WonderCon, the annual pre-summer comics and film convention, kicked off Friday in San Francisco. WonderCon's first day is perfect for first-time con-goers or for con-goers hoping to ease themselves into the con experience. The con opens later, the lines are more manageable, the exhibitor's hall actually walkable. Con-goers can check a variety of comic book related panels, including several by the Comics Art Conference, pop-culture academics that take comics and the effects of comics on popular culture, seriously. Many con-goers, however, come to Wonder-Con for the movie panels. Con organizers usually pack the Saturday with five or six (or more panels), but usually save a spot for a summer tentpole for the last Friday panel. This year, the organizers gave 'Green Lantern' (out June 17th, pride of place).
The 'Green Lantern' panel (and the roundtable that followed), however, closed out a long day that began with a roundtable dedicated to 'Hanna,' the action-thriller out next Friday starring Saoirse Ronan and directed by Joe Wright ('The Soloist,' 'Atonement,' 'Pride & Prejudice'). In the roundtable, we delved into Wright's influences (Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, and David Lynch, among others), the script-to-screen process, and his fondness for long takes. Interestingly, it was Ronan who brought Wright into the project, sending him Seth Lochhead's script. Once Wright signed on, he worked bring the script back to Lochhead's original, more ambiguous vision while also making the fairy tale elements more explicit.
Wright, lauded for his use of long takes, specifically an eight-minute, Dunkirk-set sequence in 'Atonement,' talked about two long takes in 'Hanna.' In one, he follows Ronan's character as she makes her way through a crowded, congested Moroccan market and, later, a sequence involving Eric Bana's character that tracks him through his arrival in Berlin and a confrontation with several armed men. For the latter sequence, Wright cited budgetary concerns dictating the single-take approach. The single take allowed him to shoot the sequence in one day (rehearsals in the morning and afternoon, takes in the late afternoon/early evening) what would have taken him four days and forty set-ups.
Back at Wonder-Con proper, the con center's biggest room, the Esplanade Ballroom, hosted the first panel of the day, 'Falling Skies,' the forthcoming science fiction/action series produced by Steven Spielberg. 'Falling Skies' starts from a "what if?" premise: What if, instead of successfully beating back and defeating an alien invasion (e.g., 'Independence Day,' 'War of the Worlds'), the aliens win, defeating the military (ours and everyone else's), shattering the political structure, and, through the use of an electromagnetic pulse, knocking out all electrical equipment. With executive producer Mark Verheiden, writer Melinda Hsu-Taylor, and actor Drew Roy on hand, con goers saw several extended clips from the series debuting on TNT in mid-June, beginning with a teaser (already seen in promos) that leads to a sequence featuring Noah Wylie as Tom Mason, a history teacher turned guerilla fighter and resistance leader, and his son, Hal (Roy), as they attempt to retrieve food supplies (it fails miserably). Other extended scenes introduced a love interest for Hal, Moon Bloodgood's character, a pediatrician-turned-resistance-physician, and an attempt to save the son of another resistance member from the aliens that featured our first glimpse of the aliens' mech suits.
In follow-up comments, Verheiden and Hsu-Taylor (a former 'Lost' writer) mentioned a key editorial mandate: No flashbacks to life before or immediately after the alien invasion. Verheiden also described the "no electricity" rule (due to the aforementioned EMP), nature of the resistance movement dubbed the "Massachusetts Militia" (the original title of 'Falling Skies' was 'Concord'), and the decision-making process behind the aliens' appearance (they have six legs) and the challenge of mixing CG aliens with their practical counterparts. Other questions and comments focused primarily on the characters, their backstories, and their relationships.
A key question that wasn't asked or discussed (but should have been) was whether subsequent episodes and, presumably seasons, of 'Falling Skies' can retain the high-end production values shown in the pilot. For better or for worse, TV viewers have come to expect film-quality visual effects. A TV series that promises to show us aliens and human vs. alien battles, not to mention interpersonal conflicts between the various human characters, on a weekly basis has to deliver on that promise, both dramatically (e.g., characters, story) and visually (e.g., effects, practical and otherwise).
After showing an unseen episode of 'Nikita,' the Maggie Q-starring spy-thriller TV series that airs on the CW, Wonder-Con turned the floor to Geoff Johns, Chief Creative Officer for DC comics and current 'Green Lantern' scribe (Johns is considered instrumental in reviving Green Lantern, co-executive producing the live-action feature), Ryan Reynolds, the star of 'Green Lantern,' and Blake Lively, Reynold's co-star and the one-time love interest (as well as employer) of Reynold's Hal Jordan character.
With so little 'Green Lantern' footage seen so far, due presumably to unfinished visual effects, raucous cheers understandably erupted from the several thousand con-goers in attendance when the lights dimmed and the phrase "Sector 2814" appeared onscreen. The first scene focused on Jordan's predecessor, Abin-Sur, his brief, but ultimately deadly battle with a barely seen force, his escape to Earth, and Hal Jordan's Abin-Sur's ring, a ring that grants its wearer superpowers. The next scene showed Jordan attempting to activate the power battery that, in turn, powers the ring before being whisked off to the Green Lantern Corps' home planet, Oa. There, Jordan meets Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), takes in the sights and sounds of Oa before listening in to Sinestro's (Mark Strong) speech to the assembled Corps about one o the film's villains, Parallax.
Although some of the footage on Oa still looked unfinished and/or under-rendered, everything else looked polished (or close to polished). (Non-con-goers can find an abridged version of the WonderCon footage here). The rapid-fire shots that ended the extended clip also looked just as polished. That alone will help settle some of the concerns expressed on movie blogs since Reynolds covered in a CG Green Lantern suit graced (if "graced" is the right word) and the first teaser trailer gave moviegoers and web surfers pause about the visual viability of a Green Lantern film, even one months away from completion. Whether 'Green Lantern's' mix of effects-driven space opera and earthbound conflict will succeed is still anyone's guess.
The subsequent Q&A and roundtable allowed Reynolds to display the rapid-fire wit, self-deprecating humor, and charm that make him a likeable, popular performer, one likely to become even more popular after the debut of 'Green Lantern.' Despite insistent pleas, Reynolds refused to show off his six-pack, but he otherwise answered the questions offered up by con-goers with aplomb and, at times, humility. He ably dodged questions about the big-screen appearance (or rather re-appearance) of Deadpool, the supporting character that appeared in 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' and Marvel Comics staple. Asked about the humor seen in the clips, Reynolds said they didn't want to make 'The Dark Knight.' They also didn't want to make an out-and-out comedy, but rather something in between, tone wise.
Unsurprisingly, Lively received less attention from con-goers, but cited her character's positive qualities as a central reason for taking the role. She repeatedly cited working with the "Matrix rig," a device first created for the 'Matrix' films that allows harnessed users to engage in above-the-ground acrobatics as one of the highlights of her experience working on 'Green Lantern.' If 'Green Lantern' succeeds at the box office, Lively will get the chance to use the rig more fully as Jordan's future nemesis, Star Sapphire.