SAN DIEGO—Comic-Con is known for whetting the public’s appetite for upcoming blockbusters. Last year, the cast of the superhero extravaganza The Avengers assembled onstage for the first time. The year before, attendees viewed the earliest footage from Avatar. But presence at Comic-Con doesn’t guarantee success; recent fan hits, such as Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, failed to catch fire at the box office. At this year’s edition, held July 21–24, the film programming seemed curated with this in mind, catering to a more specialized audience. While certain major productions like Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (opening in December) took the stage, they shared it with independently funded, less buzzed-about fare like Attack the Block (opening this week; see Reviews) and Francis Ford Coppola’s experimental project Twixt.
Spielberg made his first visit to Comic-Con to promote Tintin, with producer Peter Jackson joining him. Both filmmakers professed admiration for the popular comic books written by Belgian artist Hergé, Jackson having read them as a boy and Spielberg coming to them as an adult, after reading a French film review that likened Raiders of the Lost Ark to a Tintin story. The pair spent much of their panel session discussing the motion-capture technology used to animate the movie. “We wanted to honor Hergé by using animation to get as close as we could to the characters he invented,” Spielberg explained.
Also making his debut at the convention was Coppola, who set the film-nerd crowd abuzz with clips from his forthcoming Twixt and a presentation of the technology he’s been developing to bring it to audiences. A gothic horror film starring Val Kilmer and Elle Fanning, Twixt will be shown partially in 3-D, but Coppola said he believes innovation in cinema should go beyond that. He hopes to imbue the filmgoing experience with the live sensation one gets from attending concerts, theater or sporting events. A team of programmers has been working to adapt software originally created for choreographers that will allow the director to manipulate his edit of the film in a live setting. (Now that movies are primarily digital, Coppola pointed out, they can be toyed with more freely.) Additionally, Coppola plans to add the soundtrack live by having a musician on hand. We saw an example of the system at work as Coppola recut the film’s trailer in front of us, with musician Dan Deacon mixing the soundtrack on-site. Coppola intends to tour with Twixt the month before it officially opens (there’s still no distributor) and “perform” the film, adapting it uniquely to each audience.
There have already been several alien-invasion films released this year, but Attack the Block offers a fresh perspective on an old story. In a pre-Comic-Con interview, writer-director Joe Cornish discussed how being mugged by a kid in his London neighborhood inspired him to write the script. “I knew he wasn’t a monster,” Cornish says of his attacker. “I knew he was probably a good kid having a fucked-up day.” Cornish’s mugger formed the basis for the character of Moses (John Boyega), a tough teen from a South London project who leads his friends in a fight against hostile extraterrestrial invaders. “I was interested in taking a real social situation and combining it with fantasy,” Cornish says. It was a dose of reality welcome at Comic-Con.