Comic-Con 2016: Day One, by David Bax
Much has been made of the fact that big movie studios are increasingly staying away from San Diego Comic-Con. As far as panels in the legendary Hall H go, it’s faster to list which studios are presenting material than which ones aren’t. Yet, despite the diaspora, I had a great movie-centric first day at this year’s convention.
Things didn’t start out that well, though. The first Hall H panel was for Dreamworks and it mostly focused on their upcoming Trolls movie. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake tried to keep things lively but they were up against the impenetrable mediocrity of the footage that was shown. To Dreamworks’ credit, they ignored the trend of studios bringing glorified trailers specially cut for Comic-Con and straight up showed us nearly twenty minutes of the movie. My hats off to them for that. Unfortunately, that footage was packed with blandness. Two one-dimensional characters (she’s plucky, he’s grouchy) set off on a quest, while singing wedged-in songs by Simon & Garfunkel, Gorillaz and others, along with some originals. Luckily for us, though, Dreamworks had a surprise in store. Unannounced, Alec Baldwin showed up to promote an animated feature called Boss Baby. It’s a trifle in which he plays a supersmart baby squaring off against his older brother (voiced by Ralph Bakshi’s grandson). But the two brief scenes they showed had more imagination and laughs than the entirety of the Trolls footage, including a bit where Baldwin’s character uses familiar infant/toddler toys to diagram his nefarious plot.
Next up, and the main reason I wanted to be in Hall H, was Snowden. It’s not the genre-type movie you expect at Comic-Con but, then again, Edward Snowden is one of the world’s most famous geeks. The panel began with a greatest hits sizzle reel of Oliver Stone’s career, with clips from movies he’s written (Scarface) and directed (Wall Street, Natural Born Killers) as well as scenes from other works (The Cable Guy, Seinfeld) inspired by Stone. Stone himself was making his Comic-Con debut (actually, so did Baldwin; there are people very interested in tracking which big names have never attended the convention) and with him was Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Zachary Quinto. All that was shown was a new trailer and the panel itself was a mostly dry but engaging discussion of Snowden, his actions and what it means for us as citizens. Oh, also, Stone said Pokemon Go was totalitarianism.
Finally (at least movie-wise), Luc Besson showed up to promote his movie that comes out next year, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. First, Comic-Con presented him with an Inkpot Award, their way of honoring artists who have contributed greatly to pop culture. It’s something he deserves as a unique and prolific creator and producer whose possible crowning achievement, The Fifth Element, seems to have taken nearly twenty years to gain true respect. Valerian is very much in the vain of that previous movie, from what we saw. The panel began with a bevy of concept art detailing the bizarre titular location and the many, many alien races who inhabit it. This kind of in-depth lore for a fictional world is manna to the Comic-Con type so the room was already primed for the footage. So when we got to see a handful of clips from the upcoming adventures of a smart alec duo (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne) in crazy costumes, running from, after or around a panoply of outlandish, CGI creatures and humans in even crazier costumes, the room went nuts. Valerian looks like the kind of fun, immersive popcorn movie with brains that are rare in American or any other cinema. I fear that, like The Fifth Element before it, the film will be largely underappreciated due to its oddness and will come to be a similar cult classic. For what it’s worth, I will be doing my part to avert that fate.