Aziz Ansari did something gutsy at Comic-Con. He dared to make a joke about “The Dark Knight Rises,” Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated next Batman film, in front of a roomful of comic-book-obsessed movie geeks.
“They screened, like, the first 15 minutes earlier today. I don’t know if you guys saw that, but that was amazing,” Ansari said, clearly in jest, while participating in a panel for his own film, “30 Minutes or Less.” And yet, for a quick second, before the laughter that inevitably followed, each of the 6,500 people packed into the San Diego Convention Center’s Hall H seemed to be having the same thought: “What? I missed that?”
It was a telling moment at the pop culture mega-summit, where the movie slate this year was arguably more notable for the big, geek-friendly studio projects that weren’t promoted via high-profile panel discussions — “The Hunger Games,” “John Carter,” “The Avengers,” and, yes, “The Dark Knight Rises,” among others — than for the ones that were. Every movie fan who trekked to San Diego had to be hoping for an unexpected surprise, so much so that they were even willing to briefly believe Ansari when he dropped an unexpected Batman bomb.
In fact, buzzy TV shows such as HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and AMC’s “Walking Dead” seemed to generate much more interest than most of the films promoted this year, with the possible exceptions of the “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Multiple people reported that they were unable to make it into the room for presentations on even the nichier TV shows; one friend told me he got shut out of the panel for “Eureka,”the SyFy series with a loyal but decidedly modest audience. And on the final Sunday of Comic-Con, when TV panels about “Glee,” “Supernatural” and “Doctor Who” occupied the schedule at Hall H, more seats were filled than they had been on the film-dominated day prior, when stars such as Francis Ford Coppola and Charlize Theron took the stage.
Yet another sign that TV is beginning to trump cinema in the pop cultural universe? Perhaps. Or just an indication of what happens when major studios don’t bring their A-games to Comic-Con.
Having said all that, several films still managed to make strong cases for themselves at Comic-Con. While I didn’t catch every single movie dog-and-pony show, I sat through a good number of them in Hall H. These are the six that struck me as most promising.
It’s still unclear whether it makes sense to revisit the Spidey origin story when it was such a huge, Tobey Maguire-helmed success in theaters only a decade ago. But the footage presented during the panel at least confirmed that it will be intriguing to watch fine young actor Andrew Garfield give Peter Parker his best shot next July.
Ridley Scott’s return to the sci-fi arena and first foray into 3D generated some good buzz after the masses saw snippets of footage from this film, billed as a pseudo-prequel to the “Alien” franchise. The outer-space imagery suggests that Scott is back in his “Alien”/“Blade Runner” zone with this one, which releases in 2012.
This brainy action-thriller — starring Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver involved with some seedy characters — already made its mark at the Cannes Film Festival, where Nicolas Winding Refn took the best director prize. The intense, occasionally brutal footage enhanced its status as a film to watch this fall.
Steven Soderbergh working with mixed martial artist Gina Carano? Yes, and in an action flick that could turn Carano into a mainstream star — or at least thrill moviegoers who want to watch her go head-to-head (among other body parts) with Michael Fassbender. The footage looks smashing, in every sense of the word.
A pair of filmmaker juggernauts — Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson — joined forces in Hall H to present this one. And while purists devoted to the original work of comic artist Georges Rémi still may be uncomfortable with a movie adaptation, I thought the footage looked appropriately old-fashioned and high-tech in 3D.
In what was decidedly the most bizarre movie panel at Comic-Con this year, Francis Ford Coppola introduced the surreal horror film that he plans to take on the road this fall and screen with live musical accompaniment. (Electronic artist and Baltimore native Dan Deacon is co-composer.) But here’s the freaky catch: Coppola plans to change the viewing experience of the 3D digital film each time, tweaking musical cues and scenes in real time, based on audience response.
His demonstration of this “Choose Coppola’s Own Adventure” experience involved watching Coppola struggle to move files on his iPad and listening to the filmmaker and his star, Val Kilmer, repeatedly chant “Nosferatu” while the clips rolled. “Twixt” may wind up being a train wreck, but it could be the most fascinating cinematic train wreck of the year.