At Comic-Con 2011, Hollywood Went to the Dark Side

The offerings at this year's geekfest in San Diego were dark, bleak and angry

If there’s a lesson to be drawn from Comic-Con this year, it’s that Hollywood has gone to a very dark place.

From Guillermo del Toro to George R.R. Martin, from Fox’s bleak “In Time” and angry “Rise of Planet of the Apes” to a bloody “Immortals” and a hyper-violent “Drive,” Hollywood is dark, angry and possibly reflecting a national mood.

This year, Comic-Con offered up a cinematic and cable television world increasingly populated by zombies, vampires, werewolves, aliens, witches, terrorists, more zombies, drug gangs, torture experts and spree killers.

We’re all just moments away from a brutal death, or just as likely, a lingering wait for extinction in a dystopian future — whether it's small-time crooks or our hopeless fate writ large (as in the corrosive tween novel adaptations, positing a universe where you basically have to kill to eat).

Also read: Comic-Con: Fox's Dystopian Outlook, Courtesy of Ridley Scott, Justin Timberlake, Andy Serkis

Fox had an especially bleak trio of offerings that made us wonder if the lingeringly grim economy was having spiritual side effects, not just on Middle America and various nations teetering near default, but on the production chiefs at that studio and others.

* Fox unveiled "In Time," which places Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried in a world where anyone wanting to live past the age of 25 must pay their way into longer life. (Imagine the amount of sexting a doomed class of young adults woud indulge in.) 

* The audience buzzed over a freakishly violent scene from "Drive," (having already won its maker, Nicholas Winding Refn, Best Director at Cannes),  a noirish action showcase starrng Ryan Gosling as a shady driver with dirty hands. The scene showed Gosling stomp a victim to death until the subject's head exploded, in a scenario that Tarantino might have envied.

* "Game of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin had reasonably noted that he mourns the characters he rather bravely decapitates (and, later, gibbets onto a stick to scare their family with).

* Finally, Fox unveiled a re-boot of the "Planet of the Apes" franchise, featuring Andy Serkis as an ape who's medicated into being diabolically brainy by James Franco (who's a scientist attempting to cure Alzheimer's).

But the darkness was hardly limited to that.

Ridley Scott spoke from location in Iceland about "Prometheus," a return to sci-fi for him. It features Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace (the queen of darkness in three Stieg Larsson adaptations in her native Sweden) on an alien planet. The film won't be a sequel to Scott's groundbreaking 1979 classic "Alien," as originally planned, but it will exist in the same narrative world as that bleak sci-fi horror film.

Also read: ‘Drive’ Director Winding Refn: 'Casting Is Like Sex'; and Guillermo del Toro Swears Like a Sailor

You can try to blame it all on the profit motive, and no doubt all the screenplays making their way around Hollywood at the moment that are filled with verb forms tending toward bite-stab-bludgeon-infect, and of course, saw.

Judging from audience reactions at Comic-Con, the purveyors of all this mayhem are simply giving the people what they want.

Alan Ball, HBO's bold and gifted "True Blood" show runner, was playfully sparring with an adoring crowd to preview next season’s highlights, when the subject of a particular (and particularly) evil baby came up.

A noise went through the crowd — it was the holler from deep in the 4,500-strong Ballroom 20 crowd — “Kill that baby!”

Ball momentary cinched up and gave way to a showman’s instinct to toss down a rag. “I knew you were sick,” he said, “I had no idea you were this sick!”

Also read: Comic-Con: 'True Blood' Star Anna Paquin on 'Really Dirty Vampire Sex'

Bryan Cranston of AMC’s "Breaking Bad" has been breaking steadily badder, whille the zombie-killing guerillas of "The Walking Dead" deal death to the undead and occasional betrayals to fellow survivors. 

Even AMC siblings want in on the bloody, grisly act.

The "Walking Dead" creators noted that they had entreaties from "Mad Men" cast members — Christina Hendricks among them — who volunteered for cameos as "walkers." (Upon being told that zombie folk work a 16-hour day in heavy makeup and contacts, enthusiasm dimmed.)

It’s not like the real world is lacking in sudden, insane violence. In fact, we should probably be asking a professor of psychiatry if, with Hollywood’s help, we’re all trying to work something out onscreen.

So, the long winter is coming to "Game of Thrones" and, not having read the books, one can only speculate as to who’s going to disappear next season.

Certainly, some of the fresh young waitresses at "True Blood’s" restaurant Merlotte’s, per Ball’s admission, are going to their death.

We’ll just have to see if the audience has shocked him out of any plans he may have for killing the baby.