While light on major announcements or surprise appearances (the only movie-related one, really, was Christopher Nolan popping up to introduce the 'Inception' trailer) -- both guarantees at the annual San Diego Con -- the feel inside the venue was practically indistinguishable. Stormtroopers, Spocks and the occasional Smurf abounded (no Furries have been spotted as of press time). Long lines formed outside of the Esplanade, the 3,500-person capacity main room. And crowds went bonkers over the introductions of stars like Jake Gyllenhaal, Zoe Saldana, Nicolas Cage (twice!), Jackie Earle Haley, Milla Jovovich ... and John Ratzenberger. It doesn't quite yet have the Hollywood pull of ComicCon, its Southern California cousin, but WonderCon continues to grow and attract more lucrative movie offerings with every year. Held Friday through Sunday at San Francisco's Moscone Center, "The Con" fueled hype and elevated buzz for high-profile releases like 'Kick-Ass,' 'Tron Legacy,' 'The Losers,' 'Nightmare on Elm Street,' 'Toy Story 3' and 'Prince of Persia.'
While light on major announcements or surprise appearances (the only movie-related one, really, was Christopher Nolan popping in to introduce the new 'Inception' trailer and some new clips) -- the feel inside the venue was practically indistinguishable. Stormtroopers, Spocks and the occasional Smurf abounded (no Furries have been spotted as of press time). Long lines formed outside of the Esplanade, the 3,500 person-capacity main room. And crowds went bonkers over the introductions of stars like Jake Gyllenhaal, Zoe Saldana, Nicolas Cage (twice!), Jackie Earle Haley, Milla Jovovich ... and John Ratzenberger.
"It's so great to hear everybody cheering after the clips," Gyllenhaal told Moviefone. The 'Persia' star and first-time Con attendee was unintimidated by the raucous crowds. "That's the scary thing, people are seeing a little piece of this movie that's just been our own for so long. Granted, 2,000 people worked on it [laughs]. It's great to hear people get psyched, and see the sea of cameras and people."
Primed to be the belle of the WonderCon ball, so to speak, was the buzzed-about action-comedy 'Kick-Ass,' based on the comic by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita, Jr., about a fanboy (Aaron Johnson) living out the ultimate fantasy as a costume-clad crime fighter. The Lionsgate release earned passionate raves after its recent debut at the SXSW Film Festival. In an interview prior to the panel, co-star Clarke Duke referred to that appearance as a "home game," surely unaware of the hysteria that would follow when the cast screened footage at its official showcase.
Though Friday's schedule didn't offer movie buffs much in the way of panels or presentations, Disney owned the night with a mock-press conference/mega-stunt for its highly anticipated winter release 'Tron Legacy.' Inviting media and conventioneers to the bayside Justin Herman Plaza, the studio erected a fittingly futuristic stage lit by crimson and white beams and touting an "Encom International Special Announcement." Soon, an Encom "PR rep" introduced Alan Bradley, and up marched Bruce Boxleitner, in character as the Endcom CEO. Bradley/Boxleitner discussed the release of a new Space Paranoids game and spoke fondly about "the late" Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), before a swarm of fanboys "stormed the stage" shouting, "Flynn Lives!" Soon a helicopter -- lit by an unmistakable Tron-neon light -- was zooming by, and soon after that a man -- also neon-lit – was parachuting out of it and landing close by. We can only assume that man was Jeff Bridges. (Jeez, guy wins an Oscar and thinks he can do anything.)
Update: It was not Bridges! Disney revealed the jumper was actually Flynn's son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), who Bradley says "indulges in 'annual shenanigans' of this variety as one way of reacting to the pressure of following in such famous, but empty footsteps." You can check out video and footage from the stunt at FlynnLives.com.
Earlier in the evening, Kevin Smith received a standing ovation despite arriving 40 minutes late (no, it didn't have anything to do with airline seats...) for his 90-minute chatfest, a staple of any comic convention. Though Smith was hesitant to touch on his recent Southwest Airlines debacle (when an audience member asked about it, he convinced them to come up for a photo with him instead, saying, "We won't talk about that f***ing airline ever again"), he did elaborate on his recent Twitter tirade against film critics and those, especially, who blasted his universally reviled action-comedy 'Cop Out.' Smith said he cares more about the Average Joe who "had to drive an hour-and-a-half in f***ing snow and pay $40 to a babysitter and f***ing 60 bucks for tickets to a movie and snacks" and then had to endure 'Cop Out' (Yeah that WOULD suck) than film critics, adding, "I don't need an intermediary anymore to tell me how I feel and how you guys feel." (Read more about Smith's chat at HitFix).
Saturday offered a full day's slate of movie programming, beginning with a three-fer from Disney, including a pair from super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer (or as he'd later be dubbed by Jeff Garlin, "Baron Von Bruckheimer"), who, surprisingly, was also making his very first Con appearance. Along with Gyllenhaal, director Mike Newell and executive producer/creator Jordan Mechner, Bruckheimer unveiled two new clips from 'Prince of Persia.' Bruckheimer responded to why the film wasn't shot in 3D ("'Avatar' hadn't come out") and Gyllenhaal joked about tracking down the elusive Parkour creator David Belle: "It took a long time to find him, because he has no e-mail address or phone number. So we went over the streets of France with a helicopter, looking for people jumping off buildings, and we snagged him."
Joining Bruckheimer onstage for the 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' panel were stars Nicolas Cage (sporting long bleach blonde hair and hoarse from having laryngitis; "If I sound like an old black blues player, that's why," he'd say during the 'Kick-Ass' panel), Jay Baruchel and Teresa Palmer, as well as director Jon Turteltaub. Cage and Baruchel talked about getting buddy-buddy on set of the family fantasy based on the famous 'Fantasia' 'toon. Said Cage: "We have similar interests, we both are interested in history and mythology, and both are pretty nerdy." Responded Baruchel: "I find our relationship pretty 'Midnight Run'-ish. At different times in the movie we are both De Niro and Grodin."
In a delightful turn of events, Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger introduced the panel for the highly anticipated 'Toy Story 3,' saying his work with the animation wizards is the crown jewel of his life and career (to which all Cliff Clavin admirers surely responded, 'Burn!'). After a video detailing the longtime bromance between Woody and Buzz Lightyear and set to an oddly Auto-tuned, electro-house remix of Randy Newman's 'You've Got a Friend in Me,' director Lee Unkrich refreshingly deviated from the Con show-and-tell model by inviting audience members onstage to do live voiceovers to a scene from the movie. Up came plants (and actor voice talent) Kristen Schaal ('Flight of the Conchords') and Jeff Garlin ('Curb Your Enthusiasm'), along with an actual audience member, Toby. A blissful clip introducing Ken Doll (Michael Keaton) followed.
The thrust around the panel for Sony's 'Resident Evil: Afterlife,' the fourth installment in the franchise based on the popular videogame, centered around the film's trailer (below), which was shown in 3D at a special event the night before. Though Esplanade audiences only caught it in 2D, it boasts "the most advanced 3D technology," and unlike films retrofitted to a third dimension, like 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Clash of the Titans,' was actually shot with the same techniques used to make 'Avatar.' Milla Jovovich (joined by husband-director Paul W.S. Anderson and co-star Ali Larter) talked about spending 10 years of her life on the franchise. "We live in our evil world with our evil child," she said, referring to the franchise, not their actual daughter, Ever Gabo Anderson.
Warner Bros. kicked off its panel with the stylized actioner 'The Losers,' bringing out director Sylvain White and stars Chris Evans, Zoe Saldana, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Columbus Short and Oscar Jaenada for a lively chat. A noticeably buffer Evans somehow got away without discussing his recent casting as 'Captain America' (though he spoke briefly about it during a post-panel roundtable), but the real draw here was Saldana, who for all intents and purposes is the new Goddess of the Geeks after a breakout year starring in both 'Star Trek' and 'Avatar.' Saldana talked about being "turned on by pain" and finding fight scenes "very romantic." Was it getting hot in there?
After screening an extended clip from the new 'Nightmare on the Elm Street' reboot, WB marched out pretty young things Rooney Mara, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy and Kyle Gainer, as well as the not-so-pretty but beloved new face of Freddy Krueger, Jackie Earle Haley. The 'Watchmen' alum said it was a "scary process" taking over such an iconic role from Robert Englund, but thanked the audience for lobbying for him to get it. "The first thing I heard was that you guys were actually suggesting me for the part. I guess some of you must think I'm a little creepy or something. [Laughs]"
For its third and final film, 'Splice' -- a low-budget sci-fi thriller that was acquired at Sundance by Dark Castle, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. -- the studio brought out director Vincenzo Natali, who showed a clip introduced by producer Guillermo del Toro ('Pan's Labyrinth' and the upcoming 'Hobbit'). The scene shows scientists Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley dealing with their Frankenstein-like creation (they combine human and animal DNA), complete with an "It's alive!" homage. Natali described the film as having "David Cronenberg's DNA spliced into it, along with Mary Shelley and some experiences I've had." Hmmm.
Christopher Nolan provided the Con's biggest surprise when the 'Batman Begins' and 'Dark Knight' director appeared to show off new footage from his upcoming, enigmatic Leonardo DiCaprio-starring thriller, 'Inception,' and actually shared some insight on what the film is kinda, sorta about. "'Inception,' in some ways, is a heist a movie," he told the audience. The sizzle reel Nolan introduced featured one clip in which DiCaprio explains that he's in the business of high-tech dream-weaving ("subconscious security," to be exact). Nolan did not, however, touch on a third 'Batman' installment or his involvement in the upcoming 'Superman' reboot.
Finally, at 4:30 PM, the 'Kick-Ass' crew hit the stage. Stars Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Clarke Duke, as well as creator Mark Millar and screenwriter Jane Goldman, held entertaining court, but fans clearly wanted to see more footage than the trailer and clips screened. Some of the best tidbits included Mintz-Plasse on his Red Mist get-up ("They were going for David Bowie; I thought it was more Rihanna, really") and Cage's explanation of why his Damon Macready (aka Big Daddy) looks like Stanley Tucci in 'The Lovely Bones' ("I dated a girl years ago, her dad was a cop with glasses and a mustache... So I thought Big Daddy would be that guy.")
Getting the most accolades, though, for 'Kick-Ass,' is the 13-year-old Wunderkind Moretz, who, sporting a pink wig and eye-mask as Hit Girl, drops f-bombs galore and kicks baddie ass like a pint-sized version of The Bride from 'Kill Bill.' While fans are freaking out about the underage superhero (in a very, very good way) and her scene-chewing, the film is certain to draw some fire for it.
In a Q&A with Moretz earlier in the day, we asked her if she'd be allowed to see 'Kick-Ass' if she wasn't in it: "No," she said. "I'm only allowed to see PG-13. And only because I just turned 13."
As for the immaculate buzz surrounding the film, is it in danger of becoming overhyped? "I would be [worried about that], but this one's good," Duke told us. "This is a great movie. So I think we're OK."