Comic-Con draws Hollywood warriors

SAN DIEGO — Showbiz fanned the flames for fantasy fans this weekend: The new “Harry Potter” book launched, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” bowed — and geeks and fanboys were ardently wooed by Hollywood at the 36th edition of Comic-Con here.

The studios and networks mostly touted upcoming product, but Lucasfilm used the occasion to confirm that pre-production has begun on an animated “Star Wars” series, with an eye toward a fall 2007 premiere. No network has been set.

Lucasfilm head of fan relations Steve Sansweet added that a live-action “Star Wars” series, which George Lucas wants to produce, is in the planning stages and won’t debut until 2008 at the earliest.

Two months after the bow of the final bigscreen “Star Wars” edition, the film series was a strong presence at Comic-Con. While many attendees prowl the floor of the Convention Center in costume depicting films ranging from “Beetlejuice” to “The Lord of the Rings” to “The Matrix,” “Star Wars” characters were the clear favorite this year.

Final figures aren’t in, but attendance is expected to surpass last year’s 94,000.

Event filled 460,000 square feet, with more than 1,000 vendors touting such goodies as masks, inflatable swords, light sabers and, yes, comicbooks, and luring crowds with attractions ranging from a life-size Darth Vader statue made of Lego pieces to a replica of the “Ghost Rider” motorcycle.

Since the event’s start in 1970 with 300 comicbook fans, it has retained the image of something geared to pimply teenage boys. Though one wag dubbed it the Geek Pride Parade, the crowd seemed evenly split between men and women, with the majority appearing to be in the 18-45 category.

And that’s a crowd Hollywood wants to woo. Part of Hollywood’s ardor is preemptive PR: Comic-Con folks often get on the Internet and can boost a film’s reputation or harm it.

One of this year’s big winners is Warner Bros. with its 2006 “Superman Returns.” A first look at footage drew a standing ovation and had to be played twice to sate fanboys, much to the pleasure of helmer Bryan Singer, visiting from the set in Australia.

More than 50 films and a bigger-than-usual mix of TV shows were touted. Comic-Con staged events at three venues simultaneously, a 6,500-seat theater and ones holding 4,500 and 2,000.

Panels including filmmakers and actors showed clips and discussed their work. Lines for many Hollywood presentations were so long that they wrapped more than halfway around the massive San Diego Convention Center.

Among those in attendance were Charlize Theron (Paramount’s “Aeon Flux”), Kate Beckinsale (Sony’s “Underworld: Evolution”) and Jack Black, Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody (Universal’s “King Kong”).

In potentially good news for New Line, a performance by Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D to promote upcoming pic “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny” generated nearly as much excitement as a Springsteen concert in New Jersey. Many of the questions for Black during a “King Kong” panel were about the band rather than U’s ape remake.

At all the presentations, fans cheered at exclusive clips — one unwritten rule is that the fans must see new footage, with generic offerings like trailers a no-no — from genre pics like Lions Gate’s “The Devil’s Rejects” and WB’s “V for Vendetta” and “The Fountain.”

Among TV shows that received presentations were “Stargate,” “Lost,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Supernatural,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Veronica Mars.” So did the “Family Guy” DVD.

Final major Hollywood presentation at the four-day event came Sunday afternoon with a peek at Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” including a satellite uplink to the filmmakers in New Zealand.

Presence of the six actresses who played bridesmaids in New Line’s “The Wedding Crashers” pointed up that this event is no longer about comics but about pop culture.

The fans were ecstatic to see some of their favorites in attendance, including Marvel’s Avi Arad, Joss Whedon (touting U’s film “Serenity”), Matt Groening, David Cronenberg, Bruce Campbell, Kevin Smith, Ray Harryhausen and Roger Corman.

DreamWorks and Paramount had a giant big-rig on the floor to drum up interest in “Transformers” — which doesn’t open until 2007.

One of the big events is the Saturday night costume contest, which this year featured prizes in various categories for the 60 entrants; these people wear elaborate costumes that must be kept away from the public’s eye before the event.

By 3 p.m., five hours before the event’s start, those waiting for tickets had formed a line that was two blocks long, three deep, with many passing the time by reading the new “Harry Potter.”

As for the Lucas series, the 30-minute CG-animated episodes are being produced partly in Singapore and partly in San Francisco at facilities opened by the recently created Lucasfilm Animation.

Sansweet also revealed a few animation hirings made by Lucasfilm. ILM vet Chris Kubsch has been put in charge of company’s Singapore animation facility. Catherine Winder, who has worked on pics including “Ice Age” and “Aeon Flux,” has been tapped exec producer of the new “Star Wars” series.

They’ll work under Lucasfilm Animation VP-general manager Gail Currey.

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