The yearly migration of geeks to Downtown San Diego occurred once more from July 11 to 15 as Comic-Con 2012 was in full swing. The convention center was packed with over 130,000 thousand hardcore fans for another cornucopia of pop culture. Celebrities from all walks of life attended SDCC, including Shaquille O'Neil and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, both of whom were there to promote new comic book ventures.
The exhibit hall was teeming with activity so much so that the once languid Preview Night was almost as packed as the busiest Saturday. Props like the Ark of the Covenant (surrounded by live snakes), 007's Aston Martin from "The Living Daylights," and giant trolls from "The Hobbit" were on display. Video gamers were able to check out early versions of "Halo 4" and "Resident Evil 6" while toy companies like NECA, Sideshow, and Hasbro had their product for the upcoming year on display. Mattel may have outshined them all with action figures from their WWE, Masters of the Universe, "The Dark Knight Rises," "Cars," and "Voltron" lines behind an enormous Castle Greyskull front. Also shown off were a replica Hoverboard from "Back to the Future" and replica props like the PKE Meter and the Ecto Goggles from "Ghostbusters." Both will go on sale on their website Mattycollector.com. Even David Hasselhoff dropped by to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "Knight Rider" and the release of a Hot Wheels KITT.
Marvel was riding high off the runaway success of "The Avengers." In previous years, they've recreated Odin's throne room and the bridge of the SHIELD Helicarrier. This year, they brought Tony Stark's armory with each of his Iron Man suits on full display, including the latest version from 2013's "Iron Man 3." DC Comics made waves throughout the comic book industry with their New 52 reboot and the controversial Before Watchmen, an all-new series of prequels to one of the most critically acclaimed stories ever published. Behind glass cases at the DC booth stood the Comedian and Nite-Owl costumes from the "Watchmen" film as well as Green Arrow's outfit from the CW's new drama "Arrow." DC's parent company, Warner Brothers, displayed costumes from the upcoming "Man of Steel" as well as numerous 3D posters for "The Hobbit." Outside the convention center, the studio brought Batmobiles from the Adam West TV show and the live-action films as well as a stage for movie screenings and live appearances by guests like Kevin Smith, Lucy Liu, Kevin Bacon, Maggie Q, and stars from "The Hunger Games." WB also had one of the most anticipated panels scheduled for Saturday. More on that later.
Last year, many major studios chose to skip Comic-Con leading to speculation of Hollywood's involvement in future conventions. Any thoughts that they might lie low for 2012 were dashed as Hall H, the center's 6500 seat auditorium, was busier than ever. Much to the relief of some attendees, "Twilight" made its final appearance at SDCC as their panel for "Breaking Dawn – Part 2" kicked things off. The big three of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner were present along with author Stephanie Meyer and numerous cast members. The festivities were marked by tragedy as a 53-year old "Twilight" fan, who had been camped out since Sunday, was struck and killed by a car on Tuesday morning. A moment of silence was called during the panel and the incident reminded everyone to be more mindful of themselves and their loved ones.
Those who weren't interested in sparkly vampires still had much to look forward to. Walt Disney Studios began their presentation with director Tim Burton making his second Con appearance. Burton was there to promote "Frankenweenie," a stop-motion animated picture based on a short film he produced early in his career. "Frankenweenie" had a strong presence at SDCC with an "Art of Frankenweenie" exhibit, featuring actual models and sets used in the film, on the con floor and a pet cemetery across the street from the convention created in conjunction with HGTV. Burton and moderator Chris Hardwick of the Nerdist Podcast showed off a new trailer done in the style of a classic horror movie. Up next for the House of Mouse was a preview for "Oz the Great and Powerful" with Sam Raimi and stars Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis introduced to Hall H. The first trailer was rolled, which featured some stunning 3D effects and a heavy CGI environment ala Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." When asked, Raimi noted that the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion would not be in the prequel and the ruby slippers a trademark from the MGM musical. Raimi's signature '73 Oldsmobile will finds its way into the land of Oz as parts of it will comprise one of the Wizard's machines.
The last part of Disney's presentation was reserved for "Wreck-It Ralph," an animated picture that looks to be the video game equivalent of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "Toy Story." Guests for the Q&A were director Rich Moore, John C. Reilly, and Sarah Silverman. Reilly stars as a Donkey Kong-esque game antagonist, who grows weary of being the bad guy and decides to jump into other games. Disney rolled about ten minutes worth of footage with the centerpiece being Ralph attending a Bad Guys Anonymous meeting with other infamous video game villains. Clyde, a ghost from "Pac-Man" led the group, which included M. Bison, Zangief, Kano, and Dr. Robotnik. A depressed Ralph snatches two cherries from the Pac-Man game before heading to a way station that transports characters back to their games. In a sad moment, Ralph comes across Q*bert and his companions begging for handouts since they were trapped at the depot when their game was unplugged. Later, Ralph's nemesis, the cheerful Fix-It Felix, goes searching for him in the Halo-esque, Hero's Duty, and his amazed by the shooter's high definition graphics. The final sequence shown takes place in a candy-themed racing game as Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz, a young girl being bullied by the other drivers. Interestingly enough, one famous video game icon, a certain overweight plumber, will not be making a cameo in "Wreck-It Ralph." Before closing things out, Disney surprised Comic-Con with an exclusive teaser for next year's "The Lone Ranger." We see the transcontinental railroad being built as Tom Wilkinson discusses how the country will be forever changed and a boardroom of executives is riddled with bullets. Johnny Depp as Tonto can be heard speaking in voiceover, "There come a time, kemosabe, when good man must wear mask." Helena Bonham Carter is briefly glimpsed along with a shot of Tonto clinging to the underside of a speeding train.
Action fans were in for a treat with the next two panels. International superstar Jackie Chan made his first trip to Comic-Con to discuss "CZ12," a sequel to his famed "Armor of God" pictures. Chan plays a master thief looking to retrieve the heads of a series of bronze statues representing animals from the Chinese Zodiac. "CZ12" looks to be a throwback to the classic Chan style action movie. Though his English wasn't perfect, Chan's enthusiasm and energy enraptured the audience. Chan did mention that he had been asked to be a part of "The Expendables," but was too busy working on "CZ12," which he also wrote and directed, but he would be up for a future sequel. Hopefully, he got a chance to discuss the matter as "The Expendables 2" panel immediately followed.
Attendees erupted into a chant of "Rocky, Rocky" as Sylvester Stallone was introduced after a montage of his best films. Fellow cast members Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, and Terry Crews came out next before another montage was used to introduce former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. With a loud "I'm back," the Terminator greeted everyone for what would be an incredibly entertaining panel. When prompted, Arnold gladly spouted several of his famous catchphrases like, "It's not a tumor," and the unforgettable speech from "Conan the Barbarian" ("…crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women"). Arnold spoke of how competitive he and Sly are with one another and boasted that he killed more people on screen. When asked what his favorite Arnold movie was, Sly joked, "Junior," and said Arnold's favorite of his was probably "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot." Nothing major in the way of footage was shown as the participants were the main draw. One scene rolled saw Jean-Claude Van Damme and his henchmen attempting to flee through an airport terminal. Bullets rip through a wall as Arnold, Sly, and Bruce Willis emerge with guns blazing. Another baddie is taken out by a precision shot from Chuck Norris as other Expendables emerge. It was clear that Arnold and Sly were having a grand time hanging out with each other and engaging the fans. Certainly, the memories will be bittersweet as news broke out the next day that Stallone's son, Sage, was found dead of an apparent overdose.
The medium of TV has taken on a tremendous role at SDCC over the last several years. Sunday was anchored by fan favorites like "Sons of Anarchy," "Supernatural," and "Doctor Who." New shows such as "Beauty and the Beast," "666 Park Avenue," "Elementary," and the JJ Abrams-produced "Revolution" hoped to become Comic-Con mainstays the way "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" once were. Friday was a huge day for television fans with "Falling Skies," "Childrens Hospital," and "Spartacus" holding panels and "Breaking Bad" making its first SDCC appearance. Thousands upon thousands were lined up in a serpentine manner to get into either Hall H or Ballroom 20. The latter, which is the convention center's second largest room, was host to the first "Community" panel after the acrimonious departure of series creator Dan Harmon. But, the main attraction was undoubtedly the 10th anniversary "Firefly" reunion attended by Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, writers Jose Molina & Tim Minear, and, of course, the conquering hero Joss Whedon. Baldwin and Whedon actually visited some of the die-hard fans who were camped out during the wee hours of the evening. Sadly, I decided not to brave the insanely long line for the less daunting Hall H line.
After a panel for "ParaNorman," three of the convention's most popular television shows formed the bulk of the programming. Graduating to Hall H were "The Big Bang Theory," "The Walking Dead," and "Game of Thrones." Cast members of "TBBT" in attendance were Kunal Nayyar, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Melissa Rauch, Mayim Bialik, and series creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. Johnny Galecki missed the panel due to traffic while Jim Parsons, in classic Sheldon fashion, joined the proceedings via satellite hookup. "Big Bang" gave out what might be the best piece of Comic-Con swag ever as one lucky fan won a trip to space aboard the Lynx Experience. "The Walking Dead" had a massive presence at this year's Con with the comic book series reaching 100 issues. Petco Park was partly transformed into a zombie wasteland for the "The Walking Dead Escape," which allowed convention-goers to run an obstacle course while being chased by ravenous zombies. At the panel, fans were introduced to new cast members David Morrissey, who is set to play the Governor, and Danai Gurira as the sword wielding Michonne. Both "Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones" previewed their upcoming seasons with respective trailers.
Sony Pictures closed out the Hall H for the day. First up was their subsidiary, Screen Gems, with the video game adaptation, "Resident Evil: Retribution." Director Paul W.S. Anderson brought along cast members Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Michelle Rodriguez, Boris Kodjoe, and J-Pop songstress Mika Nakashima. In addition to the trailer in 3D, a climactic fight scene between Alice and Jill Valentine was also screened. Alice and her compatriots are traveling through a snow barren wasteland when they are attacked by a rising submarine from Umbrella. Jill engage in acrobatic slow-mo fisticuffs while a clone of Michelle's character, Rain Ocampa, soaking bullets and shooting them back out through her fingers. Sony proper was next with at trio of con appropriate sci-fi releases, "Total Recall," "Looper," and "Elysium." The remake of the Arnold actioner was first with Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston, and director Len Wiseman. A sizzle reel was rolled that featured multiple scenes that referenced the original picture: Farrell's Quaid trying to sneak through a security checkpoint with a holographic mask that uttered "three days" instead of "2 weeks," Beckinsale as Quaid's wife trying to kill him, a chase through the streets of a "Blade Runner" looking city, Quaid ripping the arm off a robot ala Michael Ironside, and the eagerly anticipated hooker with the three boobs. Speaking of whom, the lovely actress, Kaitlyn Leeb, caused much foot traffic at the Sony booth when she made an appearance in costume. To quote Cranston, "If we didn't have the hooker with three boobs, we'd all be upset."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, and Rian Johnson were brought out for "Looper" The film stars JGL as a hitman whose targets are sent to him from the future with Bruce Willis as his older incarnation. A 5-minute reel was shown with the majority of footage previously seen in the trailer. Two extended sequences featured Jeff Daniels as a mobster sent from the future to facilitate the hired killers and one where JGL and Bruce Willis meet face-to-face in a diner before their tense conversation erupts into a shootout. JGL discussed how terrible he is at mimicry, which he demonstrated with a bad Dick Van Dyke impression as his example of a British accent. Yet, he listened to audio from Bruce Willis's movies on his iPod to get the vocal inflections down pat. Some subtle make-up appliances were used to make the actors look more alike. Finally, Sony unveiled the first ever footage from "Elysium," the latest film from "District 9" director Neil Blomkamp, who was joined on stage by Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley. If you want a good idea of what "Elysium" is about, think "District 9" meets "Wall-E." "Elysium" is set in a dystopian future (is there any other kind?) where the wealthy elite live in luxury aboard an orbiting space station while the rest of the population toil in agony on the polluted planet below. Damon stars as Max, a factory worker exposed to a fatal dose of radiation. His only chance for survival is on the station. In order to get there, he must pull off a data heist by stealing information directly from the brain of an Elysium citizen (William Fitchner). Max goes through a painful procedure to have an exoskeleton surgically attached to his failing body. Foster plays a security official on the station, who dispatches a psychotic Copley top stop Max. For Copley, the role is a complete 180 from "District 9," as his character could best be described as a hobo samurai. Much like "District 9," "Elysium" was shot on a relatively small budget, but looks like it cost $200 million. The shooting conditions were not pleasant for Damon and Copley as one of the locations was in Mexico at the second largest landfill in the world. Cast and crew members wore respirators to protect them from dust clouds made almost entirely of fecal matter. Damon also related how one of his stunt doubles was covered in pig urine during filming. One joker had to bring up "Team America," which Damon responded to in good fun claiming to be a fan of the "South Park" creators and that more people ask him to sign a picture of the Matt Damon puppet than actual photos of himself.
I was in it for the long haul on Saturday as the most buzzed about movie panels were set to take place in Hall H. Arriving at 7AM, I was barely able to get in with Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" set to start off the day's programs. The panel consisted of Tarantino, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz, Don Johnson, and Walt Goggins. QT intro'd a 6-minute sizzle reel that was essentially an extended version of the theatrical trailer. The footage opened with Waltz's King Schultz encountering a chain gang and killing the jailers in order to free Django. We see Schultz training Django in the art of gun fighting though the latter doesn't seem to need it as he riddles a snowman with bullets in a scene reminiscent of Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence." The next substantial sequence finds Schultz and Django arriving at the plantation of Don Johnson's Big Daddy, who is dressed like a young Colonel Sanders. Django is wearing a blue suede suit with ruffled shirt. He is taken around the plantation by a slave girl where he sees, Big John (M.C. Gainey), one of the Brittle Brothers, the outlaws who kidnapped his wife. Big John is whipping another slave for accidentally breaking eggs when Django stomps towards them and kills the man ("I like the way you die, boy.") with one shot. The actors all praised Tarantino's encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and the director gleefully acknowledged they had both Crockett and Tubbs in the house. Johnson facetiously mentioned that he studied Foghorn Leghorn to prepare for his role. Jonah Hill, who previously dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, was back in the film in a different part. QT stated that Hill would be a member of the Regulators, a hate group that were the predecessors to the KKK. Kerry Washington plays Django's wife, Broomhilda, who originally belonged to a German family known as the Von Shafts. While QT was cagey about how characters from his other films were connected to the ones in "Django," he did let it slip that Django and Broomhilda were the ancestors of blaxploitation hero John Shaft.
After "Django Unchained" wrapped up, there was a bit of a lull as Open Road Films followed up with "End of Watch" and "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D." The former is a cop thriller starring Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal and many attendees were likely disappointed that the latter was unable to come. As for "Silent Hill," it seemed the only ones paying any attention were the most ardent devotees of the game.
Luckily, this meant that everyone was well rested for one of the most mammoth presentations to ever hit Comic-Con. Warner Brothers carved out a three hour block to preview their upcoming slate with Chris Hardwick once again assuming the role of moderator. Audiences were wowed by a multimedia extravaganza played out across three enormous screens. Comic-Con favorite Guillermo Del Toro was the lead-off with "Pacific Rim," his take on giant monsters versus giant robots. Joining Del Toro were "Sons of Anarchy" cohorts Ron Perlman & Charlie Hunman along with fellow cast members Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Day. BTW, Perlman got a loud round of applause for his recent work with Make-A-Wish. "Pacific Rim" looks absolutely amazing and makes Michael Bay's "Transformers" look like even bigger piles of crap. The film follows an elite squad of soldiers who pilot gargantuan robots, known as jaegers, with two pilots needed to function as the jaegers right and left brain hemispheres. Helicopters drop a jaeger into the ocean as it raises its fist to do battle with a sea monster. The special effects by ILM are simply breathtaking with the pilots using a holographic heads-up display inside the jaegers, which will be armed with a variety of weapons like drills and rocket punches. We weren't done with giant monsters just yet as Warner and Legendary Pictures also unveiled a surprise teaser trailer for an all-new version of "Godzilla" from Gareth Edwards, the director of "Monsters." This "Godzilla" will be a serious take on the character and grounded in reality. The trailer opened with audio of Oppenheimer's famous speech regarding the atomic bomb, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." The camera pans across a ruined city, skyscrapers torn into pieces, and bodies strewn about. Then, we see a colossal claws and the roaring silhouette of Godzilla hidden behind a cloud of dust.
Another surprise was the appearance of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, who arrived to promote their new film, "The Campaign." The panel quickly turned into a three-man comedy show as Ferrell, Galifianakis, and Hardwick riffed on anyone who dared step up to the Q&A mic. And, yes, they did show a new trailer featuring the full scene where Will Ferrell punches a baby in the face, his fist striking its cheek in slow motion as the skin ripples like water.
The panel marched on as WB presented our first look at footage from "Man of Steel" with director Zack Snyder and Superman himself Henry Cavill. The reel was a much more extensive version of the teaser attached to "The Dark Knight Rises." Comparisons have been made by many pundits that "Man of Steel" looks more like a Terrence Malick film than a Zack Snyder one, mostly because there's no slow motion. The Malick comparisons are hard to ignore as the Comic-Con footage used a selection from Hans Zimmer's "Thin Red Line" score as a temp track. We hear voice-overs from both Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Pa Kent with scenes of a bearded Clark Kent hitchhiking across the country and working on a fishing boat. There's a shot of Clark as a child wearing a sheet as a cape and another of him pushing a school bus out of raging waters. Pa Kent revealing to a teenage Clark the spaceship he arrived in. Clark in the Fortress of Solitude consulting with Jor-El. A shot of a shirtless Clark engulfed in flames. A quick shot of Amy Adams (still with red hair) as Lois Lane and another of her kissing Superman. Military units mobilizing, Superman being escorted by armed guards, and another of the Man of Steel being knocked into a metal vault. The money shot was one of Superman kneeling on the pavement, his fists on the ground, the pavement cracks and he launches himself into the air followed by more shots of him flying through the clouds like a speeding bullet. There was also a very short glimpse of Michael Shannon as General Zod clad in some sort of Kryptonian armor. Snyder held details very closely to the chest and didn't even want to admit General Zod was in the film. John Williams' recognizable score will not be used to distance "Man of Steel" from other incarnations and Zimmer will act as composer. Cavill dropped some comic book knowledge by stating that the Death and Return of Superman informed his take on Superman along with Red Son, an alternate tale where Kal-El landed in Communist Russia. All in all, "Man of Steel" looks to be more action-packed than "Superman Returns," but it is still to early to tell.
"Over the Misty Mountains Cold" introduced the main event as an immense mural of the characters from "The Hobbit" flashed across the screens. Joining the panel were director Peter Jackson, co-writer Philippa Boyens, Andy Serkis, Sir Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, and special guest Elijah Wood. Jackson rolled his latest production diary, which chronicled the final days of filming as production wrapped. The version now online features new clips of the crew's Comic-Con experience. I thought my eardrums would burst at the sound of shrieking girls when they saw Orlando Bloom reprising his role of Legolas. Stephen Fry also got a great reaction and that warmed my heart. That was just the tip of the iceberg as Jackson graciously brought with him approximately 12 minutes of footage from "An Unexpected Journey" and next year's "There and Back Again." It should be noted that the footage was in plain old 2D at 24fps and not the 48fps that was screened at CinemaCon to mixed reactions. Footage began with Gandalf and a band of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield recruiting Bilbo on their quest to regain their stolen treasure from the dragon Smaug. They reluctantly accept Mr. Baggins as a member of their party as Gandalf explains the dragon knows the scent of dwarves, but not of hobbits. Bilbo is asked to sign a contract that basically acts as an indemnity clause that absolves the others of any liability. One of the gang doesn't help matters as he talks about the possibilities of being set on fire or turned to ash, which causes Bilbo to faint. After getting lost in the goblin tunnels, Bilbo encounters Gollum for the first time and challenges him to a game of riddles. Should he win, Gollum will show him the way out, but if he loses, Gollum gets to eat him whole. Next is a conversation between Gandalf and Galadriel in Rivendell as the elven queen asks the wizard why he would bring the halfling on the quest. The last scene finds Bilbo hiding the One Ring in his pocket when he is confronted by Gandalf. When asked what he found in the tunnels, Bilbo only answers, "…my courage." Finally, the footage closes with rapid images of trolls, rock monsters, elves, and a shot of Legolas aiming his bow & arrow at Thorin. It wouldn't be a "Lord of the Rings" panel without a request for Andy Serkis to do the Gollum voice, which he did with a raspy, profanity laced tirade about constantly being asked to do the Gollum voice.
Before Kevin Smith closed Saturday out with his annual Q&A, Marvel Studios announced its future slate and you can read the full report here. More photos are online at Flickr.
It was another exhilarating and exhausting Comic-Con and we can't wait to do it all over again in 2013.