SAN DIEGO (Hollywood Reporter) - The stakes are high at Comic-Con, the pop-culture marathon that took over the San Diego Convention Center -- and much of the surrounding town -- for the past five days.
On one side are the Hollywood studios, looking to win over the hearts and minds of geek tastemakers. On the other side are the self-proclaimed geeks, eagerly inhaling TV and movies but not quite trusting Hollywood to get all the genre fare right.
So who came out on top at this year’s edition? Consider some of the epic matchups:
Both companies held forth Saturday, the biggest movie day of the convention.
Warners and DC kicked off their panel for “Green Lantern” with a series of quick shots from its tentpole about an Earthman who joins a galactic police force. Star Ryan Reynolds charmed the audience, but the presentation ran headlong into fan grumblings about the Green Lantern’s costume, as depicted on a recent cover of Entertainment Weekly. “It is a work in progress and ... it will eventually look incredibly cool,” director Martin Campbell, thrown on the defensive, promised.
Fans had lots of questions, but filmmakers fell back on “We can’t tell you about that yet”-style responses. Not what the fans wanted to hear.
Marvel, by contrast, turned its presentation into a rock concert with music blasting over every actor’s entrance, generating so much frenzy that the 6,000-plus crowd in Hall H was on its feet screaming for portions of the show.
Marvel knows that if you’re appearing at the Con, it’s best to give the fanboys something substantial: While “Captain America” is barely a week into production, filmmakers trotted out a good chunk of one scene, with time-code stamps still visible, that showcased the tone and look of its movie, as well as footage of Chris Evans’ costume test. Both impressed.
Moving on to “Thor,” which doesn’t open until May 11, Marvel unveiled an extended made-for-Comic-Con trailer, which drew a response similar to the Con’s first look at “Iron Man.”
Marvel even staved off a tense moment -- and some boos -- when one fan brought up Edward Norton, who was dropped from playing the Hulk in “The Avengers.” Marvel’s Kevin Feige addressed it quickly, admitting “He’s not here today,” but then quoted Norton’s own words, saying, “The Hulk is bigger than all of us,” before adding quickly, “The panel isn’t quite over yet.”
A few minutes later, an all-star roster of the actors who have been cast in “Avengers” paraded out onstage -- including Mark Ruffalo, who’s been recruited to become the Hulk. For that moment at least, that controversy became moot.
The struggle for media power between summer’s two biggest TV events -- the San Diego fan convention and the Television Critics Assn. press tour -- tipped more toward Comic-Con than ever before this year, with several networks making announcements that normally would have been part of TCA: USA Network’s “Burn Notice” will have a two-hour prequel movie starring cult favorite Bruce Campbell; Linda Hamilton will be joining NBC’s “Chuck” next season to play the hero’s mom; Felicia Day will be on Syfy’s “Eureka” for 10 episodes next season, and Polly Walker is coming to “Sanctuary”; “Glee” will do a “Rocky Horror”-themed episode; and next season “The Simpsons” will welcome Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Daniel Radcliffe, Jon Hamm and Cheech and Chong as guest stars.
“SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD” VS. “THE OTHER GUYS”
Two August releases used the Con to pump up their profiles. Universal pulled out the stops for its adaptation of the cult graphic novel “Scott Pilgrim,” and Columbia boosted “Guys,” Will Ferrell’s first movie since bombing last summer in “Land of the Lost.”
Universal organized one of the convention’s best panels, putting director Edgar Wright front and center to present his large cast in zippy clip packages. He then led fans to nearby theater for the first of several screenings. There also was a “Scott Pilgrim vs. Comic-Con Experience,” which saw thousands line up daily for a chance to interact with the movie’s stars and make silk screen T-shirts, flipbooks and videos.
“Guys” threw what arguably was the funniest presentation. Ferrell started things off by walking onstage, waving, saying hi, and kept on walking by the movie’s Eva Mendes, Mark Wahlberg and director Adam McKay and right off the stage.
He returned to say he was happy to be back in the “whale’s vagina,” quoting lines from his influential San Diego-set comedy “Anchorman,” and Mendes pushed the envelope by flirting with teenage boys in the crowd. The real question is, will the movie be as funny as the panel?
3D vs. 2D
The success of “Avatar,” and its 3D presentation at the Con last year opened the floodgates to an unprecedented number of panels requiring 3D glasses. At the same time, other filmmakers hyped up 2D, with battle lines drawn around the 2D-to-3D conversion process.
The “Drive Angry 3D” panel talked frankly about the challenges of shooting a non-CG-intensive movie in 3D, and the 3D “Tron Legacy” presentation had fans focusing not on the format but on the onscreen sci-fi world.
“Priest” director Scott Stewart said his movie’s release has been pushed back to convert to it to 3D. “Some films have gotten into trouble for rushing it,” he said before showing footage that wasn’t half bad.
While Seth Rogen insisted that 3D was part of the conversation since the beginning of “Green Hornet‘s” development, he acknowledged that that film’s footage, converted into 3D, was “by no means 100% finished.” The previewed footage didn’t convince a lot of the fans.
Meanwhile, such movies as “Cowboys and Aliens” and “The Expendables” boasted of their traditional 2D approach. Director Jon Favreau, who use a few of the Marvel tricks he learned promoting “Iron Man” to preside over a raucous “Cowboys” presentation, said producers considered making the movie 3D but didn’t like the conversion process. “Take the money you save (without have to pay for 3D tickets) and see it twice!” he yelled to fans.
Hoping to gain positive social media buzz, broadcasters gave Comic-Con fans an early look at the fall pilots for a quartet of shows. It’s a high-wire-act -- while Comic-Con fans are fairly representative of the summer box office crowd for studios giving sneak peeks of films, they’re not representative of your typical broadcast network demographics. NBC’s fall drama “The Event” came up a big winner (“One word: incredible” wrote one fan), while reaction to the network’s midseason effort “The Cape” was more subdued (“‘The Cape’ has some work to do ... but offers enough twists -- and Summer Glau -- to keep us interested”). ABC’s upcoming “No Ordinary Family” received a warm reaction (“A solid pilot with a lot of excellent geek highlights”) and tweets about the CW’s “Nikita” reboot were a bit all over the place (“looks promising; interesting twist on previous incarnations”).
GUILLERMO DEL TORO VS. “THE HOBBIT”
When director Guillermo del Toro left “The Hobbit” production at the end of May, it put the future of the two-film J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation in doubt. It also made del Toro a wanted man, with projects being thrown at the filmmaker, who already had a growing heap of personal projects in development.
As the capper to Disney’s successful “Tron Legacy” presentation, del Toro appeared to announce that he is co-writing and producing “Haunted Mansion,” based on the Disney attraction.
The next day, del Toro talked horror, mentorship and failings of Hollywood movies at the panel for “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” the Miramax horror thriller he produced that comes out January 21. The scenes he showed, which echoed his critical hit “The Orphanage,” chilled audiences with their moody and tense terror. He promised his next directorial effort will be revealed in the weeks ahead.
But he declined to take part in a “Hobbit” panel thrown by OneRing.net, where there was little to discuss given that “Hobbit,” hobbled by MGM’s financial situation, remains in limbo.
“THE SIMPSONS” VS. “FAMILY GUY”
A “Simpsons” producer took a rare public swipe at “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane.
A fan asked a question referencing MacFarlane’s three successful shows that bracket “Simpsons” on Fox’s Sunday night lineup (“Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show”). “Seth MacFarlane has one show three times,” said “Simpsons” writer/executive producer Matt Selman.
Asked about Selman’s line later that afternoon, MacFarlane referenced Voltaire: “While I disagree with what you’re saying, I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
“LET ME IN” VS. “LET THE RIGHT ONE IN”
Die-hard fans have been skeptical about Overture’s “Let Me In,” an Americanized remake of the Swedish tween vampire movie “Let the Right One In.”
Its trailer, focusing on generic horror tropes, did nothing to quell fears. But Overture also previewed two extended clips, which showed the movie to be atmospheric and melancholic and, horror of horrors, true to the spirit of the original.
Director Matt Reeves took on those critics , saying he initially he didn’t want to take part in the remake but changed his mind when he read the book on which the movie is based and saw he could tell a story about the pains of adolescence and about growing up in 1980s America.
Aliens will invade Los Angeles in two upcoming movies: Columbia’s “Battle: Los Angeles” (which was shot in Louisiana) and Rogue’s “Skyline” (a low-budget indie shot at a Los Angeles condo).
Both movies had been flying under the radar but picked up traction at the Con -- especially “Battle: LA,” which showcased an embedded-with-the-Marines “Black Hawk Down”- meets-“District 9” aesthetic.
USA’s “Burn Notice” and CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0” proved one doesn’t have to have a spaceship or vampires to be at Comic-Con anymore. By having fan favorites like Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park in the cast, “Five-0” packed its midsize ballroom and convinced more than a few conferencegoers to check out the reboot in the fall.
As the ill-fated “Jonah Hex” proved, what plays at Comic-Con doesn’t always succeed at the box office. “Scott Pilgrim” and movies like Gregg Mottola’s “Paul,” about comic book geeks who encounter an alien, made the most of their time in the Comic-Con spotlight. And Zack Snyder’s “Suckerpunch” had folks talking about its cool visual melange of genres.
But studios are becoming more aware that thunderous approval in Hall H doesn’t always reach beyond San Diego’s Gaslamp district. The Con is an important first skirmish but doesn’t always suggest victory at the ultimate battle of the box office.
Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, had his protesters picketing the sci-fi worshipers at Comic-Con, saying fans should be reading the Bible instead. Fans in turn staged their own protest, with signs like “God Hates Jedi” and chanting “What do we want? Gay Sex! When do we want it? Now!”
It’s all fun and games until somebody gets stabbed in the face with a pen. Two friends got into a fight in the cavernous Hall H over seating during Universal’s “Cowboys and Aliens” presentation, and one of the men reportedly struck the other in the face with a pen. It was just a scratch, but the news made national headlines (“When nerds attack!”) and within hours promoted a slew of jokes from the stage and “Don’t stab me” signs.