Thousands of people lined up on Thursday to see excerpts of upcoming movies and meet their favorite stars. Fox did not disappoint. Keanu Reeves stoked the fans for “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a re-imagining of the famous 1951 film. He wore a dark beard, in contrast to his clean-shaven alien look in the film. The clips showed prodigious effects, including an entire globe that appeared to hover on the edge of Manhattan, and the instant disintegration of bits and pieces of a city – a stadium, a truck. The film was originally conceived in the age of mutually-assured nuclear destruction, and its themes must take on different resonance now.
“Max Payne,” on the other hand, just seemed to be a vehicle for Mark Wahlberg to beat a lot of people to a bloody pulp. In general, many films on display seemed to feature not only heavy-duty combat, but lots of broken glass, rat-a-tat bullets and sprays of debris. Said Wahlberg of his vigilante character: “People will be very satisfied when they see the havoc he wreaks on the world.”
An incredibly buff Hugh Jackman also showed up unannounced to pump the crowd for his next “Wolverine” feature, to be released next year. He said he came straight from the plane from Australia with some dripping wet footage to show. (It looked like nothing of the kind: tight shots of fight sequences, with music.) In the clip, he looked scary-strong, and Liev Schreiber appears to grow wolf-like facial hair.
But amazingly, it was the chick vampire movie, “Twilight,” that set the room on fire. Hundreds of teenaged girls, and middle-aged women, showed up for a mostly-unknown cast of the first film of a four-book hit series by Stephanie Meyers. Actors like Robert Pattinson, cleft of chin, craggy of cheekbone and British of accent, needed only to run his fingers through his tousled mess of sandy blonde hair to send the room into spasms of joy. Meyer, director Catherine Harwicke and star Kristen Stewart were decided afterthoughts.
From early on Thursday people had lined up to see for the four-minute clip of “Watchmen” scheduled for Friday. I asked a DC Comics official why everyone was so crazed to learn about this film. He explained that this 12-part miniseries, written in the 1980s, is considered the oracle of comic book writing, a deconstruction of the superhero archetype in the age of Richard Nixon. In the story, heroes are progressively killed off. The first cut is done, and it’s three hours long. “We’re not sure how far it will go down,” said this official, who insisted on remaining nameless. Warner Brothers is making the film, for release in March 2009.
Earlier: The sights, the sounds. Fans with pink hair, and long green robes. Storm troopers. Anime come to life. How fun to see teenagers with painted-on blood oozing down their cheek at 10 am. Seriously. I took the train down from Los Angeles, and ran into agent Robert Newman from Endeavor. Several of his clients are presenting here, and Newman agreed that Comic-Con has begun to overtake other annual movie events, like Sho-West, the annual convention for movie exhibitors in Las Vegas. Nearly every major studio is presenting here, and there will be actors and directors and exclusive movie clips packing the halls. Why? “These are the tastemakers, and they’re more important than exhibitors,” said Newman. “These are people who have built an entire portion of their lives around their passion.” I ran into Oren Aviv, chief of Disney’s motion picture division, and he cautioned that presenting at Comic-Con may be important, but makes very little difference in the overall commercial success of a film. No need to bring a “Pirates of the Caribbean,” or anything with a built-in blockbuster following, he says. (Disney abandoned Sho-West several years ago.) Instead, Aviv sees studio participation as more of a gift to dedicated movie fans. “The bar here is very high,” he said. “The fans demand accuracy and authentic effort. They have to read the passion in the filmmaker. You should only come here if you have great s---.”
editor's note: We're experimenting with video, and I did a short filmed piece from the convention, see above. Comments and criticisms welcome. I'll post shortly about some of the news events, but you can see them more quickly for yourself on the clip above -- Keanu Reeves for the "The Day the Earth Stood Still," Mark Wahlberg in "Max Payne," and a surprise visit from Hugh Jackman for his new "Wolverine." More later!