SAN FRANCISCO - In recent years, WonderCon has made a TV/film sandwich in the Esplanade. Friday afternoon and Sunday have been dedicated to TV panels, with big-ticket movies packing the room all day on Saturday.
The balance was a bit off this year. The highest profile movie panels closed Friday afternoon ("Green Lantern") and opened a late-starting day on Saturday ("Cowboys & Aliens").
For a variety of reasons, a bafflingly large number of late-spring and early-summer movies (i.e. films opening before Comic-Con in July) opted to skip WonderCon this year. "Captain America" and "Thor" both concentrated their efforts on press and exhibitors at Las Vegas' CinemaCon and left actual fans hanging. Also skipping WonderCon were plausible offerings like "Scream 4," "Pirates of the Caribbean 4," "X-Men: First Class," "Super 8" and "Transformers 3," to say nothing of a slew of longer lead franchise films that could have used San Francisco to begin buzz-building.
I'm not criticizing either WonderCon or the uninvolved studios, merely noting that it wasn't for a lack of compatible projects that Saturday (April 2) afternoon included full hours slated for a movie opening next weekend ("Hanna
") and mid-budget vampire flick ("Priest
) that in previous years would have been bundled with a far larger presentation. Perhaps that's why the Esplanade spent the afternoon in a state of kinda-near-fullness, rather than the out-the-door-and-around-the-corner level of crowding typical.
There was still plenty of interesting stuff on Saturday, though the day's most interesting panel -- Tarsem Singh's "Immortals" -- was already covered in a full post.
Click through for quick takes on the footage from "Cowboys & Aliens," "3 Musketeers," "Hanna" and "Priest," plus discussion of anything noteworthy from the panels...
"Cowboys & Aliens"
Although Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were elsewhere and Olivia Wilde's presence was felt only in a teasing text message sent to director Jon Favreau -- a joke about sleeping in the nude that she later modified/improved in Twitter -- this was still Saturday's biggest draw.
Favreau and writer/producer Bob Orci kidded that since "Green Lantern" showed nine minutes of footage on Friday, they were giving in to peer pressure.
I assume my colleague Drew is gonna have more to say about the footage. By this point, between last Comic-Con, WonderCon and his editing bay visit, he's seen enough to get a pretty good idea of what the movie actually is. I'm still waiting to figure out.
The footage we saw concentrated fairly heavily on the Cowboys side of the title equation, setting up the John Ford/Clint Eastwood-style Old West conflict between a grizzled Ford and a properly taciturn Craig. Both leading men look well-suited for what they're doing and I suspect I'd be perfectly pleased to just watch the two of them doing a straight-forward "oater" (to use the Variety-speak). The attacking aliens are where I still don't "get" it. There's a transition from homage into possible parody that either does or doesn't happen once the spaceships come down and start blasting people. In the clips I saw, I couldn't quite tell you whether the juxtaposition leads to inherent comedy or whether Favreau is still playing both sides 100 percent straight and just making a straight-forward action-adventure movie that blends two genres delivered equally with as much earnestness as humanly possible. It's not like my confusion is preventing me from being interested in the movie, but I haven't seen enough to know what kind of reaction I'm supposed to have. As it stood in the extended clips, both elements felt only half-compelling. The presence of Clancy Brown and Sam Rockwell was encouraging and even if "Cowboys & Aliens" is just "Ye Olde Independence Day," I can give Favreau the benefit of the doubt.
The couple extended scenes were followed by a long sizzle reel including lots of horse-riding and UFOs, lots of Wilde being fierce and, at the very end, a shot of an alien that went by so quickly I wasn't able to process its coolness, or lack thereof.
Universal is going to have two challenges with this movie over the next few months: One, making sure to eliminate any aura of "Wild, Wild West" from the promotion. And two, once they've established for people what the movie *isn't* they're going to have to convince people outside of venues like WonderCon what the movie *is*. So when Favreau told the audience that he plans on holding back on the aliens as long as possible, that's a cute and quaint notion, but if the aliens are awesome, the studio may require them as a promotional hook
As with the "Green Lantern" footage yesterday, I was a bit warier than some of those around me when it came to "Cowboys & Aliens." I'm not one of those "What a stupid idea!" doubters (I had dinner tonight with one). I'm just cautious and not instantly swayed by a few minutes of solid clips.
I don't quite get why "The Three Musketeers" was here at all. Stars Logan Lerman and Luke Evans, plus the panel's inane moderator, all went on and on with the same talking points. Every generation needs a version of "Three Musketeers." This isn't my mother's "Three Musketeers." Charlie Sheen had nothing to do with this version of "Three Musketeers." Blah blah.
With 30 minutes to fill, Summit came only with the recently released trailer and a standard behind-the-scenes EPK clip/interview package that obviously wasn't made with WonderCon or really fans in mind. Everybody on the behind-the-scenes reel also stuck to the same talking points.
In the panel itself, we learned that Lerman trained for eight months (he said four in the EPK reel) and, at the prodding of a questioner with no apparent awareness of either the Alexandre Dumas novel or any previous adaptations, that "The Three Musketeers" is really an origin story for the sequel which would be "The Four Musketeers."
A better use of time would have been the screening of a full, cohesive scene, rather than the cartwheeling and slo-mo of the hyper-edited trailer. Anything to suggest that dropping one of literature's great pieces of popular fiction into the hands of the director "Alien vs. Predator" is anything other than an awful idea.
I'm sure co-star Milla Jovovich had other pressing things to do, which is more the pity, because I've seen her on a half-dozen panels of this type and very few stars are as adept at selling to fanboys. I'd say it was an opportunity missed, but WonderCon was never a really good opportunity for this film.
My HitFix colleagues Drew and Greg both saw "Hanna" already and they're big fans. Despite seeing 27 movies at Sundance and several subsequent movies for junkets and interviews, "Hanna" is likely to be the first 2011 release that I pay to see in theaters. Don't give me that judging look. I have a lot of TV to watch. After the trailers and after Saturday's presentation, I'm sold.
Accompanied by a fantastically propulsive Chemical Brothers soundtrack, the several clips screened for the crowd went over like gangbusters and left me genuinely excited to see them in the context of the movie as a whole, which is exactly the ideal reaction for doing teaser clips at a Con.
The panel itself was fascinating if only because it exposed how exactly perfect and yet totally wrong "Hanna" was for an event like this. Watching director Joe Wright and star Saorise Ronan express utter, unobscured contempt for the simultaneously objectifying and sexualizing effects of most so-called "girl power" genre pictures to a room liberally sprinkled with "Sucker Punch" cosplayers was verging on surreal. Watching the acclaimed director of "Atonement" and "Pride and Prejudice" talk about Werner Herzog, French New Wave and fully integrated sound design in a room that got amped up for "Paul W.S. Anderson's The Three Musketeers in 3-D" was verging on sublime.
Nowhere was the disconnect more evident than when one eager fan asked what Wright had done to make "Hanna" cooler for D-Box audiences only to discover that Wright was both unaware of the existence of D-Box and also visibly annoyed by any process that would adulterate the pure impact of the movie he crafted.
The sequence of Ronan's character fleeing and pummeling bad guys around, above and through a maze of shipping containers was easily the best movie footage I saw in two days at WonderCon.
If the day's first panel was for "Cowboys & Aliens," Scott Stewart's "Priest" played as "Cowboy-Clerics & Vampires."
Chunks of "Priest" footage were screened on Friday night for journalists and fans in 3-D, rather than the 2-D scenes for the Esplanade panel.
Definitely the best thing we saw was Genndy Tartakovsky's animated prologue, which established the basics of the "Priest" world, in which a generation-spanning war between humans and vampires was ended by specially trained clerics. The Tartakosky intro was so good that there was no way for the actual footage -- Paul Bettany and Cam Gigandet battling CGI blobs being called vampires -- to compete.
"We wanted to make them very physical and we really looked at the biology of cavedwellers, nocturnal creatures," Stewart said of the vampires. Neil Marshall did the same thing on "The Descent." Based on Stewart's CGI blobs, I'm giving an early advantage to Marshall.
The panel also included Min-Woo Hyung, the creator of the original graphic novel in which the main character fought off fallen angels. With the help of a primary translator and then a re-translator from TokyoPop, he tried to explain that Stewart's "Priest" is set many years after the events of the comic series and that those fallen angels somehow evolved into vampires.
A longer sizzle reel, set to Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" definitely topped the extended live-action sequence, featuring Christopher Plummer collecting a paycheck, Karl Urban channeling Clint Eastwood and, best of all, awesome footage of Maggie Q taking out a group of motorcycle riders in the middle of the desert.
Show me more Maggie Q, more Karl Urban and more Lily Collins and maybe I'll add "Priest" to my Netflix queue. Keep concentrating on Paul Bettany kicking ass for the Lord and I can give this one a total pass.
This has been a really long day.
Apologies for any typos.
It's time to sleep...