San Diego Comic-Con 2011: Saturday

Today’s Hall H string of movie panels began with a decidedly different tone, but one that was incredibly exciting. After Steven Spielberg opening Friday’s film panels, Saturday’s programming attempted to meet that standard of legendary filmmakers with Francis Ford Coppola presenting his new film Twixt. Joining Coppola onstage was musician Dan Deacon, star Val Kilmer and a computer programmer that worked on some of the technology involved in Twixt. Before showing any of the film, Coppola discussed his feeling about 3D and noted that, while he enjoyed Avatar, he didn’t like the experience of wearing the glasses the entire time and would take them off during the scenes that didn’t utilize it as much. With this in mind, Coppola has shot Twixt in 3D, but not the entire film. It is, instead, designed for the glasses to be worn only during select moments of the film. This isn’t a particularly new idea. When Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince was released in 3D, only the first chunk of the film actually utilized 3D and the audience was given a visual indicator as to when to take the glasses off. The idea of having to take the glasses on and off during the course of the film sounds potentially annoying, but I can appreciate the acknowledgement that not all parts of a film need to be in 3D.

The footage had haunting gothic quality, but also had some good laughs. The narration by Tom Waits that introduced the small town setting of Twixt was very reminiscent of his song “What’s He Building in There.” Val Kilmer plays writer of novels that deal with witchcraft. He’s not a very successful novelist, though, hawking his books at a hardware store in town when he’s approached by Bruce Dern’s sheriff who wants to collaborate with Kilmer on a book based on some odd murders in the town. Only a small fraction of the footage was in 3D but it did look really nice.

The big thing worth talking about though is Coppola’s attempt to, with Twixt, create a visceral live experience with film like we have with concerts or theater. Coppola referenced his father’s career directing opera and how he would respond to the energy of the audience by adding or subtracting to the program depending on whether they seemed to be enjoying it. To achieve this same idea in film, Coppola has teamed up with some computer programmers that have developed a program that allows him to, on the fly, reassemble the cut of the film by adding, subtracting and/or shuffling the scenes. We were able to see the display that he was working with and there were even multiple cuts of some scenes available in different lengths. Additionally, Dan Deacon was on-hand to provide the backing music, which can also be adjusted dynamically to match the on-the-fly edit of the film. Coppola gave the technology a whirl, first with a single scene and then with a new edit of the footage we had just been shown. The process was a tiny bit buggy and he referred to it as a dress rehearsal, but there’s no mistaking that this is an incredibly exciting concept. The re-cut trailer showed us some new scenes that we didn’t get the first time around and featured some new background music and Coppola, himself, provided the live narration track, rather than the original Tom Waits version we had heard. Whether or not Twixt will be a good film, this will clearly be unique cinematic experience, with potentially new version of the film screening in every city it visits.

On the television side of things, the cast of Community returned to Comic-Con to an enthusiastic crowd. Though they were missing star Allison Brie, who was off shooting a movie, the monkey named after character’s breasts did make an appearance at the panel to deliver the season DVD box art to Dan Harmon and wave at the crowd, all the while donning a tiny Greendale sweatshirt. Of course, today’s panel occurred only hours after it was announced that The Wire and Boardwalk Empire star Michael K. Williams would be making a few guest appearances as that gang’s new ex-con biology teacher. Creator Dan Harmon indicated that Williams’s character is supposed to give the effect of having a serious character like the ones that he is best known for come in and shake up the world of the study group. The other big news discussed at the panel was that Jim Rash’s Dean Pelton will now be a series regular, with his name added to the origami opening credits. In interviews prior to the panel, the cast noted that the Dean will have a major plot line in season three’s premiere episode. Harmon’s goal for season three is to dig deeper into the lives of his main characters in the hopes of intensifying the audiences relationship with them.

While Marvel didn’t bring an Avengers panel to Comic-Con, that didn’t stop its writer/director Joss Whedon from stopping by to chat with fans. Like last year’s panel, it primarily consisted of questions from the crowd and they were mostly about the stable of characters and titles that he created. At the top of the panel it was announced that Dark Horse is releasing a free digital Spike comic written by frequent Whedon scribe Jane Espenson. In order to obtain the comic, you must go to your local comic shop in August and request a special code and that will allow you to download the exclusive issue. Whedon also discussed the return of his most famous character in the Buffy: Season Nine comics. Those familiar with Season Eight know that things got a little bit crazy when Buffy entered the comic world. Without having to worry about television logistics like budget or actor availability, the story was incredibly vast, tackling things that never could have been accomplished on the budget that Buffy the Vampire Slayer had when it was on the air. For Season Nine, Whedon promises a return to the Buffy of the television show, tackling problems that are more relatable to the average reader. The other big news for the Buffy comics is that now that the rights to both the Buffy and Angel universes are under the same roof (until recently, Angel was housed at IDW, with Buffy at Dark Horse), the characters from both universes will be free to mingle about each other’s worlds. We may see the first of this in the upcoming Angel & Faith comic due at the end of August. When asked about the possibility a sequel to the web series Dr. Horrible, Whedon said that it is happening and referred to a demo of a song that Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen had written for the project, noting how good it is. Of course, that will probably have to wait until he’s done with his little side project for Marvel.

A film like Knights of Badassdom has the Comic-Con audience written all over it. Not only is the cast filled with regular panel guests (director Joe Lynch noted that in the middle shooting last year they lost several actors to Comic-Con for a few days), it exists in the very geek-friendly world of live action role-playing (LARP). Actors include Comic-Can favorites like True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, Community’s Danny Pudi, Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones and Firefly veteran Summer Glau. The horror comedy follows a group of LARPers who, in the middle of their game, accidentally summon a succubus (Margarita Levieva) who begins tearing people apart. Lynch was clearly having a blast, brandishing a large foam sword. The way he and cast described it, this is something of a love letter to the LARPing community. Everyone got a crash course in the rules of LARPing and Lynch went to a game with one of the writers of the film to actually get the full experience. Knights of Badassdom looks like some good, bloody fun that comes with something of a pre-packaged audience.

Fan of Fox’s Fringe know that last season ended on quite the show-stopper. Joshua Jackson’s Peter, having fulfilled his purpose by joining the two universes together so that everyone could work together, suddenly disappeared with the rest of the characters seeming to have no memory of him. Naturally, the cast and crew of the show aren’t rushing to unveil all the details of what we can expect from season four, but some things are impossible to keep hidden. First of all, Jackson isn’t going anywhere. However, how he’ll return to the show is still a mystery with the actor, himself, claiming that he doesn’t really know. As for the rest of the show’s characters, their entire lives have been re-imagined, It’s a Wonderful Life-style, into a world where Peter never existed. Obviously, this will impact Walter and Olivia the most, but it extends to the supporting characters, as well. Jasika Nicole’s Astrid, who has spent much of the show in the lab, nannying Walter, revealed that she’s now more of a field operative, with a gun on her hip and everything. Seth Gabel also revealed that we’ll be seeing a bit more the Lincoln Lee from our universe, rather than the alternate one we’ve spent so much time with. Basically, Fringe is getting a little bit of a facelift next season and in the midst of that, everyone’s also going to be learning to play nice with the alternate version of themselves. Confused? Excited? That sounds exactly like what they’re going for.

Tomorrow’s the last day of festivities at Comic-Con before the costumes are hung up and Hall H goes dark until next year.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)