Comic-Con is great fun if you don't have to be in Hall H. I'd skip it and watch the panels on YouTube if I didn't want to see the early footage. The Hall H security was so tight this year that even the studio PR execs were complaining about trying to get their people in. Hall H reflected shifts in entertainment trends by hosting cable panels for "Game of Thrones" –which announced new cast members–and "The Walking Dead." I bargained for passes for each individual panel, and had to retrieve them in advance and be in the right place at the right time to file into the reserved section. If you missed that moment, tough luck!
But the 6000 fans who filled the hall had long waits, some sleeping on the sidewalk overnight, to see the presentations. One fan waited seven hours and the line was cut eleven people ahead. Another fan tragically lost her life before Comic-Con began by running against traffic and falling into a moving car, as she tried to get back to her place in the "Twilight" line.
Others wisely let it go, and cruised the exhibition floor with their giant Warner Bros. tote bags, looking for cool stuff to buy. That's where the real heart of Comic-Con resides, with the artists and collectors. I always get a kick out of seeing all the costumes at the Con. The problem is that promotion and hype have taken over. (See our photo gallery below.)
The web noise is so great during SDCC that it really doesn't matter how fast you file. Someone else will get there first. Which takes some of the pressure off. (We still have stuff we haven't posted yet.) When Sophia Savage and I arrived in San Diego, we lined up for badges and headed for the exhibition floor, which wasn't going to open for another hour. So we tagged along with a gaggle of journos covering a "Walking Dead" event: the unveiling of next season's survival car–a souped up Hyundai Elantra GT complete with rhino guards and whirring spikes.
"It's a one-of-a-kind engineering marvel!" gushed the PR guy. "The ultimate zombie-proof survival vehicle!" The black car was described by comic-book creator Robert Kirkman (celebrating his 100th issue) and then realized and built by Gary Castillo of Design Craft, who claimed: "The car is 100% zombie-proof!"
Next we checked out the "Art of Frankenweenie." Wandering around Disney's museum-style exhibit of Tim Burton's drawings and miniature sets was a sheer delight. (More details here.) Later we hit two parties, Hitfix and Summit's "Twilight" finale.
On the roof of the Hotel Solamere, we hung out with Hitfix's Gregory Ellwood and Kris Tapley, Baddass Digest's Devin Faraci, Warners online PR exec Michael Tritter and two Erins, Popular Mechanics' McCarthy and Variety's Maxwell. At the Lionsgate/Summit "Twilight" poolside fete at the Hard Rock Hotel, Summit chiefs Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger, now running Lionsgate's motion picture division, admit they are applying the same approach to "The Hunger Games" franchise as they did the "Twilight" sequels: don't waste any time. In fact, as Francis Lawrence preps "Catching Fire," their production chief Eric Feig and producer Nina Jacobson are already looking for the next Bill Condon to direct the last two "Mockingjay" films.
Thursday I hit the last Comic-Con "Twilight" press conference and panel, as the team expressed their sadness at saying good-bye to making the films, after four years, and their off-screen family. On the last week of shooting, "I was sad not to be able to hang out with these people," said Stephenie Meyer. "This is the last question, the last press conference," added a smiling Rob Pattinson, who at that point seemed very much in love with costar Stewart. In the Hall, director Bill Condon sent a video message from London, where's he's scoring the film. Taking up where the last film left off, he opted to show the first seven minutes, which starts with Bella Swan opening vampire eyes. (See full coverage here.)
So who came out ahead at Comic-Con 2012? Arguably the indies, including Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" and little Focus Laika stop-motion feature "ParaNorman" got the biggest boosts in awareness, as did Open Road's "Hit and Run" and "End of Watch." And new web series reached out to fans, from Bryan Singer's "H+" to Tom Hanks' Yahoo animated sci-fi series "Electric City." So did Movies on Demand, which tried to brand itself with an MOD lounge as The Cable MOD destination.
"Godzilla" and "Pacific Rim" promised decidedly grim visions of the future. Dystopian sci-fi like "Electric City" dominated the proceedings, from Stephenie Meyer's "The Host," starring Saoirse Ronan and Diane Kruger, which looked promising, as did Rian Johnson's time-travel flick "Looper" and Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium" (which recalled "Wall-E"), to the remake of "Total Recall," which at least promised action face-offs between husband and wife Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale. Tough women were everywhere, from Kristen Stewart as a vampire to Michelle Rodriguez and Milla Jovovich in the latest "Resident Evil" installment, "Retribution."
Big movies like Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" (which might be a trilogy) and Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel," showcased at the packed Warner Bros. panel were pre-sold; Marvel, too, was preaching to the converted. Kevin Feige was celebrating the success of "The Avengers" with a pump-up reel and Robert Downey, Jr., who made a grand entrance through the hall, taking a break halfway through shooting "Iron Man 3" (May 3, 2013) with Don Cheadle (whose relationship with Tony Stark expands), Jon Favreau (on set to impart grandfatherly wisdom), Gwenyth Paltrow, Rebecca Hall, Mia Hanson, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin in Wilmington, North Carolina with director Shane Black ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"), who co-writes with Brit Drew Peirce. The trick with Part Three, Black said, "is to make it seem part of something started but not concluded. It's the culmination of trilogy and not just a continuation. We're going back to the roots of this thing, to dig out the whole myth thing, why hero stories are doing so well, a straightforward return to myths."
Three other Marvel movies are in the works. "Game of Thrones" director Alan Taylor is prepping "Thor: The Dark World" (November 8, 2013) at Shepperton with the entire cast returning, plus Zack Levi. Next up on April 4, 2013 is "Captain America: the Winter Soldier," directed by the Russo brothers. And new news: on August 1 2014 comes "Guardians of the Galaxy," a Marvel comic from 1969 through 2008, including characters Star Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gomorrah, and Rock the Raccoon. And Edgar Wright is still laboring on "Ant-Man," who "will kick your ass one inch at a time," he said.
While I was wowed by Tim Burton's stop-motion "Frankenweenie" (and accompanying exhibit), which looks like a welcome return to form, the response to Disney's presentation was muted. It remains to be seen if Sam Raimi's "Oz: The Great and Powerful" will prove as successful as producer Joe Roth's other fantasy adventure "Snow White and the Huntsman"; it looks expensive. And stars James Franco.
By Saturday night, after four days of fighting off crowds, we were happy to blow off the Entertainment Weekly party and hightail it back home.