SAN DIEGO – Like a locomotive, when Comic-Con builds up a head of steam, it is powerful, moving and even dangerous. Day Four of Con – when the lime-light of Hollywood shines south from Los Angeles to San Diego and movie studios crank up their promotional machines trying to bury their hooks into the largest single gathering of genre fans in the United States if not the world – is over.
I couldn’t help but laugh at what professor J.R.R. Tolkien might have thought when fans rushed a stage with cameras in hand to catch a personal photo of Frodo (Elijah Wood) or Sam (Sean Astin) while Uruk-Hai, Elves and Rohanians crowd the space along with their make-up specialists. The day was a long one for Tolkien fans and fans of just about anybody else Hollywood related. Shannon Workman, a true TORnado, waited inline for the 2 p.m. New Line Cinema presentation starting about 10:30 a.m.. The craziness happened in Ballroom 20 of the spacious San Diego Convention Center which seats only about 5,000 people. While that number sounds impressive, the supply didn’t come close to meeting the demand. Academy Award winning Halle Berry’s panel opened the day at 10:30 a.m. for Warner Bros. forthcoming Gothika.
The convention opened its outside doors at 10 a.m. leaving the schedule-savvy fans to navigate a few hundred yards of hallway, a triple-tall escalator, an outdoor courtyard and finally another hallway to the doors of Ballroom 20. Needless to say, it was a mad rush further complicated by the rest of the day’s schedule. Besides the Rings cadre of Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Dominic Monaghan, Elijah Wood, Sala Baker, Richard Taylor and the other genius’ from WETA, super stars like Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale (more on her later), Angelina Jolie, Robert Englund, Scott Speedman and yes, a whole lot more were all in attendance. Each of these stars have mega-fans at Con and since it was obvious getting in the magical ballroom was going to be difficult, fans just waited all day. As two fans left a presentation, Warner’s for instance, two more were let in. The folks inside had the option of staying all day, and some did.
As frantic as Rings fans were, Angelina Jolie seemed to draw the very most devotion and perhaps surprisingly, from females. One fan, given a shot at asking a question, told Jolie that she has waited outside starting at 2 a.m. in order not to miss the event. Other fans, and nobody is making this up, appeared at the TORn booth crying because of the long lines and being separated from their family.
Eventually, finally, at last, New Line Cinema took possession of the sacred hall. TORn, thanks to New Line, was able to position itself in a little reserved spot just off stage right in order to bring you, the fans images that are distinctly more than small figures on a big stage somewhere off in the distance. New Line wisely used the time to present its Fredy vs. Jason film with Englund chatting about his work. Their presentation was appreciated or admired by most but the excitement, and this is more than a cliche, was cranked up a notch when the stage was cleared and the Rings portion began.
Richard Taylor was handed the reigns and whipped the audience and the program into a full gallup immediately. He introduced his “boys” from the WETA shop including John Harvey, Daniel Falconer, Greg Tozer, Ben Harker and Bay Raitt. Each helped explain and demonstrate a specialization that they performed for WETA. Taylor also brought out the physically imposing Sala Baker dressed to the nines in his film-ready Uruk-Hai gear, looking suspiciously like the leader of the Helm’s Deep charge who stood on a rock and urged his troops to attack. An armored elf was presented along with a Rider of Rohan and a quaint Hobbit, ready to tend to the vegetable garden.
Taylor and each of his crew the chance to explain how they worked on their particular subject. Taylor colored the crew’s comments with his own, creating a lively dialog that gave the audience into the brilliant madness that is WETA workshops. If you haven’t heard Taylor speak, indulge me as I attempt to explain. His speech is lazer focused as if it were memorized and recited with passion. He speak fast and furious but in a warm New Zealand accent. His passion shines through every phrase as he rattles off mind-blowing numbers and statistics that gives listeners an idea of the size of the Lord Of The Rings production. One believes he worked miracles on pre-production, on set and currently during post-production. Incidently, WETA is busy, busy, busy, running in some fashion 24/7 to complete “Return Of The King.” Somebody just might give them an Oscar.
Taylor on Harvey’s production sword by sitting on them: “John developed a really high-tech method to getting our swords nice and flat. With his technique he can produce 50 swords a day sitting on his ass.”
Details were plentiful and while TORn recorded virtually every word if I try to deliver them all here, I may not get this report finished before Sunday starts.
The crew including an angry-looking Orc threw out some special t-shirts the audience and then brought out a jolly Dominic Monaghan to inspect the work on the Hobbit feet being applied on stage. He rated it a 7 on a 1-10 scale, danced a bit and welcomed Andy Serkis to the stage. Serkis has been lurking around Con signing for fans and generally being as warm as anybody invited to be a guest. He delved a “shut up precious” in his vile Gollum voice much to the delight of the audience and pipped in a Slinker vocal or two during the rest of the event. WETA played his first audition for the audience and explained that after decided to use Gollum his physical approach to the character forced them to scrap everything that had done. “How the %@#$ did I get the job?” he asked after seeing this initial performance. Monaghan also watched with keen interest, apparently having never seen the footage before.
They showed early prototypes of the creature and the few moments of “official” film in FOTR when the “old” Gollum begins following the Fellowship in the Mines of Moria.
Serkis explained the now familiar tale (to TORnados) about the phone call in 1999 that sparked his interest in the Gollum role and the three weeks it would require to accomplish. He remembered Gollum from reading the book in his younger years and before long Peter Jackson was in London explaining that the character would be CG, but that how it would be done was, as yet, unknown.
Serkis talked about his vocals of the character. “I carried the pain in my throat a bit like my three cats at home when they have furballs.”
The stage’s brightest stars were soon introduced as Wood and Astin were brought out to shrill screams of delight. The group discussed how the tech guys and the actors innovated and learned their movie-making techniques as they went along. The actors talked with Serkis about his work and Wood summed it up best: “Despite all of the technology, your performance on set is what made Gollum for me.”
Astin remembered something else. “You ripped my wig off and it really hurt.”
“Good,” Serkis laughed back.
Serkis’ physical fleshing out of the role changed the work of WETA and the look of the character entirely.
Astin talked about his film “The Long And Short Of It” which was received warmly by the knowledgeable fans. Flashes of the film were shown with bits of behind-the-scenes footage.
“The entire five minute short and the entire eight minute making of will be included on the (theatrical version of Two Towers) DVD,” he said.
Jackson on Ian McKellen next appeared on screen. “Hello Comic-Con,” PJ smiled from the filmed presentation. “I would love to be at Comic-Con but unfortunately we are too busy. We do have a three-minute preview of the twelve-minute preview of the three-hour film (Return Of The Kings).”
The preview rolled and most of it was spent talking about the giant size of the battles. Mark Ordesky from New Line appeared on the preview to tease the size of what is to come. “This will truly dwarf Helm’s Deep. Helm’s Deep was really just an opening skirmish.” Ordesky explained that the battles are fought with question, “can we all buy Frodo a chance?”
Honestly TORnados, Ordesky’s question was moving, hinting to me that this last Rings film might just be good. Then came a comment with Astin.
“We all know this is a classic battle of good and evil.” Then Astin, either a good actor or very sincerely asked, “but at what cost will good win?” Honest, cynical reporter MrCere was moved and on the convention floor later more than one fan talked to me, unprompted, about how they felt real emotion at the same time.
Wood, on video, promised “the complete deteriation of Frodo.”
Hopefully our pictures speak louder than words and our gallery should be full of TORn photos. Sean Astin will be on hand all day long Sunday at the “Showmasters” booth to sign for fans. I have tons more to relate about Day Four. AMAZING things happend and you will get a full report…soon.. Quickbeam passed along a fantastic Astin story that I still need to share. The TORn buttons have become a major collectors item, Woods and Monaghan played some video games and practically started a riot by playing the characters designed after them. I also have a whole separate report on some of the non-Tolkien brilliance that is available at Con, call it an essay if you will. Those are just the major points I still need to cover in our Day Four report. Stay tuned.