Comic-Con 2009: Day Two

The first panel of the day featured a wide selection of upcoming Warner Bros. films.  It was a really exciting event, showcasing a lot of great looking projects.  Warner Bros. began by featuring their live-action version of Where the Wild Things Are, being released later this year.  Wild Things star Max Records came out to introduce a series of clips.  He came across very nervous but charming, and the audience seemed to love him.  There was a lot of footage really showcasing the creature effects as well as the world in which they reside.  Overall, director Spike Jonze seems to have done a great job capturing the tone of the story, yet enhancing it in his own way.  Based on the audience’s enthusiastic response, Warner Bros. seems to have a hit on their hands.

Next up was Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic actioner featuring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, and Mila Kunis.  All three made an appearance, as did directors Alan and Albert Hughes.  They showed the atmospheric teaser, and then proceeded with an audience Question and Answer session.  I hadn’t heard of the film before this, and it definitely looks interesting.  The presentation didn’t leave a huge impression, but it created awareness, and is definitely something I’ll be paying attention to as it gets closer to release.  Also of note is the revelation from Gary Oldman that the next Batman film WILL begin filming next year, for a release in two years.

Immediately following this presentation came the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.  I am a huge Nightmare on Elm Street fan, and found myself simultaneously nervous yet excited to see what they had done to my beloved franchise.  I am extremely pleased to report that the teaser looked great.  Unlike most of the horror remakes, reimaginings, etc. this seemed full of atmosphere and suspence.  And yes, it featured the famous Freddy jumprope chant.  They didn’t showcase the new makeup on Freddy, but the iconic hat and sweater were the same.  So far, this one is looking promising.

One of the big surprises of their presentation was for The Box, the new film from Richard Kelly starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden.  All three showed up for the panel.  I had heard of the movie, but didn’t really know much about it.  They showed us four and a half minutes of the film, and it looks great.  Based on a short story by Richard Matheson from 1970, it felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Set in 1976, it’s the story of what happens when a couple is presented with a choice.  If they push a button on a box, they will receive a million dollars but a stranger will die.  Of course, the button is pushed, and the rest of the movie shows what happens next.  I don’t know the context of everything shown, but it looks really intriguing.  During the Q&A session, Kelly informed us that the film contains no profanity and is desiged as thought-provoking, challenging fare.  I can’t wait. 

After this came Jonah Hex, based on the (apparently) very popular comic book.  I personally had never heard of the character, but the audience seemed extremely enthusiastic.  Of course, this may have also been due to the presence of Meagan Fox.  Either way, they showed the preview and then brought out the director and stars Josh Brolin and Fox.  Overall, I wasn’t too impressed.  The film was described as an “anti-hero spaghetti western” with lots of action and some supernatural elements.  It looked fun, but nothing more.  It was loud, there were lots of explosions, and from what I could tell, not much plot.  The film doesn’t ome out until next year, so maybe it will prove more compellng later on, but right now, I’m not sold.  The following Q&A proved almost as annoying as yesterday’s Twilight panel, with guys going to the microphone simply to drool over Fox.  Hearing how amazingly hot she is over and over again got really annoying, really fast. 

And Warner Bros. saved the best for last.  As soon as Jonah Hex finished, with no introduction whatsoever, Robert Downey Jr. came on stage and began talking up his new film, Sherlock Holmes.  I don’t think I’ve seen anybody play to an audience at Comic-Con as well as he did this morning.  He reeked of confidence, even joking about how extreme it is.  He had the audience eating out of his hands.  He played some footage, which all looked great, and then brought out his wife and Joel Silver, who served as producers on the film, and Rachel McAdams.  There was an informative Q&A session that went pretty in depth into the making of this film.  They talked a lot about the source material and the actual production itself.  This movie looks like a lot fun, and I think it will make a fortune

And that was the Warner Bros. panel.  It was a lot of fun, and there was a ton of great new footage.  They sold themselves well, and it looks like they have a series of films that will play well outside of the Comic-Con crowd.  There was lot of promise, and hopefully, they will all live up to these presentations.

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Immediately following the Warner Bros. panel came the Disney animation panel.  So far, this and Avatar have been the highlights of the convention.  The panel began with no introductin, simply going straight into the opening scene of Toy Story 2.  In 3-D.  Yes, they are re-releasing the first two movies in three dimensions and it looks great.  The sequence shown was amazing.  It feels as if the movie was made for 3-D all along.  Everybody was completely blown away, and you could feel the excitement in the room as the scene progressed.  As soon as the footage ended, John Lasseter came out to thunderous applause.  He told us that for two weeks, beginning October 2, the first two Toy Story movies will be shown in this new format as a double feature. 

He then proceeded to show a specially made preview for the 3-D release.  The preview feature Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and Rex all discovering 3-D.  On top of being hilarious, it really demonstrated the power of this new technology. 

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Next up came the director of Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich.  Over three years in the making, this time will focus on “the day Andy grew up.”  It begins with him heading off to college and that’s all the plot they would give.  He did say that this film would be the most emotional of the three.  He then told us that Barbie’s role would be much bigger this time around, and as such, Ken would become the newest featured character.  Ken will be voiced by Michael Keaton, and based on the short film shown featuring Ken, he will fit right in.  The film was called “Groovin’ With Ken” and was supposedly a discovered interview with him back in the 60’s.  It was a hilarious introduction to the character, and the audience loved it.

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After this came the Beauty and the Beast presentation.  Being released on Valentine’s Day, they have converted the film into probably the best 3-D I have ever seen.  Honestly, I thought the 3-D was more stunning than the new Toy Story footage.  Considering Beauty and the Beast was hand-drawn, I found this truly impressive.  This 3-D went beyond simply creating depth, it was truly immersive.  They showed the opening musical number in the town, and it felt like I was completely enveloped in the image.  I have never seen anything like it.

They transitioned from the Beauty and the Beast footage directly into something called Prep and Landing.  As Lasseter explained, Pixar has a tradition of creating short films to go with their feature films.  They do this both to encourage new talent as well as push the technology.  Chris Williams, the writer and director of Bolt, pitched a concept in which Santa’s elves go into each home to prepare for Santa’s arrival.  Lasseter decided that instead of making a Pixar short out of this, they would make it into a half-hour Christmas special through the Disney label.  They showed the opening sequence, and it was highly entertaining.  It wasn’t Pixar good, but it was really solid nonetheless.  Prep and Landing will air on ABC this holiday season.

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After this, Lasseter started discussing his desire to bring back traditional hand-drawn animation at Disney.  At the beginning of the panel, he had explained that as soon as Pixar and Disney formed their partnership, the very first thing he did was reinstate hand-drawn animation.  And we are just now seeing the first results of this action.  The Princess and the Frog is the first film in this format to come from the Lasseter era at Disney.  After bringing out John Musker and Ron Clements, who also directed the Little Mermaid, they showed approximately eight minutes of the film.  There are seven original songs by Randy Newman and the first clip featured one these numbers.  It was extremely catchy and a great treat to see the return of this style work from Disney.  This particular sequence featured the villain, a Tarot-Card reading voodoo practitioner.  The other sequence involved the introduction of a firefly named Ray.  It wasn’t quite as exciting, but still a lot of fun.  I really hope this movie does well and proves that there is a desire for this type of work.

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The last presentation at this panel was for Hayao Miyazaki.  A legend in the animation world, Miyazaki is response for such beloved films as My Neighbor Totoro, Spired Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle.  Next up for this animation giant is Ponyo, coming out on August 14 in 800 theatres (his widest release yet).  He got the longest standing ovation I have ever seen in my many years attending Comic-Con.  They showed us a pretty long sequence from the film, and it was gorgeus.  All hand-drawn, the sequence featured a lot of water and it looked great.  After this Lasseter and Miyazaki were presented with the Inkpot Award, a Comic-Con trophy given out for achievement in animation. 

Disney put on one of the best shows I’ve seen at the Convention.  The future is looking very bright for the future of animation, and I am extremely excited to welcome its return.

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