San Diego confab wins fans with humor
Comic-Con should now be called Comedy Con.Fanboys normally flock to the annual San Diego confab looking for all things sci-fi, fantasy, horror and superhero-related. But this year, Hollywood won over the geeks with humor. Presentations for upcoming laffers including “Superbad,” “Get Smart,” “Hot Rod,” “Walk Hard,” “Balls of Fury,” “Drillbit Taylor” and “Good Luck Chuck” played especially well with the audiences that filled Hall H, the event’s main presentation hall, which seats 6,000. Superheroes were still the biggest draw, with Marvel Studios and Paramount’s first footage for “Iron Man” rousing the hordes of fans, generating the only standing ovation at the studio presentations. A panel for the next “Hulk,” meant as another try at restarting that franchise, also played well, with a quick glimpse at the look of the green meanie (more weathered and aged than the cartoony, Shrek-like version of the previous pic) getting a thumbs up from fans. Presentations for “Indiana Jones 4,” including the announcement of Karen Allen reprising her role from the first outing; Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”; Disney/Pixar’s next toon, “Wall-E”; and J.J. Abrams’ bigscreen take on “Star Trek,” with the intro of Zachary Quinto as a young Spock joining Leonard Nimoy, also played well. Neil Marshall’s “Doomsday,” from Rogue Pictures, generated some fan heat. The footage from “Get Smart” was perhaps the biggest surprise of the Con, with Peter Segal’s direction embracing a “Rush-Hour”-style mix of bumbling slapstick character comedy and rousing action. Steve Carell, who plays secret agent Maxwell Smart, compared “Get Smart” to a comedic “Bourne Identity.” “These people live in a real world, a parallel reality,” he said. “It’s extremely funny, but there’s a sense of action and jeopardy.” Carell was among a cast of first-timers at this year’s show that also included Judd Apatow, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, Terrence Howard, Andy Samberg, Dane Cook, Liv Tyler, Milla Jovovich, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda and Seth Rogen — proving just how influential filmmakers and the studios feel the event has become over the years as a way to generate buzz for their pics. Outside the main hall, smaller companies had their stars on hand to push their pics. Fox Atomic, for example, had Kevin Bacon, Garrett Hedlund and director James Wan in town for “Death Sentence,” and Lakeshore had Milo Ventimiglia for “Pathology.” And some studios were especially looking to start generating positive word of mouth at the event. For example, Warner Bros. aimed to prove that its adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel “Watchmen,” which has labored in development hell for years, is in good hands with Zack Snyder. “The mistake (Hollywood makes is saying) that the movie knows better,” Snyder said. “We have this material. It’s amazing. I have the utmost respect for it. I just want to make the best movie I can.” Filmmakers behind the second attempt at launching a “Hulk” franchise also stressed they’re sticking close to the source material, namely the comicbooks and TV series.”We’re starting from scratch and preconceiving the story as a mythic saga,” said Norton, who calls himself a “Marvel kid” and penned a page-one rewrite of the script. “It’s an amazing opportunity to put our hands on it and take it seriously.” Crowd in Hall H applauded when “Hulk” producer Gale Ann Hurd assured them that, this time, the Hulk would remain the same size throughout the film. Despite the increased family presence at the confab, the violence and gore quotient was well repped with footage for New Line’s “Shoot ‘Em Up”; Screen Gems’ vampire pic “30 Days of Nights,” based on the graphic novel; zombie actioner “Resident Evil: Extinction”; and Lionsgate’s subway chiller “Midnight Meat Train.” The panel and footage for Sony’s raunchy R-rated comedy “Superbad” also let loose with the profanity. “If you have children, it may be earmuff time,” Apatow said. Not every movie clicked with the geeks. Presentations for Par’s “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and “Beowulf,” Lionsgate’s “3:10 to Yuma,” Warner Bros.’ “One Missed Call” and Rogue’s “The Strangers” yielded a mixed to flat response, as did that for Joel Silver’s “The Invasion,” yet another version of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and one of several pics about virus-born evil. And surprise no-shows on the panels were Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight” and Universal’s “Wanted.” Many of the big fanboy titles couldn’t show any footage because they were just heading into production, including Snyder’s “The Watchmen.” Universal didn’t present any of its pics on its own, joining Fox as one of the few studios who opted not to make the trek to Comic-Con. The nearly two-hour block that Fox had previously booked to showcase its slate but chose not to use was instead programmed by confab organizers to screen trailers from all the studios. Warner Bros. dealt with the absence of “Batman Begins” sequel “The Dark Knight,” its director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale by launching a viral marketing campaign at Whysoserious.com. Fans at the confab with painted Joker faces could participate in a scavenger-hunt challenge with partners online in order to unlock an exclusive Joker photo and teaser trailer. Clues included a sky-written phone number outside the San Diego Convention Center that dispatched participants to new locations. A fresh teaser, which was released in front of “The Simpsons Movie,” and a new shot of Heath Ledger as the Joker holding a knife to Maggie Gyllenhaal spread across the Web like kudzu Friday. Not to be outdone, upcoming TV shows “Chuck” and “Bionic Woman” made their presence felt with promotional materials seen in and out of the convention center. Panels for “Lost” and “Heroes” also upstaged the film panels.