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Classic TV stars, comic strips, cult films, and Steve Sanders.

Comic-Con 2014 Report: Thursday

Written by Shawn Bourdo

Don’t confuse experienced with jaded for a veteran Comic-Con attendee. I’m both. No, not really. I could walk the grounds of the Convention Center in San Diego and moan that this isn’t “the Con I remember” or talk about how “it used to be more about actual comics.”  This Convention has changed but it’s changed to conform to the times and current generation of people willing to jump through the hoops required to even attend it. I have said all those things before but they all fly out the door and I feel the lightness of heart every single time that I turn a corner and view the sea of humanity on that first morning. I’m practically giddy as I enter my first panel.

THURSDAY, JULY 24

LEGENDS OF TV LAND (Indigo Ballroom)

My first stop was at the exact type of panel that gets me excited about being here. It’s a time to see and hear stories from some veterans of the industry that might not be around to tell their stories in the next few years. TV Land brought together Betty White, William Shatner, and Donald Faison. I’ve never seen any of them at Comic-Con and they did not disappoint.

The panel started with Betty White walking out to take a seat on the stage followed by William Shatner wheeled out in a wheelchair. It was quite the juxtaposition since Betty is a mere 93 years old. It turns out that Shatner had a recent accident on a horse and has some damage to his leg that will heal.

I love that William Shatner has embraced the Capt. Kirk portion of his career as a representation of the dream of Space. He brought with him a piece of an asteroid that is 4.5 billion years old. As he passed it around onstage, he spoke eloquently about what that represents for imagination. He’s holding a piece of rock that has been around longer than any memory on Earth. That started as part of a star in a far off galaxy. You hold it and your brain almost automatically opens up to new possibilities. And yet he’s a huge player on Twitter. He talked about how it’s changed communication – “You used to say ‘Hello’ but you don’t want to waste five characters now.”

Donald Faison has a show on TV Land currently with The Exes. He didn’t talk much about his current show. He is a fan of Kickstarter as a way to create more creativity in films by not having to answer to the studios. Faison is friends with Seth Green and has been influenced to have stop-motion animation as a hobby. He works mainly with LEGOs and has a hilarious piece on YouTube called Black Stormtrooper. It’s amazing that 20 years after it came to theaters that he still gets questions about his small role in Clueless.

The real stars there were William and Betty. Their chemistry is as amazing as I’d have hoped. They both have had amazing careers with multiple shows that define them – both maybe known for different roles by different generations. Betty is currently on Hot In Cleveland which I was surprised to hear had passed 100 episodes and was renewed for 24 more this season. We were treated to a short clip of an upcoming animated episode of the show that features of takeoff on The Walking Dead called “Dead In Cleveland”.

Betty enthralled me with her stories because of her passion and because she sounds like my Nana did (and probably everyone’s grandmother). Her sexual-innuendo persona was still there and still gets laughs from the crowd. She has never met Robert Redford and is still worried she’d faint if she did because he’s so gorgeous. She told a great story about death as the moment when you “know the secret” to the only question we cannot definitely answer. It makes her more curious and less fearful of death and that was comforting to hear. Her passion as a zoo lover was evident and even created a fun micro-disagreement between her and William.

Shatner would normally not deal with being second fiddle on any panel that he was on. He deferred to Betty through most of this one very respectfully and took time to tell some interesting stories when he did have the spotlight. He talked about his casting as Capt. Kirk which kind of feeds his ego. He is currently working on a documentary about the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Chaos On The Bridge. I’m looking forward to that because he’s done a great job of linking his tenure with the future versions of the show. And that’s the secret to these panels. The successful older actors can tell stories that appeal to original fans but find ways to link them to younger audiences. When asked about her longevity, Betty said, “You just look up and there I still am.”

CHARLES SCHULZ AND SOCIAL COMMENTARY IN PEANUTS (Room 25ABC)

My interest in the work of Charles Schulz (aka Sparky) goes back to my earliest days of reading Peanuts in the Kalamazoo Gazette. I bonded with the characters and his form of storytelling was unique amongst the contemporary comic strips. Corry Kanzenberg, the curator of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, and Seth Green among others used this forum to talk about the role of current events in the Peanuts strips.

The earliest strips included references to H-Bomb tests and nuclear fallout but usually not to make a statement on the reference but the same way it exists in the vocabulary of kids without them understanding the concepts. The strip on school prayer was a silent strip that ended with the whispered “We prayed in school today.” That simple phrase doesn’t pass judgement on the issue but it opens up discussion based on how the children are scared to even mention it.

Peanuts was one of the first strips to become integrated back in 1968. After the death of MLK, a schoolteacher wrote Schulz asking him to create a black character for the strip. Franklin was introduced as just another child – he wasn’t a token character and became an essential part of the cast. His initial appearances added depth by mentioning that his Dad was serving in Vietnam. There was still opposition to his character in the South.

The subject of the draft at that same time was handled from a children’s point of view. The strip came across as anti-draft but it was merely reflecting the very real fear of kids about going to war. This is amplified by the combination of some of their parents having to fight and them not knowing even what the war was about. Charles never described himself as a Liberal or a Conservative, his view was that he was a Midwesterner. And that explained all you needed to know.

1984’s GREATEST GEEK MOVIES: BIG BROTHER WASN’T THE ONLY ONE WATCHING WHILE THE DOVES CRIED (Room 5AB)

I’ve attended the 1982 and the 1983 panel the past couple years and was excited to hear a talk on one of my personal favorite years for movies. The panel included Mark Altman hosting again and the usual crowd of writers and directors and the addition this year of Ashley E. Miller from Thor and the new Terminator television series. So of course, the first attention went to Terminator. The enduring success of the year could easily have been the biggest turd of the year had O.J. Simpson played the original character as intended. The result is one of the best science-fiction franchises of all-time and it was done by a director in James Cameron approaching the zenith of his directing talents. The other favorites among the panel that year were Ghostbusters and Nightmare on Elm Street.

The talk turned to the failures and mis-fires of the year. There are two standout big budget films that failed to deliver in 1984. Star Trek III: Search for Spock had basic structural problems with the story. There are great moments like the loss of the Enterprise but still today it fails to live up to the incredible Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. The same things hold true for 2010. It’s hard to even envision a followup to 2001: A Space Odyssey. This film would have been a very serviceable space film if it had a very different title. But as presented to be compared to the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, it could never live up.

The panel always starts to run out of time and devolves into quick hits on different movies of the year. I love how there’s a point in each of these panels where it seems like there were 20 or 30 great movies in that year and today I’d be hard pressed at the end of a year to make a Top Ten. The Guilty Pleasures of 1984 include Tank with the recently departed James Garner in a movie that is essentially Smokey and the Bandit with a tank. Guilty Pleasures for the panel included Streets of Fire, Night of the Comet, Body Double, Electric Dreams, and Gremlins, which by itself sparked a ratings debate in 1984 that led to the creation of the PG-13 rating.

The idea of a Cult Classic is a film that may or may not have been widely regarded at the time of release but has maintained a loyal following. The two obvious ones from that year all require a new viewing for me soon – Buckaroo Banzai and Repo Man have both stood the test of time and have found all new audiences with this current generation. Others mentioned, I’m not sure I would put in this category include Stop Making Sense, Brother From Another Planet (one of the first in the Indie Cinema movement), Neverending Story, The Natural and Ice Pirates. The panel was divided on Red Dawn and the reason for the appeal and remake of a terrible original film that they claim might be more fondly remembered than it really is in quality.

I love this look back at the films but I feel the presentation was lacking this year by not having the trailers. There is something special about seeing the original trailers to put you back in the mood for that year as they talk about the films. If this series moves into 1985, there needs to be thought about revisiting the audio-visual treat of the trailers as films are discussed.

CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL (Room 25ABC)

For a show that has won two Emmy’s and has been at Comic-Con for five years now, I was surprised to see the small room that this show was moved to when other lesser shows on the Cartoon Network rate larger venues. There were two people there from Adult Swim but never for a moment wasn’t this the Rob Corddry and Rob Huebel show. There was a fun preview of Season 6, which debuts  in the Spring of 2015. And then the craziness was turned over to Q&A from the crowd. There was plenty of Adult Swim-rated language but I find that little actual information is learned from audience questions. This panel begged for a proper host to keep the panel moving and informative. Other than some great jokes including a Stormtrooper one I can’t repeat, I learned little more than that there will be less improv this season as they worked longer on the scripts. Based on what I saw in front of this crowd, I might go back to more improv.

SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE (Room 6BCF)

My night ended where last year’s Comic-Con began – with a Sharknado attack. This year the film will debut the week after Comic-Con so there was time to get some promotion in with this panel. The panel included the director Anthony C. Ferrante and stars Ian Zering, reprising his role as Fin, and Vivica A Fox. I think we were all disappointed not to see Tara Reid there as she will be back in the film as April Wexler.

The sequel trailer showed a reliance again on movie and TV influences for the humor and action. There’s an obvious shout out to Twilight Zone with a scene on an airplane at the beginning. The use of puns like “jump the shark” and some interesting visual effects including two sharknadoes coming together promise similar results as the first movie.

Replicating the original experience will prove to be difficult and almost impossible. The original evolved organically. It aired as do similar monster films on Syfy every month. But buzz started over the title and trailer early. By the time it aired, there started to be tweets about it immediately. People saw what other folks were saying, tuned in, and participated. It was one of the first Twitter group experiences for a TV-movie like that. Spending more money on visual effects won’t make the experience necessarily better. The original has even been given the Rifftrax treatment to perfection. It’s hard for me to imagine this living up to any expectations. But I’ll be there with my popcorn and cell phone handy as it debuts.

I almost wish they had gone with one of the original titles they were throwing out when they came up with Sharknado. I think Lava Birds would make a wonderful film. Until then, you can watch Vivica A. Fox and Ian Zering on Celebrity Apprentice that they filmed right after.

I left this room happy with the day – I’d seen classic TV stars, talked comic strips and cult films, and even spent time in a room with Steve Sanders. My jaded attitude about the changing Con a bit assuaged and looking forward to a variety of Friday panels to duplicate the success of Thursday.

Read Shawn’s reports from Friday and Saturday/Sunday.

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Formerly known as The Masked Movie Snobs, the gang has unmasked, reformed as Cinema Sentries, and added to their ranks as they continue to deliver quality movie and entertainment coverage on the Internet.

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