Movies were supposed to be less important than in past years at this weekend’s Comic-Con, as major studios like Universal and Fox opted against a robust presence.
Television, thanks to shows like “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead,” would use its mind-boggling profits to take over San Diego. Digital, with comic book legend Stan Lee unveiling his YouTube channel alongside Luke Skywalker, would finally have its day.
From an advertising perspective, television was ubiquitous, but movies like “The Hobbit,” “Iron Man 3” and “Django Unchained” were very much the talk of the town at this year’s preeminent fanboy confab.
No studio made a bigger impression than Warner Bros., boosted by partner Legendary Entertainment. It unveiled an upcoming slate of films that anyone would envy.
Some in the industry have questioned the future outlook for Warner Bros. and its tentpole strategy. There are no more "Harry Potter" films, and Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise ends this summer. Yet Saturday's Warner Bros. panel reminded people why even if the studio's cupboard isn’t teeming with ready-made franchises, there are plenty of toys to play with.
Guillermo Del Toro's "Pacific Rim" kicked off the panel, and moderator Chris Hardwick spoke for everyone in the room with his response to early footage — "Holy shit!"
Del Toro is the director of such eerie delights as "Pan's Labyrinth" and "El Espinazo Del Diablo (The Devil's Backbone)," and this time around he’s staging a fight for the future of the world between monsters and robots.
We can’t show you the footage – the lively Mexican director threatened all “those motherfuckers with James Bond cameras” – but he described it as “not a war movie but an adventure movie with a romantic sense of adventure.”
He promised “not just spectacle but huge emotional content and a sense of awe.”
While the footage, which Del Toro dubbed “robot porn,” didn’t exhibit complexity, emotional depth has been a part of many his past movies.
Throw in a stellar cast featuring Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi and Ron Perlman (a Del Toro favorite), and you can see why the "Hellboy" director described overseeing this movie as "big, fat Christmas present."
That is why Legendary, an invaluable partner for Warner Bros., is a big hit both in Comic- Con and outside of it. It takes a fun concept, adds a fat budget and ties the bow with a talented director. It's high-risk, high-reward — the most popular current approach in Tinseltown.
Legendary's upcoming “Godzilla” reboot is another example. The teaser for the film, which Gareth Edwards is directing, left fans squealing with glee.
“I’ve loved Godzilla since I was a kid, and frankly we just wanted to see a kickass Godzilla movie,” Legendary chief Thomas Tull told the crowd.
Beyond Legendary, Peter Jackson has finished shooting his two “Hobbit” movies and came to San Diego armed with castmembers and a camera — "for the blog."
The footage displayed Saturday marked a return to that magical world of Middle Earth he depicted so artfully in the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Whether or not you agree that audiences will learn to love 48 frames per second, who wants to take the under on $1.5 billion worldwide for the pair of films? $2 billion?
Last but certainly not least, there’s DC Comics. Zack Snyder will try to rebirth the Superman film like Nolan, a producer on "Man of Steel," did with the caped crusader. Snyder described the man in tights as “the big daddy of all superheroes,” and you can bet that if he succeeds where Bryan Singer failed, Jeff Robinov will fast-track more DC movies with the ultimate goal of a Justice League tentpole.
Let’s call that “The Avengers” approach, or, as is so popular in the NBA right now, the “super friends” stratagem.
As for “The Avengers,” we haven’t forgotten about you, Marvel. Studio chief Kevin Feige only took an hour in Hall H, but the video rehashing past conventions — and thanking the fans — ended with a clear message: Phase Two begins now.
While it’s a safe bet none of the upcoming movies it teased will match the $1.45 billion-worldwide, box-office bounty produced by “The Avengers” (for that, we’ll wait for “Avengers 2”), Feige tried to make clear that his studio isn’t resting on its laurels.
Yes, it has already used its most recognizable characters, but sequels to “Thor” and “Captain America” are coming soon and new franchises like “Galaxy of the Guardians” and “Ant-Man” ensure Marvel will continue to pump out movies.
And while Robert Downey Jr.’s tenure as “Iron Man” may be coming to a close, Feige’s decision to hire Edgar Wright for “Ant-Man” (after bringing on Shane Black for “Iron Man 3”), speaks volumes.
Few directors make movies as entertaining and quirky as Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”), a skill that would seem to fit a film about an often pint-sized superhero. And that was before Wright talked about reading comics as a little kid, bringing a copy of one on stage. Well played, sir.
OK, enough raving about the explosive spectacles many cinephiles loathe. How about one of Hollywood’s most respected auteurs?
Fans that jammed into Hall H for “Django Unchained” on Saturday may have been waiting for glimpses of Bilbo Baggins and Iron Man, but Quentin Tarantino didn’t disappoint.
The sizzle reel he screened — apparently against the Weinsteins’ wishes — exhibited artful violence, wisecracks and an impeccable cast. In other words, like most every other Tarantino movie.
More importantly, this panel reminded everyone what it’s like when a movie aims for more than rapturous action. Tarantino explained his decade-long yearning to make a spaghetti Western set in the Antebellum south while Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and the rest of the cast discussed the ethos and histories of their respective characters.
“When a project becomes special or magical it means at certain points in your life it parallels your story,” Foxx, who plays the titular slave turned bounty hunter, told the audience. “Being called nigga as a young kid growing up by grown people is something I had to deal with coming from the South. By having that done to me, I was able to grasp what was being said in the script.”
Kerry Washington raved about Tarantino’s encyclopedic knowledge of cinema while the director immodestly described himself as the sage professor, answering questions posed by Washington, ever the eager film student.
Washington plays the German-speaking slave Broomhilda and Tarantino effused, “she has the cutest German accent ever.”
Waltz, whom Washington turned to for help, said he had “nothing to coach other than to marvel at her talent and beauty.”
It was a welcome change from the typical strutting, hooting and hollering of most panels, though Tarantino was plenty animated.
Yes, we’ve only talked about Saturday so far, but what does it say that we haven't even had to talk about "Twilight"? Or Disney with Tim Burton and company, or Sony presenting Neil Bloomkamp’s “Elysium,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Looper” and the "Total Recall" reboot?
As for television, there were plenty of highlights from an endless string of panels. George R.R. Martin announced “Game of Thrones” would only be getting bigger, if that’s possible. It will add more than a dozen new castmembers for season three, prompting Martin to joke that it’s time to start killing off characters.
AMC flexed its muscles on Friday with “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad,” while Joss Whedon announced “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” would be coming to the CW. A very pregnant Anna Paquin showed up with hubby, Stephen Moyer, and new castmember Christopher Meloni salute the fans of “True Blood,” which is in the middle of its fifth season.
Still, television’s highest-rated shows, from “The Voice” to “American Idol,” have no business at the Con, and the same goes for critical darlings like “Mad Men” and “Modern Family.”
In fact, the one network that went overboard, NBC, may have come off as a bit desperate.
It held panels for “Grimm” and “Community,” as well as a conversation with “Pushing Daisies” creator Bryan Fuller. People were reminded of this by ads that blanketed the Gaslamp Quarter, where people gather when not in the convention center.
It was a promo for megaproducer J.J. Abrams' upcoming “Revolution” that drew the most attention – and not always in a good way.
A giant ad blanketed every story of the Hilton Bayfront hotel, which sits opposite the convention center on the beach. When Jon Favreau rushed over from the “Revolution” panel to Marvel’s in Hall H, Downey Jr. remarked “It’s the biggest ad I’ve ever seen in my life. You've got network money."
Television is the moneymaker, television’s presence grew, but when Tony Stark thinks you are too ostentatious…
Let’s leave it at that.