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Sneak peeks for geeks

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. 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 director Bryan Singer, visiting from the set in Australia. 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 Universal’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.” The 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. The 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.

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