Comic-Con 2010: Who swam, who sank and who treaded water
What would happen if every day was Comic-Con? For one thing, we'd probably lose our minds. The show's hype is like lead paint -- a small amount is tolerable, even sweet, but too much leaves you prostrate and numb. For another, if every day was actually Comic-Con no studio executive would ever lose his job. Every movie is a hit in Hall H, that magical place where dreams come true and where creators and executives can always turn for a validation fix. Thousands of people are cheering and taking cellphone pictures -- how can a film not be a blockbuster? (Here's the link, by the way, to the complete compendium of Comic-Con stories from our sister blog Hero Complex. Some more specific URLs below.)
Yet while a movie's reception at Comic-Con isn't predictive of either the very broadly oriented releases ("Avatar," which drew a mixed reaction last year) or the very fan-centric ones ("Kick-Ass" played extremely well in San Diego but struggled upon release), for the many movies in the vast middle, it can presage plenty. There's cheering and there's cheering; how loud the cheers come, and from whom, does indicate plenty about a movie's prospects.
With that in mind, we decided to run down a batch of movies from the show and offer a few thoughts about how, from where we sat, they all fared.
"Cowboys and Aliens"
The Pre-Con Status: Intense interest in Jon Favreau, the original graphic novel and the genre-jumping premise overcame some early distaste caused by Robert Downey Jr. jumping ship.
The Play: Emphasize the Harrison Ford of it all, let the panelists say very little (they're at a relatively early stage of production) and allow the hybrid-y extended footage (atmospheric period western turns into an explosion-heavy UFO-attack movie) do the talking.
The Payoff: The weird truth of Comic-Con is that sometimes the earlier you are in production, the better off your chances with fans. That helped here.The footage was also different enough from anything else that plays Comic-Con (or the multiplex), helping to make it one of the best-received of the studio panels. There was also plenty of good feeling from Ford's presence, though that's precisely the kind of Comic-Con moment that's long forgotten when a film finally comes out."Sucker Punch"
The Pre-Con Status: Zack Snyder could no wrong after "300." Then he did "Watchmen." His new film came into San Diego in an uncertain place.
The Play: Emphasize the "300"-esque stylized violence -- and the bombshell female cast, as about a half-dozen on the actresses joined Snyder for a panel.
The Payoff: The footage sometimes looked as slick and kinetic as "300," and this could be the rare Snyder films that brings in women. But the director wasn't hugely articulate/compelling in his own comments, and while fanboys always like a whip-snapping woman hero, the panel might have played a little too pink-hearts-and-rainbows (hello, Vanessa Hudgens) to snag the all-important young-male demo. Women, for their part, could be an equally tough sell.
"The Green Hornet"
The Pre-Con Status: Questions about Seth Rogen's ability to pull off the superhero character -- not to mention similar questions about the film's tone -- have bedeviled this serio-comic take on the radio and TV character for a while now.
The Play: Let Rogen trot out his stoner comedy and lock down the slacker segment of the "Knocked Up" crowd, while simultaneously redefine him as as a swaggering hero.
The Payoff: The panel was vexed by the same problem as the trailer: the inability to choose, or find the right space, between comedy and the more serious business of superhero mythology. This one made few inroads at Comic-Con.
The Pre-Con Status: Growing interest in the uber-macho but demographically diverse cast (Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Bruce Willis covers you pretty nicely) put this in a good spot before the convention doors ever opened.The Play: Let Sylvester Stallone come out and roughhouse with half a dozen members of the cast, showing that as muscle-tough as they are in the movie, beneath all that man talk they're just a bunch of fun-loving, softhearted guys.
The Payoff: One of the convention's most brilliant positionings. The panel won't win any awards from Mensa (lots of stories about who broke whose neck on set) but it won't matter. Comic-Con has sealed its fate: "The Expendables" ("Explodables?") is destined to open big.
The Pre-Con Status: Deep skepticism about the need for a remake of the Swedish original, coupled with a dark cloud caused by the uncertain state of distributor Overture Films, made the vampire film the most wobbly of Comic-Con show horses.
The Play: Let director Matt Reeves, reflexively embraced by this crowd because of "Cloverfield" and his J.J. Abrams connection, show footage that goes beyond the generic horror scenes of the trailer.The Payoff: Reeves can come off as a little didactic, and Chloe Moretz didn't do enough to capitalize on her Hit Girl popularity. But the mood-driven footage was embraced as a lot smarter and truer to the original than the trailer suggested. The needle may be moving.
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."
The Pre-Con Status: Goodwill for the graphic novel and for Michael Cera, but is it enough to make this a broad hit?The Play: Go all out, with a fan-friendly Scott Pilgrim "universe" and a large-scale sneak of the film complete with late-night musical performance. This wasn't a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Harry Potter panel.
The Payoff: The blitz raised the level of awareness and excitement, and the screening was sufficiently well-received to have the film anointed this year's pop pleasure. But this is a popular graphic novel in a convention dedicated to them: The warm "Pilgrim" feelings may simply be one of those in-the-bubble reactions that don't translate in the larger world.
The Pre-Con Status: Interest in an expanding Marvel universe was counteracted by questions about how the Norse god would fit into said universe, and if art house director Kenneth Branagh is the right man for the job.
The Play: Let Branagh explain his case and throw in the eye candy of Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, while premiering a piece of extended footage.
The Payoff: One of the more divisive of Hall H presentations. There was, superficially, a consensus that the movie had the goods, but it was impossible not to hear the dissenting voices questioning, perhaps fairly, the histrionic costume-drama of the exposition and the generic explosions that followed. For some reason we have a feeling these voices will only grow louder.
The Pre-Con Status: Two straight years of "Tron" teasers at Comic-Con primed the pump before a single frame was shown this year. But will that be enough to get a lot of people excited about a sequel to a 28-year-old cult movie?
The Play: Appeal to our sense of nostalgia -- a clip montage of pop-cultural references for the original, a lot of of talk about Jeff Bridges appearing in this movie as his 35-year-old self, an on-stage appearance from original director Steven Lisberger.The Payoff: Questions remain as to whether the previous movie is sufficiently beloved to jump-start interest in a sequel. But Disney did what it needed to -- the footage was solid, the fans were eager, and the December movie is well -positioned as it heads into its next marketing phase.
-- Steven Zeitchik
[Updated at 6:29 p.m.: A previous version of this post misspelled Natalie Portman's first name as Natlaie and gave Dolph Lundgren's last name as Lungren.]
Photos: Zack Snyder at the panel for "Sucker Punch"; a poster for "The Green Hornet." Credits: Alex Pham / Los Angeles Times; Sony Pictures
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