Comic-Con officially starts with Preview Night, but there aren’t a lot of events going on at that time. You can go watch a selection of new tv pilots, but I usually use the three hours to walk the exhibit hall floor and keep an eye out for cool freebies and deals. But a lot of those deals don’t materialize until the end of the weekend, when vendors slash prices in an attempt to divest themselves of merchandise before they head home. The only thing of real note that I managed to do on Wednesday night was play Resident Evil 6, which had a surprisingly short line. The demo had three playable characters, and I chose Chris Redfield. Chris’s scenario was full of intense action but more closely resembles Gears of War crossed with House of the Dead than a classic Resident Evil game. It seems well-made, but I prefer the earlier games in the series, which were a combination of horror and action. Now the games seem to be action-combat titles that retain horror tropes, but aren’t actually scary.
Thursday started off light this year because nothing was happening in the convention’s two biggest rooms until after noon. It gave me a chance to go to some smaller events, starting with the Racebending.com panel at 10:00 am. This panel featured moderator Mike Le from the website (which apparently now exists in a general mission to promote diversity in genre material, instead of its original intention to shout about how much M. Night Shyamalan sucks for casting white people in The Last Airbender) and a group of ethnically diverse people talking about difficulties of presenting racial diversity in genre material. The conversation was wide-ranging and very interesting. Marjorie Liu, who’s written several novels, says that she’s gone from being frustrated at having her characters depicted as white on book covers to getting death threats because she wrote the Astonishing X-Men issue in which Northstar, a character who’s been out for 20 years, got married to another man. African-American fantasy author N.K. Jemisin on the panel talked about how she took shit from people for having the main character of one of her series be analogous to a South American Indian instead of black.
After that in the same room was the Filmation panel, featuring studio founder Lou Scheimer, who is in his 80s and suffering from Parkinson’s, several other Filmation animators and voice actors, and Andy Mangels as the moderator. Mangels has spent five years putting together a book about the studio. That’s a really long time. Anyway, they reminisced about how great the studio was back in the ‘70s, and talked about how He-Man and its pioneering daily syndication format literally saved the American animation industry in the ‘80s. That last fact may be true, but as someone who has recently been rewatching She-Ra with a six-year-old, I was waiting for them to acknowledge how damn shitty the animation quality was back then. I sort of got it when a few of the panelists managed how Lou knew how to stretch a dollar as far as possible. There was also an amusing clip featuring Sid Haig as the evil Dragos in the late ‘70s live action show Jason of Star Command. This led into Haig’s tale of being hired on House of 1,000 Corpses by Rob Zombie specifically because Zombie liked Jason growing up. I found out quickly that being a 35-year-old sorta-fan of He-Man and She-Ra was a bit too young to get anything interesting out of this nostalgia-tinted wankfest, so I bailed out about halfway through.
Shortly after noon, I joined a friend in the line for Hall H. Twilight didn’t start until 12:45, and we figured we’d hop in the line to have a decent shot at getting into the Disney panel when Twilight emptied out. But the line was really quite short, and we essentially walked right into the hall and found seats without trouble. For the hundreds of Twi-hards who camped out for days waiting for this panel, it was interesting to see that they couldn’t fill the 6,500 seats on their own. I think the slotting of the panel as the first event in Hall H gave the general population of Comic-Con an easy out to stay away from the room, so the only people in there were Twilight fans and some scattered attendees mostly waiting for the Disney panel.
I’ve sat through some ridiculous panels at Comic-Con, but the Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 one wasn’t too bad. A few young fans asked adorable questions, and it was interesting to watch author Stephenie Meyer dodge a question about whether she would ever go back to her unfinished book from Edward’s perspective. Because the questioner directed her query at both Meyer and Robert Pattinson, Meyer deflected it to Pattinson, joking around with him about if he planned on writing an Edward book. They showed the first seven minutes of Breaking Dawn: Part 2, which was silly, but at least looked good and was action-packed. There was some nostalgia about this being the last panel, but no tears. Tears would come later on in the convention. At the end of the panel, they brought out literally 20 extra actors who apparently have small roles as other vampires in this movie, and this was awkward because they had no time left to do anything but introduce each person. They also debuted the trailer for The Host, based on another Meyer book, which seems to be about body-snatching aliens who subsume the human race and love chrome vehicles.
The Disney panel was our first taste of Chris Hardwick as moderator at the convention, but it would be far from our last. But I’ll get to him later. This was a three-film panel, opening with Tim Burton and clips from Frankenweenie, which actually looks very entertaining, with all the kids in town getting involved in the pet-resurrection fun and really great, stark, black-and-white footage. Burton seemed particularly lucid and happy to talk this time around, as opposed to last time I saw him at Comic-Con, where he was clearly forcing enthusiasm for Alice in Wonderland. Then it was Sam Raimi’s turn to show us a teaser for Oz the Great and Powerful, which hits in March. James Franco plays the proto-wizard, a stage magician who ends up in Oz and meets the witches (though not the Scarecrow, Tin Man, or Cowardly Lion, thankfully). The teaser was pretty cool, and Raimi confirmed that Bruce Campbell will have a cameo, and that they pulled out the engine block from “the classic” to work it into the movie as part of Emerald City machinery. Raimi is just going to ridiculous lengths to get that car into a movie with no cars in it. Finally, we had director Rich Moore and voice stars of Wreck-It Ralph, complete with the movie’s first several minutes, and an additional five minutes of clips. I was excited at the initial trailer, and this just made me more pumped that Disney is doing a movie set in the land of video games, and packing it with as many cameos as they can. Moore said the biggest character they wanted for the movie but couldn’t get was, of course, Mario. But Nintendo apparently doesn’t care as much about Bowser, because he’s in the opening sequence.
After Disney I headed over to the Indigo Ballroom line, which was snaking down the harbor walkway. We missed the panel for Wilfred while waiting, which didn’t bother me. But it looked like we were going to miss Archer, as well, which was a huge bummer. But after telling people the room was full for that panel, the line started creeping up again. I actually got into the room about 25 minutes in, which meant I got to see the last two minutes of the new episode they showed but had time to experience the panel discussion. And it was a really, really funny panel, with H. Jon Benjamin going off into all sorts of dirty places, and Aisha Tyler and Amber Nash encouraging him all the way.
I finished the day in that same room with the Rifftrax panel, which changed it up from previous years and was a lot of fun. They opened with a live riff of a short, Safety Woman, a ridiculous educational film from the ‘70s where a crossing guard/freelance architect is given amazing safety powers by aliens, complete with a silver foil outfit, cardboard shield, and sunglasses. Then she goes around and keeps kids from burning up in a kitchen fire and shooting themselves. After that it was time for the movie suggestions. In the past this has consisted of people getting up to the mic and going, “Okay, this is a terrible movie that I’ve seen and here’s why you guys need to make fun of it.” And then the Rifftrax guys narrow down the choices and pick one to riff sometime in the next year. This year they wanted people to pitch their own ludicrous movie ideas, for which they’d be given prizes. The prizes, the Rifftrax guys said, was a selection of their dvds. Of course, this turned out to be actual crappy dvd’s that they owned and not Rifftrax dvds, so people got things like a Taylor Swift concert video and a Garfield two-pack. The last dvd went to someone dressed as Axe Cop, who turned out to be True Blood‘s Jessica, Deborah Ann Woll. Besides playing a sexy vampire on a hit genre show, she’s also, it turns out, a gigantic Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax fan, so she showed up at the panel to hang out. It was surreal and fun.
My friend had lobbied unsuccessfully to get me to camp out overnight in the line, but I wasn’t having it. I did, however, wake up early and joined him shortly after 6:00 am. A little after 7:00, they opened the doors and let the general line disperse. It didn’t really disperse, of course, because a large majority of the people were waiting for Ballroom 20, so we moved upstairs and outside into the official Ballroom 20 line.
So why was the line so big for that room on Friday? In a word, Firefly. On top of that, there were panels for Community and The Legend of Korra beforehand, so lots of passionate fans in the line. Eventually we got inside and had pretty decent seats, and it was time for the Community panel. I was hoping for fireworks, but instead we mostly got love. I think the reaction to the first two shows was muted because of the preponderance of Firefly fans. So some of the ugly questions people might have anticipated regarding the firing of show creator Dan Harmon were muted by how difficult it was to get in the room. Still, the two new show runners came out and said all the right things about how they were huge fans of the show and how it wasn’t going to change. They also gave us some hints about season 4, including getting to see Jeff’s dad and an episode set at an Inspector Spacetime convention.
The Legend of Korra panel was a lot of fun for me, but might have been a bit dry for the non-fans in the room. They had the four main character voice actors on the panel, and they did a table read of some highlight scenes from over the first season as voice director Andrea Romano, well, directed. They also announced that Nickelodeon had just renewed the show for two additional seasons, bringing the eventual episode total to 52 episodes. Considering the show was conceived as two seasons and out, I really hope the creators have some ideas for extending it. Without any finished video to show, they settled for giving us a lot of concept art. We got to see a lot of backgrounds set at the South Pole, and a lot of pictures of the characters in their winter gear, including a lot of the Southern Water Tribe people we have never seen or only seen briefly.
Then it was time for the big event. The Firefly Reunion was hugely anticipated, and could easily have filled Hall H. But hey, The Big Bang Theory is popular right now, and Firefly is just a ten-year-old show that only lasted half a season. You wouldn’t have known it from the ecstatic reaction of the crowd, who gave huge roars of approval for writer Jose Molina, executive producer Tim Minear, stars Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Sean Maher, and Adam Baldwin, and creator Joss Whedon. Whedon is on a high right now from The Avengers, but it’s clear that he still loves Firefly with all his heart. At one point he said that he didn’t feel like the show was gone because of the strong cult audience that’s kept it alive all this time. The panelists kept it together through most of the hour, as fans (nearly all in costume) asked strong questions about the show. But we got to the final question, “If you hadn’t been cancelled, how would the season one finale have differed from the Serenity movie?”, and Whedon started to tear up, while saying, “Of all the questions, this is the one I lose it on?” This caused an upwelling of emotion from the rest of the panel. Then the moderator asked Joss to say a little bit about what the fans meant to him, and he started to speak, stopped, and ended up speechless as the crowd rose to their feet with rapturous applause. At this point most of the audience was in tears, too, including myself. It was one of the most emotional, genuine moments I’ve ever been involved in at Comic-Con, and it was worth all the getting up early and getting in line.
After Firefly, I took the opportunity to explore some of the offsite stuff. The studios and networks took over the town big-time this year, with promotional events all around downtown. The parking lot next to Petco Park had food trucks and a large booth promoting Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. NBC had a huge set up promoting Revolution and Grimm, with an interactive forest to walk through and a replica of the trailer of stuff from Grimm. The Hard Rock Hotel had things on display from Elysium and Total Recall plus a room full of Xbox games and an X-Com demo going on. A couple more spots downtown had a Sega lounge and a free arcade. So even if you can’t get into Comic-Con, there’s plenty to do in San Diego near the convention.
I really wanted to see the Bob’s Burgers panel later in the afternoon, but the line was absolutely ridiculous. So I walked down to the other side of the Convention Center and found a surprisingly short line for the panel for Falling Skies. The stars of the show were in a good mood because TNT had just announced that the show was coming back for a third season. Since it’s in mid-season right now, there were plenty of clips screened for events to come. The actors and executive producer Remi Aubuchon ended up teasing a whole bunch of story developments without coming out and being definitive.
Another early day in line started well before 7:00 am for us, and even earlier for many others. Hall H had a stellar lineup of movie panels scheduled for the day, bringing out the LOTR crowd as well as the fans of Marvel’s movies. First up was Quentin Tarantino with Django Unchained, but since that panel didn’t start until 11:30, they didn’t open Hall H until after 10:00.
With a week to go left in shooting and being very protective of his story, Tarantino didn’t bring a bunch of clips. Instead he brought the eight-minute industry sizzle reel, which played like a longer, more interesting trailer. Even more curious, Tarantino emphasized that everything in the sizzle reel was material taken from the first half of the movie. Tarantino has surprised us before, so the second half of Django Unchained could end up as something quite unexpected. The panel discussion featured a lot of Tarantino going on and on, but stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Kerry Washington got to have their say as well.
Washington in particular was praised for her ability to pick up the German-language dialogue, and she plays a raised-by-Germans slave named Brunhilda von Shaft. At least she should be named Brunhilda, an actual name, but everyone on the panel pronounced it “Broomhilda”, which, if true, is either a terrible joke or a sad lack of research on Tarantino’s part. Considering that this is the man who named a character Beatrix Kiddo solely to make a joke about Trix cereal, it’s probably the former.
After that came the Open Road Films panel, which highlighted one of Hall H’s periodic problems. The studios like to have at least an hour apiece to make presentations, but Open Road only has one genre film coming out in the foreseeable future, Silent Hill Revelations 3D. So to fill out their other half-hour, they brought End of Watch, a gritty cop drama starring Jake Gyllenhal and Michael Peña. Director David Ayer has spent the decade since writing Training Day stuck in a rut scripting, and occasionally directing, nothing but cop and crime dramas set in Los Angeles. From the intense clips shown, End of Watch was filmed very much like the “you are there” style of The Shield, with a ton of jiggling handheld camerawork and locked off cameras inside of the patrol cars. Ayer was careful to emphasize, though, that this is a story of two upstanding cops who get in over their heads. Apparently he’s been getting an earful from friends in the LAPD who are sick of being portrayed as corrupt assholes. So he wrote a movie that turns that around. Regardless of the film’s potential quality, though, it was an awkward fit for Comic-Con.
Silent Hill Revelations 3D is the long-awaited(?) sequel to the first Silent Hill movie. The audience got to see a pair of pretty creepy clips that were completely out of context. They didn’t want to give away a lot of story, but apparently it will be connected to the first movie somehow, and include returning cast members Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean. But since neither of them were on the panel, I suspect their parts in the movie will be minor. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett said that a lot of the movie will be based on the Silent Hill 3 game, which is at least solid source material. Oh, and Universal Studios Hollywood will be doing a Silent Hill-themed haunted attraction for their annual Halloween event this year. So that’s good news if you live in LA and like haunted houses.
After that was the Big Event for the day: the 2.5-hour long Warner Brothers panel. The panel kicked off with curtains on either side of the gigantic screen in Hall H being pulled back to reveal two additional gigantic screens. That’s a new feature for Hall H, and it was quite impressive. Then Chris Hardwick came out to moderate and again worked hard to make the conversation about how great he is, so that was annoying.
First up for the panel was Guillermo del Toro to talk about Pacific Rim, his mecha vs. monsters movie that hits next summer. One of the side screens showed about two minutes of behind-the-scenes footage while del Toro talked, and it proved to be more of a distraction than anything substantial. I’m sure the movie has a long way to go and many, many effects still to be done, but what they showed looks pretty amazing. There’s already a sense of scale in the film that lets you know exactly how massive the robots and monsters are. Del Toro also revealed that there are nine different monsters in the movie, and talked about how the robots require two pilots working together, one to control each side. He also mentioned that there’s some sort of shared consciousness going on, making the whole “two pilots” idea sound like something out of a mediocre anime. This movie has the potential to be a huge hit, but the Warner Bros. marketing is going to have to be very careful in how much they reveal. Some of the goofier ideas could make this 2013’s Battleship if they stumble in the advertising campaign.
Tacked onto the end of the Pacific Rim portion of the panel was a very effective 30-second teaser for the new Hollywood Godzilla movie. It showed a devastated city, then a lot of dust, then the classic Godzilla scream, and a brief glimpse of the monster. Director Gareth Edwards previously did a lot of great effects with virtually no budget on the 2010 indie Monsters, but he’s got his work cut out for him on this one, which doesn’t come out until 2014.
Then along came Zack Snyder to talk about The Man of Steel. Snyder is always an enthusiastic presence at Comic-Con, but he’s not necessarily the most interesting director to listen to (which is where a good moderator comes in). But since Hardwick is more interested in talking about how everything relates to him than asking probing questions, the audience got to listen to Snyder talk about how awesome Superman was, and how awesome star Henry Cavill was, and how having the opportunity to direct a Superman movie was awesome. Still, the 90-second teaser they showed made the movie look like an interesting take on the mythos. We saw Pa Kent revealing the Kryptonian spaceship to Clark when he was about 10, a bearded Clark rescuing a group of children from a flooding school bus, and a costumed Superman being confronted by the military and being led away in shackles. This sounds insane to say, but it also appears to be the most grounded movie that Snyder has ever directed. Hopefully that’s the influence of producer and Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan keeping the story a little less fantastic that most of Snyder’s previous work.
The second unannounced portion of the panel was a promotion for The Campaign, the August comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galafianakis as opponents in a North Carolina election. They brought an extended trailer that had the crowd laughing hard. Ferrell and Galafianakis were then asked a series of weird and ridiculous questions from audience members, which they mostly handled by passing the questions off to each other. This one-upmanship was both uncomfortable and very funny, and they probably won over quite a few people who weren’t aware of the movie.
Finally, it was time for Peter Jackson and The Hobbit. After the middling reaction he got from showing 10 minutes of the film in 3D and at 48 frames per second at a theatre-owners convention in the spring, Jackson opted to show everything in 2D and the standard 24 frames per second here. It was a bit disappointing, as I was really looking forward to seeing just how different 48 fps looked onscreen. But Jackson now says that people need to watch the full movie that way to really understand it. He wanted the audience to see the footage and not worry about the format.
He showed a lot of footage, too. In addition to showing the behind the scenes video diary of the final day of shooting on set, there was 12 minutes of footage from the movie itself. That included a pair of extended scenes. The first showed a reluctant Bilbo getting talked into going on the adventure by Gandalf, and the second showed quite a bit of Bilbo’s meeting with Gollum. Besides those two scenes, we also got to see Galadriel and a lot of Legolas, who didn’t appear in the book. But since Jackson is stretching the story into two movies, he’s adding a lot of material via Tolkien’s appendices and general extrapolation.
Still, everything they showed looks spectacular, and Jackson made our hearts soar when he physically nudged Hardwick out of the way and took over as emcee of the panel himself. Because he was the one asking questions of his collaborators and actors, this final segment of the Warner panel went much more smoothly than the earlier bits.
At this point we had been in Hall H literally all day, so we bailed on the room to try to get into the Person of Interest and Mythbusters panels over in another room. But the line wrapped from the back doors through the tent queue and then around the front of the building. It was clear that most of those people were there for Mythbusters so we went down to explore the exhibit hall for a little longer. We also went to the Horton Plaza mall food court for dinner, which probably wasn’t a great call, meal-wise. But my brother noticed the Tilt arcade on our way out, and he wanted to stop in and play some video games. I acceded to his request, and we walked in to discover two old cabinets retrofitted with Fix-It Felix, Jr., the video game from Wreck-It Ralph. And anybody who played the game (for free, no quarters required) received a free t-shirt, so that was a nice surprise.
The final day of Comic-Con found us once again in the Hall H line. This was a big year for various fanbases at the convention, and it was sort of the perfect storm of line-waiting. On Thursday (actually going back to Monday), you had the Twilight fans lined up for their panel. Friday had the Firefly fans, many of whom were not going to Comic-Con in 2004 and 2005 when they had triumphant panels in anticipation of the release of Serenity. That’s a lot of pent-up Whedon love waiting to explode, and they came out in force. Saturday was the always-huge LOTR contingent waiting for The Hobbit panel. And finally, on Sunday, were the Doctor Who fans, who came out dressed up in their best Doctor, Dalek, and Amy Pond costumes.
The first panel, Fringe, started at 10:00 am, but they didn’t open the room until 9:30, which was a huge mistake. The panel started on time, but the room was far from full at that point, as we heard later on at Talkback. Still, at least they kept all the chairs in the room this year.
Fringe rivaled the Firefly panel for most emotional hour of the convention. The show is gearing up for its final season, and the reminiscing brought out the tears in several of the cast members. Showrunner J.H. Wyman confirmed that the season would be picking up where season 4’s future-jumping cliffhanger episode left off, with the rest of the story being filled in with flashbacks as the season goes along. Other than that, details were scant. But when the question posed was, “Name your favorite scene that didn’t involve your character,” the actors started losing it. First was Jasika Nicole, who plays Astrid, followed closely by Anna Torv. Surprisingly, big, tough Lance Reddick (Broyles) broke down as well when talking about Astrid’s emotional conversation with her alternate universe self. Josh Jackson and John Noble didn’t have tears, but they did bring levity to the panel and everybody seemed happy to bask in the appreciation of the fans.
Supernatural followed with another entertaining panel. I still haven’t really started watching this show, but they have a good time up on stage. With the main cast all assembled, it was fun to watch the actors get frustrated as the moderator asked them questions to which they knew the answers, but weren’t allowed to reveal. Jim Beaver’s character is currently dead, but when asked if there was any chance he’d be back, he repeatedly stuck to the line “anything’s possible on this show” until it became a joke.
Then it was time for what was obviously the main event for most of the crowd, the Doctor Who panel. And to our dismay, who was moderating the panel? Why, Chris Hardwick, of course. Hardwick has built a nice little empire for himself as a geek tastemaker through his Nerdist podcast, and it’s expanded to The Nerdist tv show on BBC America and hosting The Talking Dead on AMC. And he may be fine as a talk show host, but he is seriously lacking as a moderator. Through the course of the panel, we got to hear about Hardwick’s lame encounter with current Doctor Matt Smith at Zachary Levi’s Comic-Con party, and how much fun it was to go bowling with the Doctor Who cast. We also had to sit and listen as Hardwick wasted valuable minutes (these things only last an hour!) telling showrunner Steven Moffat his idea for a Doctor Who/Groundhog Day crossover in which The Doctor arrives in Punxsutawney and tries to rescue Bill Murray from his time loop.
Despite Hardwick’s interference, the bulk of the panel was pretty good. The departing Companions, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darville, managed to make it through the hour without tears. When asked what they were doing post-Doctor Who, Gillan did a killer Darville impression to explain what he had coming up. Darville didn’t have a reciprocal impersonation for Gillan, but both sound like they’ll be staying busy. There weren’t a lot of plot spoilers, but the two clips they showed were very cool. The first involved the trio walking into an Old West bar and The Doctor ending up very confused by the patrons confrontational questions. It also demonstrated that British actors cast for small roles cannot be counted on to do good American accents. The second clip looked like it must be from the season premiere, and featured a spaceship full of dinosaurs. As Zack Snyder would say, it was awesome.
Finally, I ended the convention in the traditional manner; with the Comic-Con Talkback. While the Talkback is always entertaining and often educational for inside information, this year there weren’t a whole lot of major issues for people to bitch about. There were a lot of individual complaints about problems with Disability Services and/or security people’s dealings with disabled attendees. There was also a lot of apprehension about Comic-Con’s online-only registration process for 2013. A lot of people are worried that they’ll get shut out of next year’s convention if they don’t get lucky in the mouse-clicking process when tickets go on sale. Or when the system inevitably crashes. Comic-Con President John Rogers assured us that they’ve tested their servers to deal with loads of 30,000 people at once, but since over 125,000 people attend Comic-Con every year and most of them want to come back, this seems like a really inadequate estimation of how many people are going to be online when registration opens. But that’s a problem for the future.
// Notes from the Road
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