Studios still pulling out all stops to win over die-hards

Do the geeks still matter?

Even as Comic-Con attendance soars past 100,000 and Hollywood spends more time and energy courting and coddling geekdom, it’s a fair question.

Fox’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “Fantastic Four” were panned by the nerd herd but were mass-culture hits, performing as well as, if not better than, pics with geek cred, such as Warners’ “Superman Returns” and “Batman Begins.” That begs the question of whether it makes sense for studios to continue to kneel down and kiss the decoder ring.

But it isn’t stopping the studios from pulling out all the stops to win over the die-hards. Paramount assigned liaisons for “Tranformers” and the “Star Trek” franchise to shadow Ain’t It Cool News correspondents at this year’s Comic-Con.

Initially, Paramount was going to leave “Tranformers” promo efforts at the convention to toymaker Hasbro, a move interpreted by the fan community as avoiding reaction against director Michael Bay. But at the last minute Par skedded a “secret” session to promote the movie.

As Comic-Con grows each year, it attracts an aud that looks more and more like the general moviegoing public. Add in coverage by the likes of “Entertainment Tonight” and “USA Today,” as well as the instant blogging, and Comic-Con becomes far greater than the sum of its geeks.

“You are not speaking to a contained universe, because the attention it gets goes far beyond the people who are actually in the building,” says Fox marketing exec VP Jeffrey Godsick, who screened eight minutes of the upcoming comedy “Borat” for the Comic-Con crowd.

Still, Ain’t It Cool News editor Harry Knowles says the fanboys can take a movie from merely big into global franchise territory.

“When you see ‘X-Men’ pulling a half-billion (dollars) worldwide, it’s easy to look and say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good.’ But the difference between that and ‘Spider-Man’ or the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy is they are not hitting what the true fans want to see,” he says.

Geekdom is keeping a close eye on Fox’s next installment of “Fantastic Four,” which will be based on three iconic issues of the comic series (numbers 48, 49 and 50) that introduced the Silver Surfer and are considered creator Stan Lee’s finest.

The goal for Hollywood, of course, is to appeal to the geek faithful while making a film accessible enough to draw new fans into the fold.

J.J. Abrams, who is developing the next “Star Trek” film, says, “We absolutely feel beholden to the fans, but at the same time we have to recognize that you can’t only go out and make a movie for the people who live and breathe a show.”

Those filmmakers who hit the elusive target, like “Spider-Man” helmer Sam Raimi, achieve a sort of demigod status in geekdom, whatever that’s worth.

Knowles knows the bar is set incredibly high.

“Raimi is making films dead-on for fans but selling to the world,” Knowles says. “They have depth of character and action no one has seen before. Ultimately that’s all fans want; they just want the movies done perfectly.”

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