Comic-Con fires up fans

SAN DIEGO — Hollywood brought fewer tentpoles to the floor of Comic-Con, but the fanboy nation and a battalion of stormtroopers packed the exhibition floor and crowded sessions for “Snakes on a Plane,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Spider-Man 3.”

Sam Raimi showed raw footage of the just-wrapped third installment in the Spidey franchise, Bryan Singer talked up plans for another Superman installment, and New Line screened 10 minutes of “Snakes,” which drew huge approval for Samuel L. Jackson-delivered lines like “You have a snake on yo’ ass! Hold still!”

Deals announced at the confab included Kurt Russell’s for the Quentin Tarantino-helmed half of the Weinstein Co.’s “Grindhouse” and a BET Network pact with Vin Diesel’s One Race Prods. to produce animated series “Hannibal of Carthage.”

The major studios dominated the main 6,500-seat exhibition hall, but some of the most oversubscribed sessions were for TV skeins and held in conference rooms on the periphery, leaving thousands of disappointed fans for shows like “Lost” locked out and leading convention staff to reconfigure security for bigger crowds.

Despite the lack of broad tentpoles to flog, “The Con” appeared set to break another attendance record for the nonprofit org that started as a comicbook bazaar in 1970.

“It just keeps getting bigger and more crowded each year,” said Lucasfilm fan rep Steve Sansweet. “While films keep getting bigger, this is not a profit-making enterprise; it’s a conundrum for them, and I’m sure they’re working on it.”

The estimated 100,000-plus attendees complicated logistics both inside and outside the venue. Kevin Smith missed his Saturday “Clerks II” panel stuck in traffic trying to get to the convention center. Inside, long lines were a constant feature of in-demand panels.

While last year the studios had “Superman Returns,” “King Kong” and “X-Men: The Last Stand,” this year was about stoking the appetite for franchises on hiatus while publicizing niche films with devoted followings.

Sony’s “Spider-Man 3″ stood alone as the major superhero pic, and the studio brought out director and fan favorite Raimi, as well as the rest of the cast, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Bryce Dallas Howard, Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace. Raimi said to expect a darker interpretation of the character, who becomes more aggressive when he dons the black Spidey suit.

Though shooting wrapped just two weeks ago, Raimi showed a trailer cut from unfinished scenes with green screen, wire frames and rough special effects. “The truth is, this crowd doesn’t care; they like seeing works in progress,” said Con emcee Jeff Walker.

Fans shook the hall with their enthusiasm for the trailer, which might have been better shown in Petco Park across the street given the thousands who didn’t get in. In terms of fan response, only New Line’s “Snakes on a Plane” came close, thanks to a boisterous crowd held over from the “Star Wars” panel who saw plenty of humor in the concept.

Director David Ellis said the film was made for the fans, not the critics. The joke, intentional or not, was not lost on the crowd, which tittered when Ellis said, “We intentionally did not put a trailer out there because we did not want to give the (plot) of the movie away.”

At the always-crowded Lucasfilm presentation on Friday, Sansweet revealed precious little to the “Star Wars” faithful. Fest marks the 30th year since George Lucas first promoted a new film called “Star Wars” in front of a crowd of about 100 people, but Sansweet admitted that with no new pics planned for the saga, the challenge is to come up with enough product to feed the demand. But it’s unclear if that had anything to do with the devotion of the faithful in full costume undeterred by the triple-digit temperatures outside.

Andrew Talleh, 21, dressed as Anakin Skywalker from Episode III, said he was just happy “they take the time to come out and entertain us.”

Warner Bros. rolled out footage of “The Reaping” and Frank Miller’s “300,” but WB’s biggest draw was a panel with “Superman Returns” director Bryan Singer, who appeared with Richard Donner, who directed the 1978 version. Singer said he’d like to direct a “Superman” sequel for release in 2009 and told the crowd his ideas for the second installment include “plenty of crazy sci-fi shit” with a villain that is a “terrible alien force,” hinting that fan-favorite Braniac could be included.

Paramount showed clips of “Stardust,” with Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ricky Gervais, but the big crowd reaction came when producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura took a call from Peter Cullen, the voice of the original Optimus Prime, to say he’d signed on as the voice on next summer’s “Transformers.”

Comic-Con cult favorites Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez showed gory, grainy product from Rodriguez’s half of their double-feature “Grindhouse.” In Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” a one-legged Rose McGowan uses a machine-gun prosthetic to mow down the invading undead. “This is not a faux double-feature,” Tarantino said. “This is two fucking movies for the price of one!”

Tarantino’s half hasn’t started filming, but he announced Saturday that Russell would play the slasher Stuntman Mike, in a deal sealed the night before. Also starring in “Deathproof” will be Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Marley Shelton, McGowan and Uma Thurman’s stunt double on “Kill Bill,” Zoe Bell, who will play herself.

Fox showed clips from “Eragon,” “Reno 911: Miami” and “Borat.” Lionsgate rolled out talent-heavy presentations for the genre-targeted “Crank,” “Skinwalkers,” “Saw III” and “The Descent.”

While the massive Hall H was dominated by theatrical releases, one has to wonder when TV nets will graduate to the 6,500-seat venue.

Security staff estimated that for every fan that got into the 4,200-seat room for Sci Fi’s “Battlestar Galactica,” another two were shut out. Panels for both “Galactica” and ABC’s “Lost” saw thesps and showrunners greeted with standing ovations and enthusiasm like those at a rock concert.

Saturday’s “Lost” presentation was interrupted by a fake protest by “Rachel Blake,” a character in “The Lost Experience,” Alphabet’s online interactive game. Exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse played along as Blake’s diatribe against skein’s Hanso Foundation gave fans several new clues and Web links to continue gaming.

Cuse hinted the online game would finish before season three premieres on Oct. 4. Lindelof and Cuse discussed tension between the desire to have a finite lifespan for a show vs. a network that has rights to continue a money-making skein. Lindelof indicated ABC listened directly to fan feedback in deciding to air season three in two uninterrupted arcs to avoid repeats littering a year-round schedule.

Ronald D. Moore confirmed a script for a “Galactica” spinoff skein “Caprica” has been delivered to the network, and that Carl Lumbly (“Alias”) would join the season three cast. Among other TV events, Saturday panels for “The Simpsons” and the CW’s “Veronica Mars” were packed to capacity. Scattered “Star Trek” fan presence and scheduling of a “Trek” presentation in a non-primetime slot Friday morning indicated a noticeable decline in fandom’s interest for Paramount’s franchise.

Lines also formed for panels for niche product such as the Friday premiere of the TV version of the cult online cartoon “Happy Tree Friends,” in which cuddly animals are drawn, quartered and otherwise dismembered in creative ways.

Also announced at the confab: Brit director Michael Bassett will direct the epic adventure “Solomon Kane,” based on Robert E. Howard’s classic comicstrip, for Samuel Hadida’s David Films. Howard also created “Conan the Barbarian.”

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