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Comic-Con Upstages Itself

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San Diego’s Comic–Con has never been disappointing, but this year’s 40th anniversary event was especially exciting. The event was sold out even before it opened, and attendance was estimated at 150,000.

Even with bigger numbers, this year’s Con didn’t seem as immovable as in the past. Maybe more events in the large halls and side rooms kept the main floor of vendors and comic artists less crowded. There were rooms dedicated to gamers, animation sessions, artist demonstrations, film festivals, and panels on everything from how-to’s to talent searches. The San Diego International Children’s Film Festival returned for its sixth year. If all the junior costumed Supermen and fairy princesses and the parents navigating baby buggies between the Hasbro and Disney booths are any indication of participation, it’s a huge success with families.

After last year, there was grumbling that the Hollywood invasion of studios hyping their upcoming films was taking the focus off of the comic artists – the original reason the Con started. That didn’t seem an issue this year. There’s no denying that the attendance of stars and directors such as Robert Downey, Jr., Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, and Sam Rockwell appearing for Iron Man 2 or Tim Burton and Robert Zemeckis in a panel for the upcoming Alice in Wonderland brings in the crowds. A surprise very short visit by Johnny Depp in the panel room set off buzz around the convention floor like Fourth of July fireworks.

One of the biggest events was for the Twilight panel. New Moon, the November-slated release of the next in the highly popular vampire series, had fans lining up 48 hours in advance in hopes of getting into the room to see stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner. I saw an amusing incident while waiting to do interviews on Friday. I heard two girls squeal, and looked up to see the Twilight stars all alone walking down a hall with no fans around. The stars took pictures with the girls and never lost their wax figure-like personas.

What’s really interesting is that fans are dying to get in, while press — nearly 3,000 this year — face the show with trepidation. Trying to find out who is attending requires the skills of a secret agent, and tug-of-war decisions between major star in Hall H or major star in Panel room BCF are examples of the constant decisions the media face. One of my favorite events was the panel about AMC’s upcoming six-part mini-series The Prisoner. Based on the 1960s cult classic by the late Patrick McGoohan, Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ), Jamie Campbell-Bower (Sweeney Todd, The Twilight Saga: New Moon), Lennie James (Jericho), writer Bill Gallagher, and Vlad Wolynetz (VP, production, series & movies for AMC) were among the panelists.

The Prisoner is about a man, “Six” (Caviezel), who wakes up to find himself trapped in a mysterious and surreal place called The Village, with no memory of how he arrived. Caviezel described filming in Swakamon, Africa as a challenge, among some of the biggest sand dunes in the world. “There wasn’t anything we could do to make this town more surreal,” he said, and added about the series, “It’s a lot of edge to the truth and hits you straight between the eyes or right in the heart. I always look for great material, and this one really moved me.”

Another thing people like about Comic-Con is the advance movie screenings. Finding out about them is difficult, but waiting in long lines hoping to get in and see the film, get peeks of future releases, or maybe see stars from the movie, is an even greater challenge. I chose to take in a film that was unfamiliar to me. Mystery Team was birthed by five die-hard friends: writers/stars Dominic Dierkes, Donald Glover, and DC Pierson, producer Meggie McFadden, and director/editor Dan Eckman. Their comedy appeared at Sundance, but it’s their YouTube short comedies that were responsible for the nearly 500 Comic-Con fans lining up to see their film. Mystery Team is about three friends who as youngsters opened a detective stand instead of a lemonade stand. Now teens heading off to college, their dark off-beat humor – much like Napoleon Dynamite – is misunderstood by the townsfolk. Fans yelling, standing, and screaming after the screening made their support of the film quite clear.

So with everything from child care to a blood drive — this one not by the costumed vampires attending — Comic-Con had something for everyone. My most memorable moment was when I was rushing to a nearby hotel for another interview. Still in an upper level in the convention center, I heard a young man exclaim, “Wow, you look just like Jack Sparrow.” I turned to see a man costumed as Depp’s Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. I started to leave, then turned for one more look while a fan took a picture of him. He was the spitting image of Depp, and the costume looked right out of the film. I thought about taking a picture, but hurried on to my destination instead. The next day rumors hit the news that Depp had stayed only five minutes in his panel and instead dressed up like Sparrow so he could take in the Comic-Con undetected among other Sparrow look-a-likes. That’s the life of an entertainment writer at Comic-Con — too many stars, too little time!

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About Diana Saenger