Annual Comic-Con is a multimedia pop culture extravaganza

The idea of remaking a beloved classic science-fiction film as a huge summer blockbuster starring Keanu Reeves might seem like a hard sell

Aug 6, 2008 at 2:06 pm

The idea of remaking a beloved classic science-fiction film as a huge summer blockbuster starring Keanu Reeves might seem like a hard sell, especially to an audience of hardcore genre fans, but this is exactly the challenge director Scott Derrickson faces in supporting his version of Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

So what do you do? Show some previously unseen footage and provide a clear explanation of your conceptual reasoning for remaking a film that you greatly admire. You hope to win them over because the packed audience of 6,500 in the San Diego Convention Center's Hall H is an army of live bloggers disseminating their opinions, and the buzz is instant and pervasive.

Programming like the 20th Century Fox presentation for The Day the Earth Stood Still has become a major part of the Comic-Con experience, opportunities for fans to get an early look at next year's big films and interact with creators, actors and artists. Television is also fully represented with extremely popular panels featuring the talent behind such shows as Heroes, Lost, The Office and Battlestar Galactica.

The San Diego Comic-Con International, now in its 39th year, did not start out as a Hollywood showcase, but it has evolved into a multimedia pop culture extravaganza that this year attracted an estimated 130,000 people. As an attendee, you can get lost wandering the spectacle that is the exhibition hall floor. Booths for movie studios, video-game companies and toy manufacturers have moved in alongside the comic book companies and retailers. Seeing any of it requires wading through a crowded sea of anime characters, Stormtroopers and Jokers (perhaps the costume of the year) occasionally complete with a nurse's dress.

While the commercial and critical success of this summer's The Dark Knight was clearly on attendees' minds, many were already looking forward to what is expected to be the next great achievement for comic book movies: director Zack Snyder's adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' groundbreaking graphic novel The Watchmen, represented at the Warner Bros. booth by the 9,000-pound Owl Ship used in the film (one of the major photo opportunities at the Con, particularly if you were lucky enough to run into a girl dressed as the Silk Spectre on your way there). The panel for The Watchmen, featuring Snyder, Gibbons and a full cast of actors, played to a house so full that hundreds of attendees were turned away.

Two projects announced by Devil's Due Publishing (DDP), a Chicago-based company formed nine years ago by former Cincinnatian Josh Blaylock, prove the depth of synergy in the worlds of comics, television and film. (Full disclosure: I do some freelance work for DDP.) Television star Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) was a featured guest at one DDP panel talking about a new title, Rest. Originally a screenplay, Rest has been adapted into a comic book featuring Ventimiglia's likeness as the main character. Another DDP panel was billed as having a surprise blockbuster guest: Oscar winner Kevin Spacey showed up to promote a new working relationship between DDP and his production company, Trigger Street, involving fan-generated content.

Perhaps no other experience at Comic-Con illustrated the power of fandom more than a private screening of the film Fanboys (also a Trigger Street production in conjunction with The Weinstein Co.). The film takes place in 1998, a few months before the release of Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace. A group of Star Wars-obsessed friends develop a plan to break into George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch to get a dying friend an early look at the film. The production of Fanboys embraced and depended upon the fan community, and some fans were invited to be extras in the film and supply costumes and props. After years of storied delays for the film's release, this surprise screening was a reward for the first 300 in line for the Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge Awards, an annual Comic-Con event. I can't imagine a more perfect audience to watch this film with (I was seated next to an Imperial Officer), considering the film ultimately examines the heart of fandom.

As an outsider, it's tempting to look at Comic-Con as an overwhelming promotional and commercial experience full of hype, spectacle and maybe a few comic books. Attend the Con and you'll see that it's really about experiences like the Fanboys screening or snapping a photo of various costumed Indiana Jones fans posing together. It's about Hugh Jackman appearing unannounced to show footage of the recently completed Wolverine film, but not before walking down into the audience to find Wolverine's creator, Len Wein, to shake hands and thank him for his career.

For everyone, from the 4-year-old dressed as Spider-Pig to the biggest silver-screen superhero, it's about the passions and pleasures of being a fan.