After being in Comic-Con outer space for so long, I have made my descent and come back to the rich soil that I call home. Ah, my tired roots are glad to be planted back in sunny L.A.! Now that I’ve caught my breath and gotten some hindsight, I’m ready to spill the beans on the real deal of this festive San Diego weekend.
In years past I’ve hit the Chicago Comic-Con, but that was a paltry pittance compared to this one! Being surrounded by the most talented and revered people in the comics industry is just a gas… If there were such a thing as a big “Fanboy Volume Dial” inside my head, it was cranked up to 10 for three days straight.
I met some of my heroes face-to-face; Scott McCloud, author of the quintessential Understanding Comics and the wonderful Richard and Wendy Pini (creators of the best fantasy graphic novels of all time, Elfquest).
Reunions are wonderful when you love and miss the people you are separated from, and it was truly extraordinary to be reunited with my old pals Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Hellblazer) and Jill Thompson (Sandman, the Scary Godmother series). Congratulations to Jill on her Eisner Award!!
The nicest people are the ones you’ve never even met, and this time was no exception. All the IGN folks were great to hang out with: Den Shewman, Genelle Larkin, Chris Bernier, and the very quiet Brian Zoromski. Many thanks to the lovely Lisa Stone for that cocktail… boy I needed it!
Friday night many of us gathered for a great dinner at Dick’s Last Resort with other Webheads from the best independent film sites on the Net. Our table was basically a Who’s Who including Patrick Sauriol, Widgett Robinson and Suni Sidhu from Corona’s Coming Attractions, Dave Davis and Nick Nunziata from CHUD.com (watch those flying forks, okay Nick?), Kenneth Plume from FilmForce, and Sean Jordan from ZENtertainment. Best of all was meeting fellow Tolkien fan Joram Manka from Ringbearer.org (Hoom-hrrrm, that boy is so tall I’m certain he’s been drinking my Ent draughts), a delightful fellow indeed. By the way, if you’ve never eaten at Dick’s, make sure somebody explains it to you before you go.
Saturday morning was dominated by the “Caught in the Net” panel discussion. Tom DeSanto (Executive Producer of X-Men) and Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) joined Harry Knowles (Aint-it-Cool-News), Chris Gore (FilmTheat), the eloquent David Poland (Rough Cut), along with Nick and Patrick. Den had the unenviable position of moderating this Panel which focused on one primary topic: The journalistic ethics and working relationships of internet film sites. There were some moments of mud-slinging that threatened to derail the discussion, but Kevin very adroitly planted a cap on it by saying, “C’mon dudes, just do your thing and don’t stoop to the other guy’s level.” That summed it up nicely in my mind.
Let’s get some perspective here– with a limitless tool like the Internet, the more liberties people have the more you’ll see abuses. Some on the Panel made a call for a set of communal journalistic principles to rein-in the alleged bad behavior of certain Webheads. Realistically, I doubt that call will ever be answered. It will be interesting to see if Patrick’s prediction comes true… that within several years all the internet’s independent voices are doomed to be co-opted by large corporations (a dismal Orwellian concept to be sure). We’ll see.
After that, the energy picked up a great deal Saturday afternoon when Sir Ian McKellen showed up to surprise all the fans at the Marvel booth. Bryan Singer was also on hand as was Chris Clairmont (beloved author of the X-Men comics). It took mere seconds for a flood of fans to descend upon the Marvel booth… with cameras and news media hounds everywhere! What a great vibe.
Kudos to Marvel’s wonderful team of Matt Ragone and Adam Fenton for keeping things sane while Sir Ian was surrounded by the enthusiastic hordes.
While there I locked eyes with the new toys that Marvel has designed for the X-Men craze (extremely cool oversized figures and such), and then had a great conversation with Jesse Falcon. He works with merchandising and was totally stoked about Toy Biz doing the new action figures for The Lord of the Rings films. What better person to reveal the secrets of Peter Jackon’s creature designs? Jesse and his cohorts have certainly seen more than WE have, so I asked him the eternal question: “Wings or no wings?” But alas, he didn’t know. Don’t worry, I’ll get that information out of him sooner or later…
Further thoughts on LOTR: As you’ve read in my earlier report, the sheer volume of people attending the New Line screening was record-shattering. Joram and I were lucky enough to accompany Sir Ian and his entourage as we all snuck in the back door just at the last minute (as Vincent D’Onofrio and screenwriter Mark Protosevich of The Cell were stepping off the stage). In the darkness, we glided through the curtains and knelt down in the front row while the wonderful images played on the screen.
What a delicious irony… We were packed in a roomful of the most excited Tolkien fans, all of them drooling at the 6-minute clip… and not one of them knew that Gandalf was himself kneeling in the front row right under their noses!
And like I said, to see their collective surprise when he showed up in the spotlight was BRILLIANT! They went from total shock to wild adulation in a nano-second. You could feel the energy in the room snap like a loud cord being cut. I almost fell over. Some memories burn in your mind forever… and this one I will surely hold onto for twice as long.
The wonderment continued as Joram and I were invited to have lunch with Bryan Singer and Ian McKellen. The amiable Tom DeSanto was also there, as was John Cassell from Stan Lee Media. I was very impressed with the red-headed actor who played the young James Whale in Gods and Monsters, a fellow by the name of Brandon Kleyla. The camaraderie between Sir Ian and Bryan is infectious, and I can only imagine what it was like on the set of X-Men!
The warm San Diego sun glowed across our table as we snacked on shrimp, chicken, humus, and refreshing lemonade. It was literally the perfect moment for a Tolkien fan like me to be outdoors sitting next to Gandalf the Grey, munching on savory edibles in the summer afternoon. I felt like I had been transported to Bag End, were it not for the sound of the ships wafting over from the adjacent San Diego Bay.
I wondered if Sir Ian liked my blue hair. I asked in earnest, “Do you think it’s cool or does it look foolish?”
He tickled his fingers through it and replied, “Oh yes, it’s lovely… it looks rather like the color you would find on a duck.”
Laughter from all sides.
“So what can you tell me about the Balrog?” I asked, changing subjects. “Wings or no wings?”
His reply: “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen in a movie monster! I can’t tell you whether it has wings or not because I’ve only seen it from the neck up. But what I have seen is remarkable. You will all be very surprised at what they’ve come up with.”
So there you have it, straight from the Servant of the Secret Fire.
There were some things noticeably missing from the New Line reel. I wish we had seen more scenes from what we know has already been photographed. There was not much more Weathertop, no Rivendell, no fighting scenes from outside the Black Gate, no pictures of Hugo Weaving as Elrond. And where was the angelic Cate Blanchette as Galadriel? We saw a publicity still of her (from last year’s Oscar telecast) but that was it.
After reading all those juicy Spy Reports from sharp-eyed Ringers in New Zealand, I was rather looking forward to something new! I’m so eager to see more of the John-Rhys Davies makeup after what was shown on Saturday. Imagine this: If you could take every perfect, stylized Gimli painting by the Brothers Hildebrant or Darrel K. Sweet, and put it into the flesh with complete fidelity, you would have the amazing Gimli that I saw.
I’m so damn impatient… I want to see more NOW! Perhaps I speak for all of us when I say this.
Here I have to say something about Jeffrey Wells (Reel.com). Jeffrey, Jeffrey, Jeffrey, what are we to do with you? Early on Saturday morning I sat next to the acerbic Net journalist and watched uncomfortably while he ate a breakfast muffin. The problem was, he kept wiping his greasy fingers all over his jeans. Ever hear of a NAPKIN, Jeffrey? [Heh-heh-heh… just poking fun, kiddo.]
Oh, and Lou Ferrigno was there too. Yes, that’s right, the very same “Incredible Hulk” from the 1977 T.V. series. I’m afraid I have to be the bearer of bad news– he hasn’t aged well at all.
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That’s about it. I hope you folks enjoy the pictures I took… Next year promises to be even more wacky and wonderful, so be there!
Much too hasty,