Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
King Henry, Henry V – Act III, Scene I
After attending last year’s event, I was concerned about the growing success of Comic Con. They had sold out Saturday, and while I don’t know what that means in terms of numbers, I do know the lines to get into panels were very long and there were so many people milling about the showroom floor it resembled a day at Mardi Gras, unfortunately minus the good food, public intoxication, and nudity. This year, four-day passes and individual passes for Saturday sold out before the event started. Friday did as well. I prepared for the worst as fellow geeks from around the country and globe descended upon San Diego, California.
I, like a number of people north of the city, headed down on the Amtrak train Thursday morning. It was easy to pick out the attendees from the regular commuters by their clothing and reading materials. Conversations could be overheard discussing favorite childhood cartoon shows and the problems with Quentin Tarantino’s latest film. By 10:15am, the streets of Downtown San Diego were a mess as the city began its yearly transformation into the Island of Misfit Toys. The streets that approached the Convention Center were near gridlock, filled with trolleys, buses, cars, bicycle rickshaws, and pedestrians.
The attendees of Comic Con are a wide and varied lot, coming from all walks of life. Not solely the stereotypical nerds still living in their parents' home with poor social skills and hygiene, though there are plenty of those to go around. They are artists, entrepreneurs, and most notably, lovers of imagination and creativity. Outsiders would consider their discussions inconsequential on the surface, but they have deep, philosophical meaning. It matters that Han shot first, that Steve Ditko get credit as co-creator of Spider-Man, that Deckard is a replicant.
They show their love and devotion in a number of ways. The vast majority of the horde shows their allegiance much like sports fans with t-shirts and ball caps. Most are obvious, so even people with a limited knowledge of pop culture can recognize the wearer’s interest. There are also obscure images and cryptic messages, understandable by those in the know.
Yet, these minimal pieces of cloth are not enough to convey the full breadth of the commitment some have. No matter where your gaze strays at the Con revelers appear in full costume, impressing onlookers who request photographs. They are disguised as icons, cult figures, and brand new creations. This all culminates in The Masquerade Ball on Saturday night, a well-attended traditional event that has the video fed into other rooms to meet the demand.
I first attended the DVD Sneak Peak 2007 led by Bill Hunt and Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits.com. They were joined by DVD producers who were going to discuss upcoming releases; however, for some reason the panel began with Michael Davis talking about his film Shoot ‘Em Up, coming to theaters on Sept. 7. He showed amusing clips of himself playing around with special effects on his computer. Finally Charles de Lauzirika discussed his upcoming releases, which are sure to be two of the biggest cult DVDs for the fall: Blade Runner: The Final Cut and Twin Peaks: The Complete Series. Bonus footage from each was shown and the small crowd went wild over both even with the technical difficulties of the DVD set-up. One woman in the crowd offered up her Mac to remedy the A/V problems.
I passed by a capacity-filled room listening to Richard Hatch hold court over a Battlestar Galactica forum. Fans still waited in the hopes that seats would open up if people filtered out, but the true believers were already inside. Only a dire emergency would keep them from lasting the hour. Hatch has long been a convention favorite here and elsewhere from his roles in both versions of BSG and his novels that continue the adventures of his former character Capt. Apollo.
The dealer room already had many, many people roaming throughout it before noon. Long lines extended wherever there was space for those looking to buy, get an autograph, a free giveaway, what have you. It was Christmas in July for some. Their unbridled enthusiasm couldn’t be contained as they tore open their boxes and packages, desperate to get the prize in their hands, holding it up to let the light gleam off it like a religious artifact. Of course, the serious collectors rolled their eyes and scoffed because of the effect an open package has on the resale value.
A presentation and discussion was held about Star Trek: The Original Series being released on HD DVD. Make no mistake about the interest Trek still holds among many. Even though the show has been around over 40 years, a good portion of people probably bought the recent DVD collections, and the information came as no surprise as the remastered episodes already appear in syndication, this room, one of the larger halls of the event, was filled. They have redone a number of effects shots; one panelist seemed most excited by the idea of a Gorn blinking for the first time. There will be interesting extras for the most die-hard fans as Billy Blackburn, a multi-purpose extra on the set shot old Super-8 films behind the scenes.
While it says Comic Con on the door, movies are what have driven the spike in the numbers of attendees. A few years back Hollywood made the realization that the people who buy comic books are the same ones who go to comic book movies, so all the major studios feature panels of their upcoming slates to create buzz. They are given the largest room, Hall H, and the lines are always brutal. Paramount Pictures went first and they packed the room to capacity, causing the fire marshals to close the doors. It certainly helped that they have a number of films certain to drive these fans wild.
They opened with the comedy and creative team of Hot Rod starring Andy Samberg. They showed a very funny clip of Samberg getting out his aggressions in the woods, reminiscent of Footloose. Author Neil Gaiman and screenwriter Jane Goldman chatted up Stardust, a fantasy tale with Claire Danes as a star fallen from the night sky and Michelle Pfieffer as the witch who wants to capture her. The clips looked good, containing a blend of humor and suspense. In an old bit of protocol, Gaiman left with Goldman only to immediately return with Roger Avary, his co-screenwriter on Robert Zemekis’ Beowulf. The film uses the realistic CGI effects seen in The Polar Express. I found the appearance of the animated versions of Anthony Hopkins and especially Angelina Jolie distracting. The issue of it being them while not being them at the same time didn't register well with me.
The poster for Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd was shown. It looked very good, but a film needs more than a cool poster. A trailer was played, shot Blair Witch-style, during some sort of attack on New York City. A huge explosion in the distance occurred and the head of the Statue of Liberty landed in the street. It was a fantastic sequence, and J.J. Abrams came out and talked about it as a Godzilla for America. He returned later to discuss the next Star Trek with both Zachary Quinto from Heroes and Leonard Nimoy both playing Spock. Obviously, the old actors help transition the new actors into the franchise. From the set of the new Indiana Jones movie, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, and Ray Winstone chatted a bit before bringing out fan favorite Karen Allen, reprising her role as Marion, but she'll always be Katy from Animal House to me. While Iron Man was going to be featured with the cast at the Marvel Studios panel on Saturday, director Jon Favreau provided clips from the film to the audience's delight.
Lost fans proved to be the most dedicated of the day. As I made my way past the backside of the south half of the convention center around 2:30pm, I saw bodies lined up between each doorway, wrapped around the corner and down the wall until they reached the front, just outside Room 20. It was easily as long as half a city block. The Lost: Season 4 panel was set to start in this 4,000-seat hall at 5pm. Those at the front of the line had been there since the convention doors opened at 10am, seven hours ahead of time to ensure a seat.
An impressive commitment though it limits the totality of the event unless you have no interest in learning about future projects, celebrating past glories, or becoming a part of the business of comics, movies, DVDs, animation books, games, toys, collectibles, art, podcasting, or other television programs. Those whose interests were beyond singular had a tough time choosing and most likely missed out on an intriguing panel they would have liked to have seen, and that doesn’t take into account the three rooms screening anime and the room showing selections for the Comic Con International Film Festival. Video clips of different panels can be found on the Internet, but who knows for how long.
Evening entertainment featured the 2007 Friend of Lulu Awards, which honors women in the comic book industry, two screening of the direct-to-DVD Superman Doomsday, the 8th Annual Kung-Fu Superhero Extravaganza, and three rooms, including one at the nearby Marriott Hotel, showing movies. Tonight’s themes were superheroes, zombies, and documentaries about horror.
Cringe-inducing question of the day: During the Spotlight on George Romero, the man most synonymous with zombies in movies, a young fan asks, “Don’t you think zombies are played out?”