WonderCon kicked off its second day with a movie panel dedicated to 'Cowboys & Aliens,' a sci-fi/western directed by Jon Favreau ('Iron Man') co-starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. Neither Craig nor Ford were in attendance, but screenwriter Roberto Orci ('Star Trek') was on hand to moderate a two-man panel (including himself). After dispensing with the obligatory thanks to the WonderCon audience, as well as mentioning 'Iron Man's' debut three years ago to positive feedback at WonderCon, Favreau briefly described the premise (explicit in the title), his interest in the project (the cowboys and aliens of the title again), and, after giving a shout out to he 'Green Lantern' footage con-goers saw last night, debuted nine minutes of 'Cowboys & Aliens' footage,.
The footage began with the appearance of Craig's character, Jake Lonergan, shot from behind as he rides a horse over a hill and into a seemingly deserted farmhouse or homestead. Lonergan meets the farmhouse's owner, Meacham (Clancy Brown). Initially, Lonergan claims he can't recall his name, how he got there, and how he obtained a futuristic-looking bracelet. The scene quickly shifts to a scene introducing Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), roughly interrogating a ranch hand about the mutilated cattle under the ranch hand's care. Shifting again, the scene takes us to Lonergan's arrest, imprisonment, and Dolarhyde's attempt to remove Lonergan from the prison by force (the two men have a history, apparently), before an alien ship (or ships) attack, sending Dolarhyde's men and the townspeople scrambling for cover. Lonergan saves the day (actually night) with the help of his futuristic bracelet.
Shots plucked from multiple scenes followed, including the appearance of fan-favorite Olivia Wilde ('Tron: Legacy,' 'House') as Lonergan's romantic interest, Ella, shots of alien ships abducting townspeople, pulling the townspeople into their ships by cables, running and jumping, shooting (of guns and other projectile weapons), the alien ships attacking men on horseback (echoing the cavalry charge of countless westerns), and the first (and last) glimpse of an actual alien, the most, according to Favreau, we'll see of the aliens until 'Cowboys & Aliens' premieres July 29th.
In follow-up remarks, Favreau touched on what he considered a primary reason for making 'Cowboys & Aliens,' the (mostly) good vs. bad (or, more accurately, evil) battle at the center of the film, a simple, simpler paradigm that engages western archetypes without bringing in the heavy political and social subtext of revisionist westerns (i.e., anti-colonialism, treatment of indigenous peoples, etc.). That primal dichotomy exists in virtually all alien invasion films, including the recent 'Battle: Los Angeles' (which Favreau name-checked). But will that, along with name actors and the best visual effects money can buy, be enough to draw moviegoers to an already overcrowded summer blockbuster season? Only time will tell.
The next panel focused on the oft-adapted 'The Three Musketeers in 3D' with cast members Luke Evans (Aramis) and Logan Lerman (D'Artagnan). Neither writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson (the 'Resident Evil' franchise) or co-star Mila Jovovich (Anderson's wife) were available for WonderCon. 'The Three Musketeers in 3D' doesn't hit theaters until October 14th, which probably explains the absence of new footage. Only the already-released trailer and a lightning-fast featurette were shown to con-goers. There was little else to take away from this particular panel. Lerman emphasized the effort and time necessary to train for the action scenes, including several months of training, while Evans emphasized his attempt to make Aramis his own character (after many onscreen iterations), calling the "Three Musketeers the James Bonds of their time."
A subsequent panel for 'Hanna,' was, by all accounts well-received, but having already seen and interviewed Saoirse Ronan and Joe Wright the previous day, we exited the main ballroom for another roundtable interview ('Super'), a walkthrough the exhibition hall, before returning to the main ballroom for the panel dedicated to the twice-delayed 'Priest,' a post-apocalyptic horror-western based on Min-Woo Hyung's nanhwa (Korean manga) series. Paul Bettany (the "Priest" of the title), co-leads Cam Gigandet and Lily Collins (newly cast as "Snow White" in Tarsem Singh's forthcoming adaptation, 'The Brothers Grimm: Snow White'), along with Hyung, a translator, and Tokyo Pop representative joined director Scott Stewart ('Legion') on the stage. Stewart introduced the film's animated prologue, the work of animator Genndy Tartakovsky ('Samurai Jack,' 'Dexter's Laboratory').
The prologue hinted at difficulties in establishing what looked and sounded like a convoluted backstory involving a centuries-old war between humans and vampires, the retreat of humans into walled cities ruled by a corrupt version of Catholicism, the rise of warrior-priests, the defeat of the vampires and their subsequent forcible retreat into reservations, etc. The post-prologue, live-action footage looked (and sounded) like a mash-up of 'Mad Max'/'The Road Warrior,' 'Blade Runner,' 'Blade,' and 'The Matrix' crossed with vampires and a hard-R rating heavy on CG-blood and gore. Considering the acknowledged departures from Hyung's nanhwa (the villains are fallen angels, not vampires, setting 'Priest' more as a sequel to Hyung's nanhwa rather than an adaptation), fans of the nanhwa might pause. For everyone else, 'Priest' might be a guilty pleasure.
As with Friday's panels, WonderCon saved the most high-profile movie panel for last, Tarsem Singh's 'Immortals.' Marketed heavy at WonderCon using "From the producers of 300" phrase (that and calling Singh a "visionary director" multiple times). 'Immortals' received additional buzz from the recent casting of lead actor Henry Cavil as "Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent" in Zack Snyder's upcoming adaptation (Cavil hasn't been fitted for his costume yet, in case you're wondering). 'Immortals' isn't due to hit movie theaters until November 11th (11/11/11), so con-goers only saw the (presumably) about-to-debut trailer. The trailer featured Cavil as Theseus (no demi-god here, according to Singh), Luke Evans as a youthful Zeus, Isabel Lucas as the Greek goddess Athena, massive, CG-aided battle scenes, and Mickey Rourke as the film's human villain, Hyperion, a brutal despot.
Calling 'Immortals' "300 with Greek gods" isn't far from the mark. While Singh emphasized the use of practical sets to guide actor performance, what we saw was heavily stylized with painterly, almost surreal backdrops augmenting practical sets. Singh referenced classical painting, specifically Caravaggio, for lighting, color, and texture. Singh actually described 'Immortals' as "Caravaggio meets 'Fight Club,' citing the early decision to follow (more or less) the laws of physics to guide action scenes. From the footage screened at WonderCon, it's clear that Singh takes a heavily stylized approach to action choreography, using super-slo-mo and speed ramping (Snyder's signature camera trick). Singh's abilities as a visual stylist aren't in dispute (he spent a decade-and-a-half making music videos primarily because he loved the art form)., but his ability to tell a coherent, cohesive, and compelling story remains an open question.
Singh and producer Mark Canton promised to show additional footage from the 'Immortals' at Comic-Con in late July. Singh claimed he's a month or two away from completing post-production on 'Immortals.' Presumably, Henry Cavil will make an appearance there where he'll be forced to fend off Superman-related questions (including being a Brit essaying a quintessentially American role) while promoting 'Immortals' again, as he did on several occasions at WonderCon this weekend from con-goers at the Q&A and the press in a post-panel roundtable.