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Comic-Con International 2009, Part One

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Just as the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano every March, the annual locust swarm of pop-culture nerds descends on San Diego every July as Comic-Con International takes over the Convention Center and the surrounding areas. It was the typical joyful insanity with brief moments of disappointment I have come to expect and be exhausted by.

Day Zero: Preview Night

Comic-Con engulfs the senses right from the get-go. As I made my way into downtown San Diego, Comic-Con banners decorated the street posts. I only saw a few people in costume. One kid was dressed as Rorschach from Watchmen, but he was sweating so much his white face-mask turned gray. There was a guy dressed like Hurley, but he could just have coincidentally been a fat guy in a robe. During check-in, the unfortunately familiar Comic-Con smell of foul body odor made its presence known in the lobby earlier than expected, at two in the afternoon. Very unique conversations could be heard, such as the one I had while dining at the Gaslamp Quarter’s Rockin’ Baja.

While sitting on the patio with Senora Bicho, I looked over and saw a man wearing a black t-shirt with the Ghostbusters Ghost on it, yet rather than being placed within the traditional "no" symbol, it appeared in a circle made up of red, yellow, and blue, and on the back it read, “Man, that's one big twinkie!” I consider myself somewhat well versed in pop culture, but Comic-Con will test your knowledge. I said to my wife, “it looks like the Ghostbusters Ghost on the Arizona flag.” A young man, also in a black shirt, walking out of the restaurant surprised me by verifying, “It is the Arizona flag.” “What’s the connection?” I asked, unable to see one. Without turning to respond as he kept walking, he proudly informed me, “We’re the Arizona Ghostbusters.” Obviously.

On Wednesday, press, professionals, and four-day pass holders can pick up their badges, and have early access to the massive dealer room, commonly referred to simply as “the floor.” I had never been and was under the impression there would be fewer people than during the convention’s official operating hours, and technically there may have been, but it was a zoo, as people waited and sought exclusives, treats, and swag.

The Summit Entertainment booth had an odd set-up. Posters were being given away, so people stopped to try and get them, particularly from The Twilight Saga: New Moon, but they had to go off to another booth and pick up a laminated pass for an opportunity to spin a wheel back at this booth. The young lady working the microphone apparently didn’t know how it worked and annoyingly screamed into it.

In Room 20, the second-biggest room at the convention center, they were screening Warner Brothers Television pilots. We caught the second half of the re-imagined V. What I saw made me curious enough to see the next episode, but not compelled. I could easily forget about it or find something more compelling when it begins mid-season on ABC. The audience went wild for a commercial for The Big Bang Theory, as they no doubt identified with the show’s characters/misfits. The Vampire Diaries is jumping on the Twilight bandwagon and was not made for my demographic. I couldn’t take much of it and left.

Day One: Thursday

When the convention schedule was posted, a number of people began to incessantly whine and complain about having to deal with Twilight fans in Hall H. Most were put off, in essence, because they were selfish jerks who were deluded by the notion that their nerdy desires to see the Disney 3-D and Avatar panels meant more to the Universe than those of the young girls who wanted to see the stars and footage of New Moon. However, devotion usually wins out at Comic-Con, which is why some Twilighters got in line on Tuesday night and camped out.

I got in line for Hall H around 8:30am and kept my fingers crossed. For some unknown reason the event staff didn’t began seating the 6,000-plus attendees until after 10:30am for the first panel. I made the cut, along with Senora Bicho and Caballero Oscuro, getting in at 11:20am just as the festivities were beginning.

Patton Oswalt hosted the Disney 3-D panel. First up was Robert Zemeckis with A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey in a number of roles. Zemeckis talked about how the performance-capture technology has improved, particularly making eyes more lifelike. The footage looked very good and the technology has come a long way, although the eyes were hard to make out. The audio was a little too loud, a recurring problem the whole weekend.

Tim Burton followed with his upcoming Alice in Wonderland. He didn’t have much to offer, so we were forced to watch the trailer three times, which looked interesting yet was a tad excessive. It was good to see security yank a young woman out for recording the trailer and force her to delete it. Would have been cooler if they had booted her out of the hall entirely, to send a message. Plus, it was actually rather dumb on her part because, without the aid of the provided glasses, the footage was out of focus. Oswalt repeatedly pressed Burton as to whether he had anything else to offer the crowd — and out walked Johnny Depp, which drove everyone wild, especially the young girls. After the applause died down, Depp acknowledged Tim Burton, which started the applause back up, and then walked off stage. Made me wonder what was the point, for him, of coming down to San Diego for a couple of minutes of stage time. If it was a paid appearance, someone should ask for a refund.

The panel closed out with a look at the sequel Tron Legacy. The basic storyline had Jeff Bridges’ character’s son searching for his father. A light-cycle sequence was shown that looked very good, as well as some design drawings. Director Joseph Kosinski raved about how impressive and unique the film would look.

3-D Showcase presented Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Hole, and The Final Destination. Cloudy is based on a kids’ book. It was amusing and its look and story reminded me of Jimmy Neutron. Stars Andy Samberg and Anna Faris were brought out, but turned right around and left, likely to help get the day back on time. Joe Dante is the director of The Hole. It looks to be a fun, scary movie for kids. However, the 3-D effects were bothersome. Most were distracting and reminiscent of when the technology first came out, screaming, “Look, it’s 3-D.” The Final Destination has some very funny and startling kills.

Summit Entertainment unveiled Astro Boy, a CGI film based on the Japanese manga series, and Sorority Row, a variant of I Know What You Did Last Summer. Finally, the cast of New Moon, what a good chunk of the room had been waiting for, hit the stage. So many camera flashes went off, I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had had an epileptic fit. The girls shrieked their puppy love, but grew as still as their shaking bodies could manage as the new footage was shown. Jacob is showing Bela how to ride a motorcycle and she falls off, hurting her head. She is bleeding and with no bandages around Jacob rips off his shirt, to squeals of delight, revealing a ripped, muscular body. It’s a tad hokey, but I am not the demographic. The film’s trailer concluded the panel where we, those fans on Team Edward, got equal time and saw him bare-chested as well.

I was curious about a number of interesting panels taking place all over, but we stayed put to see what all the hubbub was about regarding James Cameron’s Avatar. He talked about his love of movies as a child in Canada. Then he presented 25 minutes from the film, which were very, very impressive. The 3-D performance capture looked stunning and immersed the viewer in the film’s world more than anything else this day. In the scenes shown, humans are trying to handle the harsh conditions of the planet Pandora by using human-alien hybrids they project their minds into. The aliens are Na’vi, a blue-skinned warrior species ten feet tall. During the open mic, a kid came up and thanked Cameron for creating something that was original and creative and not a remake or sequel, drawing applause. Tron Legacy director Joseph Kosinski was sitting a row in front of me at this time. He cringed a little, while his friends began to laugh and needle him. Cameron then announced a 15-minute preview will be shown free of charge on August 21st at IMAX and digital 3D cinemas around the world.

Terry Gilliam discussed The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and, along with audience questions, a lot of the talk centered on Heath Ledger because he was shooting the film at the time of his death. Gilliam found a way around Ledger’s death by having different actors play the character, one of which was Depp, who surprisingly didn’t even come out for a round of applause in support. In a video clip, Christopher Plummer says the story is similar to Faust, and the art direction and production design looks to be the usual bit of fantastic that fans have come to expect from Gilliam.

Pandorum looks to be a familiar horror/SF film in the mold of Alien, but it was hard to get a grasp on the story other than astronauts having to kill or be killed.

Along with the comic book creators Mark Millar and John Romia Jr. and members of the cast, Matthew Vaughn brought Kick-Ass, the comic book movie for comic book fans. It’s a comedic look at teenagers attempting to be superheroes, with scenes that were action-packed. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have a distributor yet, but it’s guaranteed to be a cult hit, judging from the fanboy ovation the clips received.

Park Chan-wook’s vampire film Thirst was presented at 6:30pm, but Hall H was pretty empty at this point, as audiences grew smaller with each panel after Avatar, leaving only a few hundred to hear the Korean director speak and see the footage. The film concerns a priest who becomes a vampire after a failed medical experiment.  It presents a different take on vampires, where an aversion to sunlight is the only convention followed. The moderator called it anti-Twilight, which got a round of applause, but Chan-wook had nothing bad to say about the popular series since his daughter loves it.

After four hours sleep, almost three hours in line, and eight hours in Hall H, I was beat. Yet there was one last event to attend: the fourth annual Forcey Awards presented by the semi-secret society known as Strikeforce, though a faction of members claims it is spelled Strykeforce. Much like Comic-Con, the awards cover different areas of pop culture. They are also linked to Comic-Con because the eligible time period for nominees runs between conventions, although that parameter isn’t enforced. Musgo Del Jefe hosted the festivities.

The 2008/09 Winners are:

BEST MOVIE – Let The Right One In

BEST COMIC (tie) – Buffy / Y: The Last Man

BEST CD (tie) – Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light / Black Joe Lewis &
The Honeybears – Tell 'Em What Your Name Is

BEST OF TV – Fringe

BEST OF THE WEB – Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

COOLEST ITEM OF THE YEAR – Obama

STRIKEFORCE HALL OF DOOM (known as The Kirby although he isn’t a member) – Class of '09: Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Park Chan-Wook, Rod Serling, Stanley Kubrick

THE KINNEY (worst thing of the year) – The economy / unemployment rate

BEST E-MAIL THREAD/ RESPONSE (tie) – I downloaded comics because I couldn't find them at Brown's store / R.I.G. – best ongoing feature

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://willkillforfood.com Lisa McKay

    Nice reporting, El B. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

  • Matt Haynes

    Dear Mr. El Bicho, I hope we did not offend you, the Arizona Ghostbusters are a fan club who’s primary focus is charity work and not arrogance or being rude. With the caos that is SDCC, that mite have been overlooked and I do apologize. Thank you for the con coverage.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Matt, no offense was taken. I was merely pointing out an example of something overheard and unique to Comic-Con. I thought the exchange was amusing. It wasn’t my intention to portray it as arrogant or rude.