San Diego Comic Con is a mosh pit of tastemakers. A good showing at Comic Con can generate unstoppable buzz for a project, that can last for months. A weak showing can deal a devastating setback to a creator's dreams.
Here are the projects and creators that we saw gaining buzz at San Diego Comic Con — plus the ones that lost out in Comic-Con's eternal buzz wars.
To clarify, just like last year's article, this isn't a list of stuff we liked or didn't like personally. It's stuff that we sensed excitement — or disappointment — about, among the throngs at Comic Con. We asked as many people as we could what they liked or didn't like, we listened to the crowds, and we sampled opinions on Twitter and elsewhere. Obviously, this is highly subjective, and not at all scientific.
So with that said, here goes...
The buzz winners of SDCC 2011:
Guillermo del Toro
This man owned Comic-Con 2011. It's as simple as that. The director of Pan's Labyrinth and the upcoming Pacific Rim had a horrible back injury, a swollen disc, and he still appeared on a ton of panels. And he was so funny and profane and bursting with love for film-making, you wanted to hand him the keys to the Magic Kingdom, as well as every movie studio. He made the generic Don't Be Afraid of the Dark sound thrilling and new. Talking with Jon Favreau on the film-makers panel, he was full of wisdom about the perils of taking the safe road or the boring-but-lucrative project. And he made Pacific Rim sound like the Kaiju movie of our dreams. The man was in dreadful pain but managed to be insanely generous with his time and his enthusiasm. And his love for dark fantasies was contagious.
We already loved this Cartoon Network show about Finn and Jake, and their adventures in an often surreal post-apocalyptic fantasy world — but we felt like this past weekend, we could feel the whole of nerddom falling in love with Finn and Jake as well. Part of that was just how well Cartoon Network marketed the show — with the Lady Riainicorn Chinese-style dragon on 5th. Avenue, and the big inflatable Jake the Dog on the show floor, and the line-sitting people with the video-screen backpacks showing the show. Part of that was the incredibly raucous panel, which dominated Room 6A. But a lot of it? Was just word of mouth. Everywhere we went, people were talking about this show and converting new fans and spreading the love of this show. It was in the air. Image via Pizza Party on Tumblr.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Cline is already a beloved geek icon for directing the movie Fanboys, and for getting it into theaters after years of foot-dragging by the Weinsteins. But now his new novel Ready Player One was generating huge buzz at Comic Con. His novel, set in a future where everybody lives in a virtual reality game world, perfectly captures the good side of geek culture. Everybody was lining up to talk to him and play the joust game at his booth. He's already gotten a movie deal for the book, and he's just finished a screenplay for Warner Bros. He was already a geek hero, but now his rep is blowing up.
Adam Beach from Cowboys and Aliens
The most important thing — and the hardest thing — for actors and other personalities to do at Comic Con is to connect with audiences. And this supporting actor from Jon Favreau's alien Western totally pulled it off — while being interviewed on the red carpet for the film's premiere, he revealed that he had an extra "golden ticket" for the film, and gave it to a fan in the audience, whom he personally escorted inside. And Beach's performance in the actual movie stole the show, giving an extra weight and character to a film that otherwise could been a generic action movie with a gimmicky Cowboy twist. Beach came out of nowhere, but he made an impression at Comic Con.
Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) is taking on a huge, weird challenge, trying to create an ongoing television series with the same "found footage" creepiness and naturalism as his famous movie series. And in spite of dozens of other TV shows and movies jockeying for people's attention, Peli's The River got people talking and wondering. Especially when people saw how compelling the pilot is, and how intense the performances are. People were really curious about this show, along with...
Person of Interest
This is a show we heard people arguing about. A lot. Some people felt like it was going to be a generic CSI rip-off, only with Ben from Lost and Mel Gibson's Jesus. But a lot of people were instantly intrigued by the undercurrent of surveillance in this show's set-up. Michael Emerson's trademark "the guy who knows dark secrets" riff turns out, this time around, to be the result of an unimaginably powerful computer, and he sends Jim Caviezel, basically playing Bruce Wayne, to solve crimes that haven't happened yet. People had strong opinions about whether this show was going to rule or not — but one way or another, everyone was talking about it.
Sir Ridley Scott coming back to science fiction should have been a no-brainer, in terms of generating excitement. But when we saw the actual footage from the film, in Hall H, and everybody went breathless, we were sold all over again. This film looked like a mashup of Stargate, 2001 and Scott's own Alien, with a huge focus on space horror as well as the vastness and implacability of space. And Charlize Theron doing naked pushups, and a new source of creepiness in the form of some kind of space goo, sealed the deal. This movie already has our ticket money.
Andrew Garfield (Amazing Spider-Man)
Again, connecting with the fans on a personal level is the most important thing at Comic Con, and Garfield's stunt — asking a question from the audience wearing a Spider-Man costume — completely won everyone over. Any resistance that anyone might have had to the idea of "the dork from The Social Network" playing Peter Parker was gone. You could feel his sincerity — and the fact that the new footage from the film also showed some really nice understated chemistry between Garfield and co-star Emma Stone was also a huge help. Andrew Garfield completely erased any lingering association between Spidey and his predecessor, "the dork from Pleasantville."
We almost didn't include this one among the winners, because everybody already loved Doctor Who, right? But it doesn't matter — Doctor Who ruled at Comic Con, in a way that it simply didn't when David Tennant came a couple years ago. The sheer amount of Doctor Who cosplay was stunning, rivaling even Star Wars and superheroes. The Comic Con floor was full of Who, thanks to the big TARDIS at the Quantum Mechanix booth and the awesome fake-tattoo sleeves at the BBC America booth. And then there was the actual Hall H panel, which rivaled Twilight both in the raucous screaming and in the lines — check out our photo of the people camped out for Hall H, over twelve hours before the panel started. Also, spin-off show Torchwood had one of the big Ballroom 20 panels that everybody was buzzing about afterwards, too.
Knights of Badassdom
For a movie that nobody had heard of a few weeks ago, this supernatural LARPing comedy sure made a big splash. Of course, it's hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage and Firefly's Summer Glau. But there's also the fact that the first trailer is actually super funny. And the panel was super funny, too. Both journalists and random con-goers wound up mentioning their brief exposure to this film as one of the biggest highlights of the four-day weekend.
The buzz losers of SDCC 2011:
The Lizard (Amazing Spider-Man)
Andrew Garfield may have won over the crowd — but his new arch-nemesis, the villain of the Spider-Man reboot, did not. Let's hope the CG for the Lizard was an early version, because it didn't look that hot — and the character's design was too far from his classic comics version. He didn't have a lizard snout, or the trademark torn labcoat for that matter. He was giant, almost kaiju-sized, rather than the size of a big person. A comment we heard from several attendees: The Lizard looked like Batman's Killer Croc, as drawn by Jim Lee — not like the mutated Dr. Curt Connors. People were not impressed.
We still have a ton of hope for this remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Paul Verhoeven classic, especially after talking to director Len Wiseman. But the footage shown at Comic Con looked like a generic action movie rather than a worthy reimagining of the paranoid Philip K. Dick adaptation, and one person tweeted, "I'm getting tired of" the panel halfway through. Plus we didn't really hear people buzzing about this film, in particular, afterwards. Let's just say that Total Recall emerged from Comic Con with people's skepticism about yet another remake still intact.
Snow White and the Huntsman
This is one of the films that didn't have any footage to show at Comic Con, because they hadn't started filming yet — which is a risky strategy in Hall H, a venue that's so focused on showing footage. So this film had to distinguish itself from the 5,000 other Snow White movies currently in production on the strength of its panel — and people we talked to were not impressed. In particular, Twilight's Kristen Stewart failed to convince people that she could be an engaging Snow White, and the suspicion that this film was designed to cash in on Twi-mania was hard to get away from.
There are a bunch of "dark fairy-tale" shows coming on television this fall or spring, and none of them seemed that exciting. But when Grimm screened its pilot, the overall feeling was one of apathy — especially talking to people afterwards. (We'll have a report on the Grimm screening and panel soon.) There were a few moments in the pilot where this "fairytale police procedural" show from the makers of Angel started to show signs of Angel-style wit and warmth. But for the most part, it felt just like a particularly dull cop show. And it's a bad sign that the most exciting person on the panel was the moderator, Anthony Stewart Head — who's not even in the show at all.
The Secret Circle
Sigh. We really want this show about witches to be great and make a huge splash — it's from The Vampire Diaries' Kevin Williamson, and it's co-starring Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' Thomas Dekker. We watched the pilot on Wednesday evening's preview night, and thought it seemed like a fun guilty pleasure. But people were making fun of this show a lot, even people who might have been its core audience. The Secret Circle panel was in Room 6BCF before Person of Interest, and a lot of people were openly mocking this cheesetastic pilot. People on Twitter also described this show as "boring."
Let's be clear — The Avengers has tons of buzz already, and with Captain America beating Harry Potter at the box office, the power of Marvel's greatest super-team is assured. But there was a lot of talk about how Joss Whedon's super-team film would surprise everyone at Comic Con, and... they didn't. Last year, Marvel had Odin's Throne on the floor, and this year... there was sort of a black space with some panels, ostensibly representing the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. And some people in black spandex, dancing noncommittally to Ke$ha. Chris Evans and Joss Whedon were at the con, but we never saw Evans at the booth. (Update: Someone has a photo of Whedon at the booth.) The concept art posters that came out were cool, to be sure, but there wasn't really an Avengers surprise at Comic Con, and the movie got lost in the frenzy over television shows like Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Doctor Who.
DC Comics put in its biggest showing at Comic Con in years, because the publisher had a huge uphill task — convince a bunch of skeptical fans that its line-wide reboot, coming in September, is a good idea. And DC did a valiant job, but didn't quite bring the conviction that people were looking for. People asked if the new, more realistic take on Superman would do away with the whimsy of things like Krypto the super-dog, and in response the DC people talked about Superman's awkward teen sex moments. Reading the liveblogs over at Newsarama, you get the sense that the DC editors and creators faced a bunch of skeptical crowds and didn't quite mollify them. On the plus side, a costumed protest against the reboot that was supposed to draw 500 people only drew a handful in the end. And DC superstar Grant Morrison generated tons of excitement wherever he went, putting him squarely in the "winner" column. Photo via Newsarama.