Part 2: My Thursday at Comic-Con ended with a movie screening, while Friday began with an epic, two-and-a-half hour Warner Bros. panel. The final movie presentation I saw during the convention was Saturday's Iron Man 2 panel, which was a great way to finish the film section of the Con. In between there was animation legend Hayao Miyazaki and director Peter Jackson's first-ever Comic-Con appearance.
Trick r Treat
I remember seeing trailers for this movie several times at Comic-Con 2007, but since then, nothing. Warner Bros. apparently had no idea what to do with this film, so instead of releasing it, they have opted to screen it at film festivals for a couple of months before shoveling it off to DVD in October. Comic-Con was treated to a full screening, though, and I'm happy to report that Michael Dougherty's horror anthology film is quite a lot of fun. Taking place on Halloween night in a small Ohio town, the movie presents four separate-but-intertwining stories, each quite different. Familiar character actors abound, including Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker, Tahmoh Penikett, and an excellent Brian Cox. Dougherty doesn't skimp on the gore, but the film focuses equally on scares, making Trick r Treat a nice throwback to the anthology films of the 80's (Creepshow, Cat's Eye). It's tough to figure out why Warner Bros. couldn't market this- it's a Halloween-themed horror movie with an iconic character, the sack-headed evil kid named Sam, that shows up throughout the film. Despite being an anthology, the movie should pretty much sells itself even though it isn't a remake of a classic franchise.
Where the Wild Things Are
I haven't read Where the Wild Things Are in decades and barely remember it, yet the extended scenes shown from Spike Jonze's film inspired waves of nostalgia in me. The movie looks spectacular, and the decision to go with actual monster costumes instead of using CG appears to be a brilliant one. The interaction between the wild things and Max feels very real and visceral. Hopefully the full movie will turn out as beautiful as the footage shown at this panel.
The Book of Eli
Denzel Washington stars as a loner wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape, kicking much ass and trying like hell to hold onto the titular book. Gary Oldman is the bad guy who wants to acquire the book. But here in the world of Comic-Con, the trailer brought bigger cheers for Oldman than for Denzel. Directors Albert and Allen Hughes haven't directed a movie since From Hell in 2001, so they have something to prove with this one. The most interesting tidbit to come out of this panel, though, was Gary Oldman's admission that he expects Christopher Nolan's third Batman film to begin production in 2010 for a 2011 release.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
This panel was sort of a mess. The clips shown from the upcoming reboot were heavy on a scene featuring a living Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) being chased and ultimately incinerated by the group of angry parents from the franchise's origin story. Yet during the panel, the filmmakers stated that their movie was not meant to be an origin story at all. To top it off, they claimed that they have Robert Englund's full blessing to reboot the franchise, despite Englund being on the record as very, very unhappy that he has been replaced as Freddy.
Director Richard Kelly has long been one of the worst guests I've ever seen at Comic-Con. Stammering and desperately shy in two previous appearances (for Donnie Darko and Southland Tales) Kelly was barely been able to put a complete sentence together in front of a crowd. Surprisingly, he was much more comfortable this time around, discussing his upcoming thriller The Box. Based on a Richard Matheson short story, the premise involves a mysterious man (Frank Langella), showing up seemingly at random at the house of Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) in 1976. He offers her one million dollars if she will just push a big red button on top of a mysterious box, thereby killing a total stranger somewhere in the world that she has never met. The trailer showed that there is a lot more going on in the movie beyond the box itself, with mysterious sci-fi elements popping up. But during the panel discussion, Diaz blurted out what seems to be a gigantic spoiler about the box's origins, pretty much ruining the mystery for everyone in attendance. Nice going, Ms. Diaz.
This adaptation of one of DC comics' lesser-known characters looks like it's going to be a slightly off-kilter action-fest for the summer of 2010. Jonah Hex is a cowboy anti-hero, and the footage cut together for Comic-Con was heavy on gunplay and dynamite-based train explosions. Josh Brolin certainly has the look down as Hex and Megan Fox seems to be her usual eye-candy self, except that she gets to handle guns this time out. The footage did feature something I've never before seen in an action movie, though: an explosive sequence involving Civil War-era ironclad ships. The real highlight of this panel, though, may have been the film-school jerk who asked Megan Fox to make a celebrity sex tape with him and was subsequently escorted out of the room by security.
We were treated to an extended trailer of Guy Ritchie's action film, as well as a scene that featured Holmes in a bare-knuckle fight, analyzing what his opponent is about to do in his head and planning in advance how to counter it. But the real highlight was Robert Downey, Jr., appearing in person to soak up the adulation from the Comic-Con crowd and being very funny and personable, to boot. When asked about learning martial arts for the movie, Downey replied that he was so good, "I could windmill through all of you here right now."
The Pixar Panel
Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios head John Lasseter held court over a 90-minute Disney Animation panel that showed remarkably little of Pixar proper's upcoming releases. They showed the opening sequence of Toy Story 2 in 3-D and talked about the upcoming double-feature 3-D re-release of the first two movies on October 2. I wasn't particularly impressed by the 3-D effects, in fact, the only really impressive 3-D of the weekend was in James Cameron's Avatar. They had nothing to show for Toy Story 3 yet, except to say the plot involved Andy getting ready to leave home for college and that the premise is about what happens to the toys when their owner truly grows up.
The Princess and the Frog
The footage shown from Disney's upcoming return to hand-drawn animation was very nice. Lasseter discussed how he managed to talk many of the animators and staff from the '90s Disney hits back to the studio for this movie, which was pretty obvious from the look and tone of the film. It's nice to see a lushly hand-drawn Disney movie again, but the result of all these returning animators, directors, and writers is that it doesn't feel particularly fresh or new. So far The Princess and the Frog seems to be selling nostalgia for the early '90s and, just as importantly, the addition of an African-American character to the company's mega-lucrative Disney Princess line of products. Speaking of Disney in the '90s, Lasseter also revealed that they are re-releasing Beauty and the Beast around Valentine's Day, 2010, in 3-D. They showed the opening scene of the film in 3-D, and it was sort of like looking at a filmed pop-up book, with the animation dividing into several layers. Surreal and kind of cool, but not really convincing as three-dimensional.
Of all the geek-out moments I experienced during Comic-Con 2009, this was the biggest. Disney managed to get legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki to leave Japan and attend Comic-Con to promote the North American release of his latest movie, Ponyo, on August 14. For an animation nut like myself, seeing Miyazaki in person was a big, big deal. He was soft-spoken and funny during the Q&A. My favorite moment went like this: Audience questioner- "Where do you get your amazing ideas from?" Miyazaki- "I wish I could remember." Lasseter revealed that Disney is actually getting behind Miyazaki's film this time around, putting Ponyo into 800 theaters. Really, that still isn't great, but it's a lot better than the 200 theaters Howl's Moving Castle got or the few dozen Spirited Away had in its initial release.
Shane Acker's post-apocalyptic CG adventure movie looks like it's going to be unique and exciting. They showed a couple of extended action sequences and the animation is fluid and excellent. Producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov were on hand to help introduce Acker to the crowd. Burton explained that he wanted to produce the film so that he could deal with all the studio interference while just letting Acker focus on making his movie. Bekmambetov mostly sat silently, except for when he was asked about continuing his trilogy that began with Night Watch and Day Watch. His response, "I don't think that's going to happen." I guess having a big American hit (Wanted) means you don't have to slink back to Russia and return to the franchise that put you on the map in the first place.
My God, Peter Jackson is so skinny now that he almost looks like a completely different person from when he directed The Lord of the Rings. He gave the Hall H crowd an update on where they were on The Hobbit: about three or four weeks from completing their first draft, after which they'll turn it in to Warner Bros. for official approval. They expect to start thinking about casting by October or so. Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp talked about how they met, a little bit about their Halo movie adaptation falling through (but without any inside details), and their decision to expand Blomkamp's short Alive in Joburg into a full-length movie. They showed a seven-minute series of scenes from District 9, which revealed some of the plot instead of just the basic premise that the trailers set up. Blomkamp also talked about a plot point that doesn't really make it into the movie, that the aliens mostly operate on a hive system and that their queen has been killed. Without her they are sort of directionless and lack the initiative to get their ship fixed and leave Earth.
James Purefoy stars as the titular character, the Puritan swordsman from Conan author Robert E. Howard. Knowing that most of the audience was probably not aware of the character, the filmmakers cannily brought lots and lots of clips to introduce their film. It looks like a pretty hard-R action fest, with brutal violence and excellently choreographed fight scenes. Whether it will hang together as a full movie remains to be seen, but hopefully the positive reaction at Comic-Con will at least help them secure North American distribution.
Mike Judge returns to the workplace, albeit a factory setting, for the first time in a decade with this, a movie he called the "spiritual sibling to Office Space." The clips shown were mildly amusing, but you get the sense that you have to see the full movie in context for Judge's low-key humor to work. Also, Miramax apparently actively cut out some punchlines in the scenes they showed, which seems like a bizarre thing to do when you are promoting a comedy.
Director Ruben Fleischer admitted straight-up that he loves Shaun of the Dead and that he hopes Zombieland can live up to a movie that good and still bring something different to the table. The scenes they brought to the show, however, were a mixed bag. A funny fight sequence between Jesse Eisenberg and the (zombie) girl next door and a tense situation where Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson are double-crossed by a pair of young sisters were both positives. On the downside, however, is that the movie appears to have a pervasive voiceover from Eisenberg's character which is supposed to be sardonic and funny but turned out to be pretty annoying, even in the brief scenes they showed.
Moderator: "Roland (Emmerich), why do you hate the Earth?" Emmerich: "I don't hate the Earth, I love the Earth, that's why I always want to blow it up!" Maybe his answer was funnier in the original German that was running through the director's head. And yet, I still want to see Emmerich's latest disaster movie. An extended trailer showed the Sistine Chapel cracking, complete with crack running right between the fingers of God and Adam in Michelangelo's painting, then falling and crushing hundreds of people in St. Peter's Square. They also showed us John Cusack's desperate attempt to save his family and outrun the earthquake that is sinking California into the Pacific Ocean. In a limousine. Which he does successfully by getting them all to a small plane that's already waiting for them on a runway. It's all completely ridiculous and yet also awesome and way more fun-looking than the year's other over-the-top actionfest, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Iron Man 2
Spectacular. Unlike the first movie, Iron Man 2 isn't coming out of nowhere, but it still looks amazing. Director Jon Favreau and his special effects people worked very hard in the week between wrapping principal photography on the movie and doing their Comic-Con panel. The five or six minutes they showed us actually had some good-looking flying effects and Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) using his energy whips. The real kick, though, was watching Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark doing his thing again. The footage opened with Stark testifying before a Senate subcommittee, being grilled by a Senator played by Garry Shandling. Other scenes included another encounter between Stark and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and a sequence with James Rhodes (now played by Don Cheadle) and rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), debating about what sort of Hammer hardware to put inside the War Machine suit. And the clip ends with a shot of War Machine in action, shooting everything in sight. Favreau and Downey, Jr. were great in front of the crowd, too. An audience member asked them about working with Mickey Rourke, and Downey replied, "I thought I was eccentric!" Favreau chimed in, "We told Mickey his character had spent time in a Russian prison, and the next thing we knew, Mickey was in Russia in a prison, talking to inmates and doing research."