Comic-Con for the Movie Fan: Quite Underwhelming
July 31st, 2008
I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but after six years of my boyfriend's pleading and hounding, I thought the whole event would be more astounding, if not more interesting than it actually was. But for this first timer (and admittedly not the target audience), Comic-Con was less than impressive.
I am only a cursory fan of comics, although it seems I have always been drawn to men who are rabid authoritarians. I can say that I am an ardent admirer of "The Dark Knight" as well as "Watchmen." And I was eager to experience what so many have described as the not to be missed, ultimate and absolute tribute to the world of fantasy, make believe, and science fiction. The intrigue has been heightened over the years by the ever-increasing interest that Hollywood has paid to this seemingly boundless resource of material. Similarly, fans of the Comic con have touted the convention as a growing source for early sneak peaks and startling announcements. Sadly, my hopes and expectations for a unique twist on movie fandom fell far short.
Granted, things did not get off to a good start. A technical difficulty in Hall H (the convention center’s largest hall and usual base for movie oriented panels) caused an over half-hour delay in what was scheduled to be an hour presentation. The fallout resulted in a somewhat rushed and lackluster presentation by 20th Century-Fox for the upcoming movies "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and "Max Payne." Producer Erwin Stoff assumed an oddly coy affectation as he introduced stars Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, who both seemed quietly amused by the crowd’s excitement over every monosyllabic utterance made by Reeves. Indeed, the heartthrob once known only by his looks and lack of acting ability has unquestionably grown into a full-blown superstar with abundant charisma to fill the largest hall at the San Diego Convention Center.
But the presentation fell short on substance, as it became nothing more than an opportunity to view the movie’s preview and allow the two lead actors to respond to a few mundane questions provided by producer Stoff that seemed more suitable to an introductory acting class than the audience in attendance. There was little reference, and in fact actual reluctance, to speak of the original 1951 film directed by the late Robert Wise, a subject promised in the program’s description and one I would have thought this audience would have appreciated.
The so-called panel was hardly settled in before their time was up and the panel for "Max Payne" was ushered in. Stars Mark Wahlberg and Ludacris went through similar paces as their predecessors. However, this time there was an extended clip from the film rather than just a preview. Once again, hindered by the mundane, slow pitch questions from Stoff, the program description was less than interesting and held more promise of a titillating discussion about transferring comic book to screen than the shallow discussion about characters. A bad choice considering this audience presumably already knows about the characters in their favorite comic.
The one saving element of this program was the played up surprise appearance by "Wolverine" star Hugh Jackman, supposedly fresh off a plane from Australia. Jackman bounded onto the stage and gingerly grabbed the reins (thank goodness). The megastar stood at the edge of the stage addressing the audience directly and even pounced down into the crowd to shake the hand of the man who created his character. The connection between him and the fans was palpable, casting a shadow over the other actors, who by now I had nearly forgotten. Obviously, enthusiastic stars should run these panels, and not well-meaning production staff. It is a concept that should be applied for next year.
Jackson’s appearance is what I had come to see – the excitement, the enjoyment and the interaction of creators with the fans that adore them. Unfortunately, the rest of the day (as well as the next three days) did not live up to that. I can’t even begin to describe the train wreck panel of NASA’s first film attempt, "Quantum Quest," where the first twenty minutes were devoted to a series of animation stills and the life story of some scientist whose connection to the project I still do not understand. And the "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" panel of director (not the one you’re thinking), producer, co-writer and editor offered up nothing more insightful than the mantra, “we wanted to please George” without elaboration.
The Warner Bros. "Watchmen" panel seemed to try a little harder, presenting virtually all of the cast and allowing questions from the audience, but was overly preoccupied with its one real name actor, Billy Crudup. "Trailer Park" was just a slew of trailers screened end to end with no guide or introduction, and Universal’s "The Wolfman" had great potential with master makeup artist Rick Backer playing host, but lost momentum when it fell into the predictable patter with actors about character. Who, I ask you, does not know this character? Lionsgate’s "The Spirit" representatives were similarly perfunctory, eliciting a greater allure by the mere presence of Samuel L. Jackson. We want to know how and why they came to the project, did they know the mythology before, did they come to appreciate it more after living it, do they want to do it again, etc., etc., etc.
I don’t know if it was poor planning on the part of Comic Con or what the Hollywood types were thinking, but it seemed that they were relying on the mere appearances of an actor or two with a movie preview to enthrall the spectators, forgetting that this group in particular longs for real insider information, not just stuff they’re bound to get eventually in their local theaters. These are geeks in the truest and purest sense of the word, and will not be quelled, let alone inspired to start a word of mouth campaign by a simple dog and pony show.
If anyone doesn’t know what I mean, all they have to do is visit any event hosted by Kevin Smith. Whether it’s a panel or a straightforward question and answer session, Smith is the ideal moderator all others should aspire to be. He is naturally witty without hogging the stage, allowing each member their moment in the limelight, including the unexpected brilliance often offered up by the audience itself perhaps in large part because he is one of them. Smith is a devote fan of all things Comic Con and able to relate with the attendees in a way no other Hollywood representative can hope to.
If the studios are smart they’ll just hire Kevin Smith for all the film related panels next year. If so, I can guarantee such a cataclysmic word of mouth response from the fans that would easily outperform any amount of advertising placed on billboards, in newspapers, or on television combined. Yes, Kevin Smith is that connected to this audience. Just ask any Princess Leia or Storm Trooper you meet.