast, only to ask the same old questions?) But no matter; it was, if nothing else, a chance to get more snapshots of Stewart (in full Joan Jett mode, Minor Threat t-shirt and dark eye shadow and all), Lautner (strapping, and very chatty), and Pattinson (self-effacing and handsome per usual).
Look for full New Moon press conference and panel coverage soon!
Next: James Cameron’s Avatar, Terry Gilliam’s Dr. Parnassus, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, and Peter Jackson + District 9
The most highly anticipated new film at Comic-Con (second maybe, maybe to New Moon) was James Cameron’s Avatar, a film four years in the making, but as he says, “14 years in the dreaming.” Introduced as “The Mad Pirate,” Cameron took the stage for a lengthy informal chat. He made the film as a sort of synthesis of the things his teenage self liked. Soon enough, he got to the clip part – but instead of just bringing one or two clips to the Con, Cameron outdid his peers. We got to watch 25 minutes of footage from Avatar!
Cameron and stars Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, and Stephen Lang discussed story and character details at length, making a concerted effort to educate the audience on the little-known details of the film. Weaver plays Dr. Grace Augustine, a scientist who partakes in a program involving the alien planet, Pandora, to assume an “avatar” – a half human, half alien host body. Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) does the same as the lead character, Jake, who meets a native “Na’vi” (Zoe Saldana) and learns from her spiritual people.
The film’s visual splendor is something to behold; Avatar uses 3D technology not for gimmickry, but to enhance and deepen the world of Pandora, and to immerse us fully in Jake’s own exploratory experience. Deep blues, greens, purples, and pinks combine with neon flora and fauna on Pandora in one of the most beautiful animated films to come along in a while. The best scene: Jake wrangles deadly native reptilian bird, like a cowboy might break a horse. It’s breathtaking stuff, and earned a partial standing ovation.
Hall H started to thin out by the time the Terry Gilliam/Dr. Parnassus panel was to begin. Imaginarium, after all is about Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and not necessarily about Heath Ledger. Gilliam surfaced on stage to take questions and show clips, and explained the story of Dr. Parnassus to the audience.
After watching Gilliam’s clips, a few things were apparent. One, Gilliam must have had a tiny budget. Two, he did amazing things with said tiny budget, as he had to when a writer for The Monty Python show. And three, everyone loves Heath Ledger.
Gilliam called upon one additional special guest to help him out. If you guessed that person to be Verne Troyer, you were right! Troyer, who gets the rare “serious” role in Parnassus. Riiight. The crowd didn’t exactly go wild, but the footage looked appropriately amazing.
Even in one of the day’s later time slots (and thus prone to the Comic-Con Midday Fatigue), Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass previewed footage that not only got the house in a tizzy, but earned the biggest standing ovation of the day in Hall H. What could have made so many Con-goers so happy? Try the always-awesome combination of little girls kicking ass (see: The Professional), female assassins (Kill Bill), black comedy, and regular joes-turned-superheroes (Watchmen). Footage of 12-year-old Chloe Moretz not only kicking ass, but cutting entire limbs off and using foul language, is what really did the trick. Someone get Kick-Ass a release date already!
Late Thursday night I attended a “secret” screening of the Peter Jackson-produced science fiction flick, District 9. While Sony/Tri-Star have left District 9 awareness to mainly viral marketing thus far, suffice to say this is the screening that bloggers will be talking about from this year’s Con. (Another secret screening of Warner Bros.’ Ninja Assassin occurred Thursday night as well.)
Afterward, Jackson sat down with an “intimate” group of journalists to subject himself to all lines of questioning, focusing on District 9. Made for a mere $30 million, District 9 looks at least two times as expensive, and was helmed by a first time director to boot (Neil Blomkamp). Creature effects are impressive and pervasive, populating a South African refugee camp with hundreds of alien creatures who look vaguely like giant shellfish; amazingly, Jackson shared that nearly every creature image and close-up was computer generated. (More on District 9 to come.)
Jackson previewed a four-and-a-half minute extended trailer for his own upcoming directorial effort, The Lovely Bones. While I had my hesitations about this bestselling novel adaptation – how could it be filmed, for example — what Jackson had to show was moving and gorgeous. Look for the trailer to be attached to chick lit flick Julie & Julia in theaters.
And lastly, he subjected himself to a barrage of Hobbit questions. Jackson cut short the rumors that a Hobbit casting announcement might be made during Comic-Con, as a final script is still three weeks away from being submitted.
That’s it for Thursday’s wrap-up. Check Rotten Tomatoes throughout the day for our breaking Comic-Con news coverage, updated as news happens! See our gallery of costumes and cos-players.
Get our latest Comic-Con 2009 updates here: