R0BTRAIN’s Badass Cinema: The View from Hall H 2011

Going into Comic-Con 2011 I’d heard a lot about how this year was going to be a lot more low-key. Apparently, movie studios were staying away in droves and Comic-con was going back to its roots with none of the glitz and glam that had infected this hallowed event and made it too mainstream. How dare they turn Comic-con into the biggest pop culture event of the year again and again? Turns out though, perhaps the studios just forgot to RSVP.

Having just returned from San Diego (and its unbelievably amazing weather), I can tell you that while Hollywood (or just Disney and Warner Brothers) stayed away, Comic-con was just fine without them. Lines were still ridiculously long, panel rooms were still headaches for fire marshals and the place was still like geek heaven everywhere you looked. Comic-con’s like the greatest Halloween party you’ve ever been to, only it lasts five days, 100,000 people show up, and Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro end up being the guests of honor. Sure, not every panel was a smash and not having an earth shattering Avengers or Avatar-type moment in Hall H was a bit disappointing, but it’s hard to complain when you get to hear some of your favorite film makers, actors and creators get to talk about the love for what they do.

Of course more than any other creator, I owe a personal thanks to Robert Kirkman once again this year for the opportunity to bask in the glow of San Diego Comic Con. It’s an absolute privilege to call the man my friend, and while he does try to keep up a public persona of being kind of a wiseass, he’s really a person that displays a ridiculous amount of generosity and kindness and has as long as I’ve known him. Whether delivering pizzas, working at the local comic book store, or taking the stage at SDCC’s Ballroom 20, Kirkman’s always been the best friend I could possibly hope for, and it just so happens that he’s also ridiculously talented. He’s worked tremendously hard to get to where he is today and it’s been one of my great joys to watch his meteoric rise. Watching him sign autographs or talk to his adoring fans at panels is still kind of surreal, but I also know that his success is 110% deserved and I can’t wait to see how much higher he’s able to go.

For geeks and fanboys alike, there isn’t a better place to be than San Diego in late July. From getting to meet your heroes to getting to play “secret word” Pee-Wee Herman to finally tracking down that collectible you’ve been looking for to getting to stand on a full size replica of the bridge of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, there’s really more to see and do here than you’ll have time to get to in the time allotted. Others may be down on Comic-con and talk about how it’s too crowded or too mainstream, but I love every single second of it.

With all that said, here’s my rundown of my favorite panels of SDCC 2011. Enjoy!

The View from Hall H: Rob’s Comic-con Rundown

Best Overall Panel

There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to this category. First off, 20th Century Fox did their best to wow the Hall H crowd with a sneak peak of Prometheus, which did look amazing considering they still hadn’t wrapped principle photography, though it would have helped if director Ridley Scott had actually been in attendance rather than talked to us via satellite. I actually love the look of the movie so far, which appears as if they filmed it on the sets of the original Alien. 2012 has a lot of huge pictures coming out, and Prometheus is going to be right there for me with The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers.

Fox’s next picture, In Time, looks to have a fairly interesting sci-fi premise with a person’s lifetime being used as currency, but the movie could go either way at this point, and who knows if we’ll buy Justin Timberlake as an action star? Perhaps the biggest surprise of the panel was just how strong the footage for Fox’s final showcase, the upcoming Rise of the Planet of the Apes looked. I’m tired of seeing the trailer at every movie, but the extended scenes showed to the Hall H crowd looked pretty spectacular and Andy Serkis came out to speak to us about playing Ceasar in the film. I’m sure he’ll do Roddy McDowell proud.

I also liked half of the panel for Screen Gems, which featured the amazing looking Attack the Block, which I’m chomping at the bit to see, but also featured footage from the new Underworld movie as well. Attack the Block appears to be the new Shaun of the Dead, as it should popping from the mind of Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright, who came out to speak to the crowd and take questions, but the Underworld films rank somewhere around the Resident Evil movies in terms of quality, which is to say they’re not very good. Yes, Kate Beckinsale is hot and the footage they presented does look to be an improvement over previous installments, but I’m not holding my breath at this one pulling a Fast Five on us.

No, without a doubt the panel that impressed me the most was one that I think was underneath a lot of people’s radars. Instead of a panel which showcased each film separately, The Film District decided to feature both of the films it was presenting, Drive and Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, at the same time by having each of its directors, cast members and Don’t be Afraid of the Dark’s executive producer Guillermo del Toro sit out on onstage for a conversation about both pictures. The result was a fascinating hour, with each movie getting its due in the discussion as well as creating a rabid need in the audience to see both films as soon as possible.

I loved the format of the hour, which seemed to take its cues from the annual “Visionaries” panel, which always just has two directors in an extended conversation, such as the pairing of James Cameron and Peter Jackson in 2009 or J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon in 2010. In fact, 2011’s version featured the very entertaining pairing of Guillermo del Toro and John Favreau, but by the slightest margin I prefer this panel, with the footage and conversation absolutely outstanding throughout. With the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Guillermo, Guy Pierce, Carey Mulligan, Ron Pearlman, Dark’s director Troy Nixey and fantastic footage from both movies, this was a perfect storm of action and horror film making.

Drive looks positively amazing. I love a big stupid action movie as much as the next guy, but Refn’s first English-language film looks to be the type of character driven action you dream about, and frankly might have been the best footage of any movie I saw at the con. As for Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, I’m hoping that we’ve got another flick on our hands like my current favorite del Toro horror production, The Orphanage. This is the type of horror film I love most; creepy and atmospheric with a ton of great monsters to look forward to. I simply can’t wait for both of these movies.

Biggest Disappointment

I hate to say it, but this has to go to Robert Rodriguez’s Quickdraw Productions panel. I’ve loved so much of what he’s done in the past, but the director seems to be spinning his wheel s and spreading himself too thing more than concentrating on just making one entertaining movie at a time. Sure he made some announcements like the possibility of Sin City 2 and a pair of Machete sequels, but both of those felt like afterthoughts. Instead he focused on projects like a remake of Fire and Ice and a live action Heavy Metal. The problem is, is that while these movies could be cool, who knows if we’ll actually ever see them, and while I’m a fan of Rodriguez’s producing work on Predators, the man hasn’t directed a straight faced action picture worth its salt in some time.

Weirdest Panel

No competition here. Like any serious film geek, I’m a giant admirer of Francis Ford Coppola, and The Godfather I & II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now are all sacred hallmarks of my time as a lover of cinema, but somewhere along the road things just went south for Coppola as a film maker. I feel like there could be a good movie somewhere amongst the hot mess that he showed as part of the Twixt panel, but the cheap-looking digital photography and odd storytelling look closer to something you’d see on a shelf at Wal-Mart for $5 than a work by a man people once called the best living director in the world.

Now admittedly Coppola still has some intriguing ideas, and his plan to tour with the film and edit it on the fly to gauge audience’s opinions could be revolutionary. On the other hand, trying this with the footage he brought with him was less than successful, and to hear him sing for the audience was kind of embarrassing. Is it still amazing to be in the presence of the man who made Apocalypse Now? Absolutely. Does Twixt have the remotest chance of being a good movie? From what I saw, I’d have to say no.

Biggest Geek-out Moment

For me personally, this is a pretty easy call. Years past had me sitting there in wide-eyed wonder as I watched 25 minutes of Avatar that had never been screened for an audience before or getting to take part in a chant of “Rocky!” as Sylvester Stallone took the stage with his action movie brethren to showcase The Expendables. Getting to scream for Harrison Ford or watching as the cast of The Avengers assembled for the first time also created indelible SDCC memories as well, but for Comic-con 2011 though, nothing really compared to finally being in the same room with Steven Spielberg.

Playing a montage of Spielberg’s movies before he hit the stage, it was impossible not to be hit with a giant wave of nostalgia. Very few directors have made movies that affected my taste, sensibilities, or simply my life more than “The Beard” and while I didn’t need to be reminded that this was the man who directed E.T., Jaws, Saving Private Ryan and the Indiana Jones films, seeing clips from those pictures and others just helped to affirm what an inspiration the director has been to this particular movie geek. What I couldn’t have prepared for though, was just how powerful it would be to actually get to see him and hear him speak.

Spielberg’s first trip to Comic-con was energetic and fun, with his excitement for finally bringing Tintin to the big screen obvious and infectious to everyone in attendance. Eventually joined by Peter Jackson onstage, the two showed incredible footage from the movie, but more importantly talked to us about their various film making experiences and took questions from the audience. Spielberg even brought one lucky fan up on stage to take a picture with him, which was pretty much what all 6000 attendees wanted to do also. Getting to hear Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson talk for an hour is one of those things you dream about being able to do at Comic-con. I don’t know what the 2012 con will have up its sleeve but it’ll have to go a long way to beat that moment.

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