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(Regular DHD readers know I don’t do geek. But frequent LA Weekly film reviewer and comic book expert Luke Y Thompson does. He spends all year waiting for Comic-Con and this time he’s covering it for me. Here’s his latest report.)

THE FOX PANEL
The Con itself got off to a chaotic start, as a large curtain in the hall H fell down, and had to be thoroughly checked for safety before anything could continue. Ironically, the movie we were waiting for a look at was THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Time did indeed stand still as volunteers would occasionally get on the mic to say “We appreciate your enthusiasm.”

But when things finally got started, things got kicked up. The big screen monitors, for the first time, are in HD, and as if to prove it, they blasted us with fake static before Keanu Reeves strode into the hallway, as usual a lot more animated at panels than he tends to be on film. Some Bill and Ted fans yell out “Wyld Stallyns!” The female population of the room, in bigger numbers than usual this year, screamed at every word he said. As did some guys.

“I love you, Keanu, I fuckin’ love you!” one twentysomething yelled.
Keanu: “I love you, too.”
Guy:”He loves me!”
Keanu: “I love everybody.”

Director Scott Derrickson recalled meeting Robert Wise, director of the 1951 original, at a film fest. Wise advised him to do a horror movie for his first feature, and that became THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. But why update the classic Cold War sci-fi flick, a Christian allegory in which a pacifist alien seems to die before being reborn to save us? Derrickson says the original “commented so well on that early Cold War era… We’re not dealing with the same kind of nuclear threat now, but we can deal with different issues. The idea of an alien who comes to earth as an outsider who assesses humanity is an interesting tale.”

Most kids of the ’80s know the original movie for its catchphrase “Klaatu Barada Nikto,” as George Lucas named three characters in RETURN OF THE JEDI with those words. They may also recognize the giant killer robot Gort, who is still being designed, by the folks at Weta. Apparently he’s “not far from the original concept.”

Mark Wahlberg came out next to promote the videogame movie MAX PAYNE, got almost as many screams as Keanu, but he let his Irish director John Moore do most of the talking. “When the player gives up control of the game, you’ve got to give them something kickass,” he said, pointing out that he wants to maintain a little first-person perspective feel. “Let’s kick the shit out of the camera in the movie, and we’ll make you feel like you’re Max Payne.”

I haven’t played the game, but it looks like THE PUNISHER on sets from THE MATRIX — save for an odd appearance by the Angel of Death, whose existence goes unexplained thus far. No wire work, though. Instead, Moore used a camera that runs at 1000 frames per second to duplicate some of the game’s bullet-time effects.

Finally for Fox, Hugh Jackman emerged, having just finished the new WOLVERINE movie. Strange as it may seem, he’s never come to Con for an X-MEN movie (though he did come for VAN HELSING). In an emotional moment (see photo below), he jumped down from the stage and into the audience to embrace Len Wein, the comic writer who created Wolverine, and thereby, notes Jackman, launched the actor’s career as well.

The clips shown have that X-MEN feel — so why a prequel and not a sequel? Two words: “Berserker rage.” Wolverine became such a big hit with readers in the ’80s because he wasn’t always such a good guy, and could disembowel anyone who looked at him funny. By predating the hero days, you get a badass Wolvie again. And movie fans are probably gonna dig it.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ PANEL
Robert Rodriguez may have left his wife for Rose McGowan, but a large panel upstairs today, fans made it clear they still love him no matter what, showering the director with praise for his indie aesthetic. The large semi-nude photos of McGowan as RED SONJA probably didn’t hurt, either. No other casting for the October-shooting has been announced, but Rodriguez joked he’d like to see Danny Trejo play Conan.

Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, hails from Texas near where Rodriguez lives, and the latter’s dad was born near where Howard came up with the idea for Conan, so Rodriguez has always been a fan, and says he did a spit-take when McGowan came home with a script for the movie, saying, “I really like this, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.”

McGowan: “When I was really little I saw La Femme Nikita and that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up!”

Doug Aarniokoski, Rodriguez’ usual first AD, will be directing. Says Robert: “He gets shots I wouldn’t risk getting.” Rodriguez still has a deal with the Weinsteins that precludes him from helming RED SONJA. Though the two didn’t exactly acknowledge the nature of their relationship, speaking more as if they were muse and auteur rather than lovers, Rodriguez says he was first taken with McGowan at Cannes, where she kept shooting down his every advance and dubbed him “Count Fuckula.”

He’s still on a Machete movie with Danny Trejo, and hopes to make two sequels back to back released as a fake double feature, which may include a fake trailer for a Cherry Darling PLANET TERROR sequel.

REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA
So, this industrial goth, a former child star, a horror movie icon, a slasher movie director, and Paris Hilton all walk into a Comic-Con panel… It seems like there should be a punchline, and perhaps the movie they all worked together on will be it. REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA is an honest-to-God modern-day opera filled with blood, guts, rock ‘n’ roll, and oddness. Set some 50 years from now, it deals with the idea of replaceable body organs being a precious commodity, but those who fail to make their medical payments may find their parts repossessed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Anthony Stewart Head (singing like Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, if you can believe that).

Ogre — the lead singer of Skinny Puppy, rather than the REVENGE OF THE NERDS villain — plays one of three siblings, children of the repo man. The other two are Paris Hilton, stretching a bit by playing a dark brunette; and Bill Moseley, of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, looking surprisingly normal with a good shave and a haircut. Director Darren Lynn Bousman and production designer David Hackl did Saw 2-4 together, and the writers, of both song and script, are Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich. The latter is quite literally this movie’s Richard O’Brien equivalent, a she not only writes, but also plays a creepy pivoyal character known as the Grave Digger, who bears more than a passing resemblance to good ol’ Riff Raff.

The duo wrote the original story in 1999 as a two-person performance piece, but certainly never imagined they’d eventually get Paris Hilton to duet with Sarah Brightman. While the song clips shown leaned heavily on industrial, Skinny Puppy-like tunes, there’s a number sung by Zdunich and Hilton entitled “Grave Robber” that reminds me of Murray Head’s ’80s hit “One Night in Bangkok.”

Mosely was relatively new to musicals, saying, “I had certainly killed a few people before, but singing and dancing was new ground.” He’ll have a chance to sing some more on Ogre’s upcoming solo CD.

The visual mix of big crazy production numbers, cartoony comic book panels, graphic blood and gore, along with a rocking bit and some opera solos (all dialogue is sung) seems likely to produce something that will either be the worst movie of the year, or an immortal cult classic. Making-of clips will soon be appearing at www.repo-opera.com, if you want to see Anthony Stewart Head’s audition.

After the panel ended, we could not leave. Security held us in place so that Paris could exit without being “bothered.” Considering that she entered the public way with an entourage and paparazzi, I’m not sure that bother was a real issue.

I ignored all my own Comic-Con rules. Stupid, stupid. No food. No drink. No time. Even forgot to bring lots of cash, which is the coin of the realm, or, in geek-speak, imagine that every dealer here is a Ferengi. I do park smart, though, and am grateful that San Diego finally has enough parking lots to go around. The trick is to make sure the lot stays open as late as you will be out. Used not to be a problem — Con closed at 7. Now, they go all night.

10:44 AM — The men’s room is already out of hand towels.