Fan approval sought in screenings, panels

Whenever studio execs talk about Comic-Con, the first thing they mention is the chance to connect with loyal and very opinionated fans.

Privately, they also acknowledge that the confab is a key proving ground: Before you can sell a pic to the public, you have to sell it to the fan base.

This year, Hollywood execs trooped down to San Diego with a variety of challenges, with all of them making sure they had talking points ready.

On opening day, July 23, Disney, Sony and Fox hammered home the message that 3-D is no longer a gimmick to lure auds away from their pricey home theater systems; it is “the future,” according to Robert Zemeckis, who was on hand with footage from “A Christmas Carol.”

The studios also offered first-looks at Tim Burton‘s “Alice in Wonderland,” “Tron: Legacy,” “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and James Cameron‘s “Avatar” with 3D montages. It was the first time the Con screened footage in the format and used glasses from Dolby and new silver screens to do so.

With a different mandate, Summit Entertainment courted more than 6,000 fans with the “New Moon” cast and exclusive footage. The studio is looking to build even more momentum for its “Twilight” sequel — if such a thing is possible.

The company needs all those tweens, teens and “Twilight” moms to be happy and assured that the franchise is in good hands with new helmer Chris Weitz.

Considering that much of the crowd had camped out overnight to guarantee a seat for the panel, Summit must have breathed a sigh of relief when the room erupted in shrieks of approval.

If any film is targeted at the core Con community this year, it’s Cameron’s “Avatar.”

For four years, fanboys have heard about how the director was breaking new ground with the sci-fi actioner, and Cameron had the mandate to make sure he delivered the goods.

The helmer presented a mesmerizing 23-minute montage that wowed the crowd with photo-realistic computer-generated imagery of blue cat-like aliens on a planet whose world is highly influenced by Cameron’s love affair with the ocean.

“If you were wondering where I’ve been, this is where I’ve been,” Cameron said.

Cameron and Fox are taking over as many 3-D theaters worldwide as possible on Aug. 21 to offer the public 15 minutes of the pic on what he’s calling “Avatar Day.”

Fox also paired up with Mattel and Ubisoft to let potential auds know the studio will be ready with high-tech toys and a videogame that ties in closely with the visuals on the bigscreen when the pic bows Dec. 18.

Hardcore fans at the Con come eager to be wowed, and even little gestures from key figures count for a lot. Johnny Depp, for instance, dropped in to offer a quick hello and wave during the “Alice” panel, nothing more — and the fans screamed in approval. But if any studio shows lackluster footage, has bored actors onstage or shows nothing at all, fans won’t forget it. And they’ll let anyone they can know about their displeasure.

But no studio stumbled on the first official day of the Con. Hollywood had diverse challenges, but the reaction was all pro, and no con.

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