San Diego Comic-Con 2011: Friday

The Friday festivities in Comic-Con's largest room, Hall H, began with a dash of fanfare. It's hard to imagine that a man like Steven Spielberg, who has created so many films that have danced in the minds of geeks for decades, had never been to Comic-Con. Today that changed, as he came to promote his upcoming film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. When he graced the stage, Spielberg was treated to a standing ovation that rivaled the one Harrison Ford received when he made his Comic-Con debut last year at the Cowboys and Aliens panel. From that moment, it was like he had always been there. The blockbuster director tipped his hat to the crowd, showing genuine appreciate for his audience and great pleasure to be there.


Of course, Spielberg wasn't just there to receive Hall H's endless applause, the man had a movie to promote. Similar to yesterday's discussion regarding Rise of the Planet of the Apes much of conversation about Tintin revolved around the use of motion-capture technology to transfer the performances of actors into an animated world. Spielberg discussed how he considered the possibility of doing a live-action version of the film with an animated Snowy (Tintin's dog) and that he had asked Peter Jackson and his team at WETA if they could put together a test of an animated version of Snowy sharing the screen with an actor dressed in Tintin-appropriate garb. At this point we got one of those rare Comic-Con treats as this video test is revealed. See, it's not just any actor, it's Peter Jackson dressed up one of Tintin's popular characters, Captain Haddock. It's a funny little clip and Jackson's hilarious in it while the animated dog dances and flips around him, later lapping up a bottle of whiskey that's spilled and then falling into the ocean in the background of the shot. The scene doesn't actually look that bad, but when you compare it to the footage of the fully animated film, it's clear that a live-action version would have had much more of campy feel.


When the lights came back up, Peter Jackson was standing onstage. He didn't get quite the standing ovation that Spielberg did, but then, he's been here before. Both filmmakers are very enthusiastic about bringing Tintin to the screen, Jackson having read Hergé's books as a child, and Spielberg having discovered them after Raiders of the Lost Ark was likened to a Tintin adventure in a French review. The pair discussed the advantages of shooting with motion-capture. Spielberg, in particular, talked about how filming with the technology made him feel more like a painter, allowing him the freedom to tweak things that, on a normal set, would have to be done by several crew members.


A collection of footage from The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was shown in 3D. While there was a longer scene showing the first meeting of Tintin and Captain Haddock, a majority of footage were more action-heavy scenes and they looked very impressive. In particular, there's an impressive depth to a lot of the camera movements and it looks fantastic in 3D.


When the floor opened for questions, the crowd was treated with another perk as Andy Serkis (who some may have had trouble recognizing, since he looks nothing like his most famous characters) masqueraded as a fan asking about Daniel Craig's motion-capture tights. One fan asked about the status of a discussed Jurassic Park 4 and Spielberg responded that they have a story in mind for the film and have hired a writer to write the treatment, hoping to have the film done in two to three years. When asked about progress on The Hobbit, Jackson said they're 60 days into shooting with 200 more to go. Currently, the production is on a break to allow Martin Freeman to return to England to shoot the second series of BBC's Sherlock.


While Hall H is known to host presentations on some of the biggest films that will be coming out of Hollywood over the next several months, this year there are some smaller films sharing the space, as well. Attack the Block, a film produced by Comic-Con favorite Edgar Wright and written and directed by his sometimes writing partner Joe Cornish (the pair were writers on Tintin and also wrote the much buzzed about Ant-Man script), is a British alien invasion film. In it, a group of young and tough kids living in a housing project in South London take on a swarm of aliens unlike the lizard or bug-style we've come to become used to onscreen. It's got blood gore and lots of laughs but the little film has its work cut out for it as it's opening in limited release the same weekend as another alien invasion film you might have heard of, Cowboys and Aliens. During the Q&A portion of the program, Wright noted some recent milestones in projects he's been working on. He and Cornish turned in a new draft of Ant-Man earlier this week and he and Simon Pegg are scheduled to begin writing their next film together to close out what is referred to as their Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz being the first two installments).


Remakes can be a touchy subject with the geek crowd, but that didn't stop Fright Night from gracing Comic-Con with its presence. Of course, they did come with a little insurance in the form of actor Chris Sarandon, who played the bloodsucker in the 1985 film. Sarandon served as the special guest moderator at the film's panel but it was also revealed that he will be appearing in the film, as well. Everyone involved, including Sarandon, insist that while this new Fright Night has some of the DNA of the original, it does its own thing.


The panel for The Amazing Spider-Man was a hot ticket and so I didn't score a seat until halfway through, listening to the first clip package shown from the other side of the Hall H doors. Apparently, star Andrew Garfield entered wearing a crude Spidey costume that he continued to nervously fold and play with during the course of the panel. I did see footage unveiling the film's villain, Dr. Curtis Connors aka The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. Not all of the visual effects were complete in scenes that were shown, but there was a fantastic and disturbing image of the giant lizard monster taunting a pair of high school girls with his tongue. The film's star took great pains to tip his hat to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films and their star Tobey Maguire.


Comic-Con programming attempted something new this year by putting together a program titled "At the Drive-In" to close out the day in Hall H. Unfortunately, not a lot of attendees stuck around to see what this event entailed. It ended up being a bit of a hodgepodge, beginning with several 3D trailers, most of which were for family films like Arthur Christmas and the new installment of Spy Kids. Afterwards, the director of Free Enterprise, Robert Meyer Burnett came out to show a few trailers from some other, smaller projects. The first was easily the most interesting, for a web series called H+ that's being produced by Bryan Singer. The series has bit of an apocalyptic feel to it, as people start falling to the ground dead in masses mid-way through the trailer. Angel's Alexis Denisof and Gilmore Girl's Sean Gunn make appearances in the series. The second trailer was for a documentary film called Toy Masters that looks at the history surrounding the invention and promotion of He-Man, including a battle over who initially created the character, discussions of the toy company's influence over the creators of the cartoon and the backlash received from religious groups complaining that the toy was advancing Satanism. After that, Edmund and Gary Etin were brought out to show a clip from their film My Eleventh. The scene was very brief and starred recent Tony winner John Benjamin Hickey as a serial killer. Burnett insists that this film will make you feel sorry for the serial killer and likened it to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Silence of the Lambs.


After the trailers it was time for the advertised programming. The filmmaking duo The Vicious Brothers were brought out to promote their found footage horror film, Grave Encounters. The title of the film is also the title of a ghost hunting television show that exists in the film. The crew of the show are filming their sixth episode at a haunted insane asylum when things go terribly wrong. Due to the nature of the found footage style, the film uses night vision and a lot of handheld camera work. The directors noted that their actors even had to learn to perform with cameras in their hands and with an eye on creating usable footage that could be woven into the film. The result is a lot of bumpy shots and quick cuts, so be sure to take your Dramamine before you see this one.


Finally, the panel wrapped up with the delightful horror comedy Tucker & Dale vs Evil. The film's director Eli Craig and stars Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk took to the stage brandishing a chainsaw. In the film, two hillbillies are mistaken for horror film villains by a group of ignorant college kids. These suspicions only grow when, one-by-one, the kids keep accidentally dying bloody, terrible deaths in their vicinity. It's a very funny film that struggled to find distribution for the last 18 months but will finally be released theatrically in September.


It's been a long Friday here in San Diego, but there are still two more days to go and I'll be back tomorrow with more news from Geek Central.



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