Talk Nerdy to me: A 2011 Comic-Con inside look

by David Dixon

COMICON 2011 Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Downtown San Diego was transformed last week for the pop culture convention, Comic-Con. Everywhere I looked, there were posters for new science fiction movies such as “Real Steel,” “The Amazing Spider Man” and “Men in Black III.”

There was also a small land dedicated to “South Park.” All of this eye candy was to promote the event that has been a staple to my summer; a place where cool nerds from around the world go to see some of their idols in the flesh, and can share their deep appreciation for some of the things that bring their lives joy.

Wednesday

I spent two hours at” Preview Night.” There were some memorable moments, such as an appearance from Tom Morello (Guitarist from Rage Against the Machine), and being able to try out some video games. However, these were small potatoes for what would happen over the next few days. That being said, “Preview Night” felt more intimate than I expected it to. If an attendee wanted to buy an item in the Exhibit Hall, check out a game, or talk to an underground artist, this would be an easy task to accomplish. Once Thursday came around, the Exhibit Hall would be a mad house and regular Joes would have to proceed with caution upon entering the building.

Thursday

The evening program in Hall H felt like a panel that was primarily made for die-hard movie fans. I started the day by enjoying some time in the gigantic Exhibit Hall watching game play from “Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3,” which was apparently a really big deal due to the announcements that were made about several characters. Right before heading to Hall H, the largest room for panels, I was able to play “SSX” (very poorly) while still loving every second of the game. The HD graphics are very realistic and I was able to do a move that created a ripple effect in the world of the game, no joke. I then headed to Hall H to see some filmmakers talk about future projects and their appreciation for cinema.

Robert Rodriguez makes admittedly entertaining flicks such as “Sin City.” However, several movies of his have ultra violence that makes me cringe. Did I mention that I am not squeamish? If I never saw a single interview with Rodriguez, I probably would think that Rodriguez was a total oddball. Rodriguez proved that this was not the case when he took part of an in-depth conversation about his studio, Quick Draw Productions.

I liked hearing about his company, but I am still amazed by the fact that Rodriguez seems like a very likeable guy who respects prominent visionaries such as the fantasy painter, Frank Frazetta. His tone always seems to be relaxed, but engaged in his conversation on stage. I also appreciated Rodriguez giving advice to those who want to be future filmmakers. He allowed contributors from Quick Draw, Kevin Eastman and Billy Frazetta speak about some of the projects they are working on as well. After Rodriguez and company left their panel, I saw Jon Favreau and Guillermo del Toro take part in a conversation about passion.

These two filmmakers are very different as people and as visionaries. Favreau was kind, caring, and self-deprecating. He hopes his movie “Cowboys and Aliens” is a success, but he knows that it is ultimately up to critics and audiences to judge the final product. Del Toro, co-writer of the upcoming horror film “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” was profane, goofy, and unapologetically honest. When talking about horror, Del Toro said he peed his pants when watching the television series “Night Gallery.” Not too many people, including Favreau, would have the guts to say something so embarrassing in front of hundreds of people, so it was refreshing to see someone with that sort of honesty and clarity of vision. What these guys have in common is that they both are naturally very funny and they love their line of work. They do not consider themselves to be big shot directors necessarily, because Del Toro and Favreau still make sure to stay experimental and offbeat. Many people worship them and their movies because of this honesty which made them storytelling gods in their own right.

The night continued at Horton Plaza where I saw an advanced screening of “Captain America: The First Avenger.” I feel that it is one of the better super hero adaptations to be released in 2011. It is definitely the most beautiful visually, because of the creative way that the director Joe Johnston and cinematographer Shelly Johnson envisioned the 1940’s. Even the audience members, who thankfully booed the trailer to Taylor Lautner’s new movie in the coming attractions, got into the film from the very beginning.

It was quite a sight when everyone in the audience cheered when the credits said, “Captain America will return in The Avengers.” One piece of advice, if you are going to see this movie make sure to stay through the credits. Marvel has set the bar high for post credits sequences in “Iron Man” and “Thor” and the scene at the very end of “Captain America” is no exception.

Friday

While I am not the hugest “Trekker,” or “Trekkie” I do enjoy the original “Star Trek” series and recent film adaptation. I wanted to see “Star Trek: The Captains,” a press panel that featured William Shatner talking about his new documentary. Since the panel would not start for a little bit of time, I decided to check out the freebie table and saw that Judah Friedlander and people from “Attack of the Show” were about to sign autographs. I then left to go to the Shatner panel. I was not prepared whatsoever for the fervor that would come out of the discussion with Shatner, and special guests Avery Brooks and Scott Bakula.

Seeing Shatner in many shows and films before, my expectation was that he was going to be a guy who would engage in many tongue and cheek responses with the audience. However, Shatner not only answered his questions in a very delicate way, he seemed to be the exact opposite man who once told people on a “Saturday Night Live” “Star Trek” sketch to get a life. He knows that people love “Star Trek” and are influenced by the unique universe that was created by Gene Roddenberry. After seeing the press conference, I was left with much more respect for him and the other two captains. It might have been my favorite moment for all five of the days.

I then went back to Hall H for several hours to watch tons and tons of movie panels. I saw the very end of the “Undrworld 4” panel, and have very little opinion on it, since I do not follow the series. However, it should be noted that Kate Beckinsale had a lot of personality and some good comedic timing during the presentation. When that was over, there was a panel about the British science fiction horror comedy “Attack the Block.” Producer Edgar Wright, director of “Hot Fuzz” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” was the one recognizable face of the panel which included director Joe Cornish and actor John Boyega. I do not want to talk about it too much, because it looks like the type of movie where people know less, the better the experience is. During the panel, many people mentioned that it has been warmly received so far. Do me a favor and check out the critical percentage it has on rottentomatoes.com. Can you believe that the critical consensus at this very moment are at 91%? This makes me believe that “Attack the Block” is going to live up to the hype and enjoyable presentation that took place.

“Fright Night” came next, a remake of the 1985 vampire film with Chris Sarandan. Speaking of which, I forgot to mention in my tweets that Sarandan was the guest moderator of that panel. Judging from the clips that were shown, I feel like the 2011 “Fright Night” will either be a hit or miss. I am not a big horror fan and I felt little tension watching the clips, yet I laughed at some of the vampire satire sprinkled through them. If there is successful humor, I believe that will be the main reason that “Fright Night” will work. “Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance” followed. I could write a whole separate article about how even though Nicholas Cage has made a bunch of terrible movies (i.e. “Season of a Witch” and “Knowing”), he is still a terrific actor. I don ‘t want to prejudge “Ghost Rider,” however, if he wants to get back on his “A game,” it may not be with this movie.

“30 Minutes or Less” was a comedic highlight of the convention. The footage featured plenty of silly dialogue and terrific comedic performances from Aziz Ansari, Jesse Eisenberg, and Danny McBride. Once that was over, the panel for “Total Recall” with Colin Farrell, John Cho, Jessica Biel, and Kate Beckinsale took place. I have no idea how the actual film is going to turn out, but it might be fun seeing Farrell kicking tons of butt, as long as it takes advantage of the smart concept from the original movie. “The Amazing Spider Man” was the last panel that I saw and I want to give it an unofficial award for best entrance I have ever seen at Comic-Con for Andrew Garfield. He started, incognito, dressed up as Spiderman getting in line to ask a question to the filmmakers. A few seconds after talking, he took off his mask which led to an unbelievable amount of clapping from viewers. He then gave a moving speech about how thrilled he is to play Spiderman and said, “this is the coolest moment of my life!”

Saturday

Readers should check out some of my tweets for information about “The Simpsons”, “Family Guy”, American Dad” and “Futurama” panels. I loved all of them. Before that, I saw most of the pilot of the television series, “Terra Nova,” and it is very attractive to look at. There is not a bad looking member of the cast and the dinosaur effects are the best I have seen on a fictional small screen series. However, the script itself is full of clichés and deals with some familiar melodramatic family issues. If the writing gets better, count me in for checking out more of the series, but I am not convinced that it is going to be a hit in my book.

Kevin Smith has a ridiculous amount of followers, me included, who love to attend his hilarious panels. This year, Smith reiterated that he is planning to retire from film, and wants to focus on his family and podcasts. The panel was the best part of Saturday because of how original and fresh his responses to questions were. I was, however, left wondering if this acclaimed director really will stop making movies. If Smith does leave his “first love,” then I guess there is always the critically adored “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy” to re-watch.

Sunday

I have enjoyed a lot of Jonah Hill comedies in the past, so I was planning on checking out the panel on “Allen Gregory”, a cartoon created and starring the voice of Hill. I laughed consistently throughout the pilot that was shown to Fox executives, and I think it will be a success if the show does not betray the original concept about a rich seven year old brat who is forced to attend public school for the first time in his life. The horror!!!

I do not think Sunday was any worse than the awesome days beforehand, but there was something different in the air this day. The energy that kept on building from Wednesday to Saturday kind of vanished. We knew that there was not that much time before we had to go back into the real world, resume our work, and wait another year before this miracle of an event returns to town.

 

2011 was yet another astonishing accomplishment for San Diego. I am grateful and thankful that I was able to do and see so much all five days and hope that those that want to go next year find some way to get tickets. If there is no way to go, celebrate love of all things media July 11-15 of next year in a special way. Sing “Day Man” with friends who love “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, watch a “Star Wars” marathon, check out that big summer blockbuster that is still in theaters. Do something special, because being a geek should be a privilege.

Information about “Comic-Con” can be found on comic-con.org.

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