The largest exhibition room at the San Diego Convention Center is Hall H, a huge 6,000-plus seater situated at the complex's south end that every year during Comic-Con International hosts the biggest, baddest, and most fan-anticipated movie and TV sneak previews of all. It's gotten to be such a hot ticket that fans regularly camp outside the venue - sometimes all night - in order to secure a good seat, or even to guarantee that they'll get in at all. (The rooms are never cleared after each panel. If people leave, seats open up and more folks waiting in the long lines are allowed inside the venue.) Because we're as geeky to the core as any of them, and because we're a little bit insane, we decided to slug it out with the masses and get up in the middle of the night to brave our way through the madness, the glory, and this year the shocking drama of random violence (?!) that was Hall H on Saturday at Comic-Con. Here is our journal:
3:34 am: Packing up our gear for the excursion. Desperately trying not to wake our one roommate who has half a brain and is sleeping in today.
3:49 am: Elevator conversation: "I love being up at Ridiculous O'Clock!!"
4:22 am: Walking to the convention center down nearly-deserted Sixth Street, downtown. A man with no shirt is banging furiously on the door to a closed restaurant. C'mon, no shirt, no service, buddy.
4:38 am: We've arrived! And we can't get comfy and unfurl our blankets because they are already compressing the line to make more space. Dozens of slumbering fans being rudely awakened and forced to move. It's like a nerd Hooverville.
5:20 am: Relaxing under the tents, at last. Overheard: "I've had a crush on Jennifer Connelly since junior high school!" You and every other straight male under 35.
5:32 am: First cosplayers spotted in line! A very fetching Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy girl-group. They must have pulled an all-nighter to freshen up their outfits. Respect.
6:18 am: Marvel gossip is so hot right now. The name Joss Whedon has been dropped at least fifty times in the last half hour.
6:39 am: Sustenance required immediately. There is even a huge line for Starbucks at the Hilton nearby. Not that anyone is surprised. (It's also the slowest moving line of the con so far.)
7:15 am: Geek breakfast picnic! Best blueberry scones ever. (Or at least it seems like it at the moment.)
7:43 am: Someone's on the phone to her friend who went astray and can't find her now. "I'm here... my hand is up... just keep walking, now turn... go straight... go straight!... my hand is up!"
8:50 am: Conversation has drifted toward estimating chances of upgrading to better seats after the Warner Bros. (read: Harry Potter) panel. A fellow in a Marvel Universe shirt opines: "Lots of Hogwarts robes. That's all I'm sayin'."
9:45 am: Second wind waning. Mass out-breakage of snacks. New hot topic: Wondering just how early they'll let us in. (Warner Bros. panel, first of the day, is still two hours until start.)
10:10 am: Complaints all around that someone must be sabotaging the phone and wifi signals around the con. Jessica Dwyer, reporter for Horror Hound Magazine sitting next to us in line: "I'm more excited about possibly getting a solid internet connection than any of the panels right now."
10:13 am We're headed in! Everyone, take your last look at sunlight for the next several hours. (Or daylight, anyway. It's been overcast all weekend.)
10:24 am: Complete and utter crowd control fail on the part of Hall H ushers. Directions to follow the back curtain to the far side of the room and fill in seats from there is blatantly ignored by several dozen people. Not enough ushers to stop them all. Potty-mouthed and justifiably angry protests from the folks who have been in line for six hours (or more) and are playing by the rules (present company included.)
10:36 am: Still lots of game plans floating around for how to move up to better seats if there is a mass exodus of Harry Potter fans. On the upside: WB swag bag has a nifty Potter t-shirt.
11:08 am: We're giving up our furious barrage of wifi connection attempts. It's not happening. There are simply too many of us trying to connect at once. Comic-Con really needs to work on this, if only for the sake of press who have deadlines to meet.
11:29 am: Loud cheering erupts from about three-quarters of the way back, house left. Heads crane left and right. Our neighbor to the rear: "I think somebody just fell down."
11:37 am: Warnings and announcements over the loudspeakers and on the screens. Remember, folks, no recording of brand new film footage allowed. Meanwhile, if the wifi ever gets better, we'll be checking YouTube out of curiosity to see who broke the rules.
11:50 am: First panel is now five minutes late. The slow clap of restless natives begins.
11:52 am: Someone smuggled in a vuvuzela! And he's blasting it, and not having it taken away!
11:54 am: "In brightest day, in blackest night..." Here we go.
11:57 am: First Green Lantern footage! Approximately one minute of pure nerd crack. (Though as we'll find out compared to other previews later in the day, it's a relatively brief peek.) Ryan Reynolds looks large and in charge. And he's wearing the ring, right now!
12:03 pm: Mark Strong (a.k.a. Sinestro) arguably getting the best response out of the cast. We wonder if in fact he's usurped Hugo Weaving as the most ubiquitous awesome baddie ever.
12:19 pm: A very tiny fan gets Reynolds to recite the Green Lantern oath. He does it with serious conviction, and the little boy's jaw drops. And they point rings at each other! And the kid gets a signed comic from the man himself. He's going to be a rock star at school on Monday.
12:35 pm: Harry Potter time. The Deathly Hallows footage is stunning. Tom Felton has a small army of HP fans wrapped around his little finger. Evil, that Malfoy. (Though in the end, it's a relatively brief panel for such a hugely anticipated franchise finale. Some of the Potter diehards who were here overnight look slightly disappointed.)
1:02 pm: Have determined that you can gauge interest in a panel by observing the foot traffic in the aisles. Lots of foot traffic during the Sucker Punch panel. Sorry, Zack Snyder. (To be honest, while the footage looks gorgeous, it's edited so frenetically that it's hard to figure out what the hell the movie's about. But hey - look, it's Jon Hamm!)
1:21 pm: Whispers are going around of Han Solo's first con appearance ever (!!) coming up later in the day. He co-stars in Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens. Actually, a tall man standing over us is shouting it to his friend in mid-row, so it's not so much a whisper at this point.
2:08 pm: We spoke to the cosplayers from earlier! Lovely ladies. Harley Quinn informs us that she got up at 2 a.m. to get into costume, having spent a ton of time already unraveling her braids from yesterday's Jedi getup. That girl gets mad respect now.
2:37 pm: A strange mix of cautious distrust and quiet curiosity seems to greet the footage from Let Me In, the Americanized remake of the beloved Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In. Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins and Hit-Girl herself, Chloe Moretz look to deliver stunning performances, though.
2:45 Yes, the journal entries are getting fewer and further between. Partially trying to enjoy/absorb panels, and partially trying to cling tenaciously to our fourth wind and stop dropping things, stretching and yawning. It can't be helped. We're all in the same sleepless boat.
2:50 pm: It's time for "Trailer Park," the hour-long feature of previews that serves as an ad-hoc intermission. Droves charge to the bathrooms and to get snacks outside the front doors. Devil (M. Night Shyamalan's latest) is roundly booed when his credit comes up. Ouch!
3:17 pm: Double ouch! Lindsay Lohan has been completely dropped from the cast credits of the brand new Machete trailer.
3:46 pm: We've chosen the time for our own bathroom break, during the Step Up 3D trailer. We believe we've chosen wisely.
4:00 pm: Time for Screen Gems' panel for Resident Evil: Afterlife. Not that we want to miss any footage, but it's become a sudden imperative to make an emergency Diet Coke run to keep our energy up. There is a female Doctor Who #5 (Peter Davison - the one with the celery in his lapel, newbies!) in line and her costume rocks. Meanwhile, a few more people in line to enter the hall are bouncing up and down when they get past the doors.
4:33 pm - Back inside. Resident Evil panel is fielding questions and a smitten young lad sweet-talks Milla Jovovich into issuing her famous "Multipass!" line from The Fifth Element. It's kind of adorable.
4:43 pm - "Security!" Uh-oh, something bad just happened in the next block of seats over from where we're sitting. We can't quite see but it appears to be serious, and ushers are taking way too long to respond. There's an odd sense of non-panic, but quiet urgency.
4:48 pm - What?! Someone stabbed someone else over a seat?! They have to be kidding.
4:50 pm - They're not kidding. We're speechless. It's Comic-Con, people. It's not Soylent Green. Think about what you're fighting over.
5:03 pm - The police have arrived and the stabber is in handcuffs. OMFG! Details are emerging and it appears the scuffle was between two guys fighting over space in the seats. One jabbed the other with a pen near his eye (At first the rumor was in the eye, but no, it's not quite that gruesome) but from what we can tell, the suspect is pretty bloody. Looks like the Harry Potter promo shirt he just picked up is a loss.
5:10 pm - It's going to take a little bit of time for the cops to question witnesses, so the entire program has been put on hold until they sort it out. Sighs and groans all around as the organizers, clearly frazzled, have decided to run the trailers from earlier again while justice runs its course. No one is being allowed to leave Hall H, even if they are done for the day.
5:13 pm - We start chatting with Kate, a film student from Vancouver. She informs us there's a nasty rumor going around that they might cancel the rest of the panels for the day. We agree that we can't imagine that's true, because a riot would surely break out. The last thing anyone wants is more violence at this point.
5:15 pm - "This kind of shit means one thing: Next year the lines are even longer. We're all going to get patted down and searched!"
5:18 pm - Hashtag "#HallHStabbing" is trending on Twitter. Now we've seen everything.
5:28 pm - At long last, the bloody drama is over. Cops clear out and the Universal panel is about to begin. Thank the geek gods that the first film up is Paul, the sci-fi comedy from beloved Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Their footage is pure genius. The crowd goes wild when a shot of their characters actually attending Comic-Con hits the screen. (Look, we're right there, right now! It's meta-awesome!), and their panel is killer. Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader. Sigourney Weaver!!! Ellen Ripley is on the stage. All is once again right with the world.
6:01 pm - The second film in Universal's slot is Cowboys & Aliens, and Jon Favreau is like everyone in the room's favorite uncle. They love him, and he loves them right back. Not only has he brought rough-cut footage from the film (They've only been shooting for a few weeks), but he's brought Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and, holy shit, the rumors were true. HARRISON FRAKKING FORD. Brought out in handcuffs, acting like he has no idea what's going on! Hilarious. (And as it turns out, totally coincidental considering the incident that just happened, as we find out later, they planned that gag long before as a joke that Favreau had to put him in handcuffs to get him here because Ford has never done a con appearance before.) Regardless of the circumstances, the crowd's reaction registers at least a 4.0 on the Richter scale. Ford seems a bit overwhelmed by the reaction, too. A lovely moment.
6:40 pm - The Marvel movies panel begins. At long last, the big guns have arrived, and we're going to be honest about this but we've stopped logging times in this journal. There's too much weapons-grade awesome taking place for us to bother, but we'll give you the highlights:
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- Captain America: The First Avenger: The teaser is short but hella sweet! Chris Evans hurls that shield at the screen and the crowd eats it up. (He also looks fit as a fiddle - look at those guns!) We take back what we said earlier, because Hugo Weaving is here and he could still give Mark Strong a run for his money. (We also get a brief clip of him as Red Skull, rocking an accent he's described as a bit Werner Herzog, a bit Klaus Maria Brandauer. It's brilliant.)
- THOR! Probably the last person anyone would expect to see at Comic-Con (besides Harrison Ford) is Kenneth Branagh, but the Shakespearean legend has brought his take on the Marvel universe and the 3D footage is sublime. Chris Hemsworth owns that hammer for all it's worth. They roll the extended preview a second time and it is a massive hit with the crowd.
- And finally, the monster reveal everyone's been waiting for: Avengers assemble! The ambitious film that will bring all these heroes together hasn't even begun shooting yet, but we finally get to see them all on stage: Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) introduces Evans, Hemsworth, Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and, oh damn, you're not going to let Tony Stark take over, are you?! You kind of have no choice. Robert Downey Jr. saunters out and the crowd eats it up with a spoon. He continues the introductions, revealing Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), the much-rumored and now confirmed Mark Ruffalo (taking over as The Hulk) and last but not least, fan favorite director Joss Whedon, who admits "All of my life, I've had a dream... and it was never this good." We're right there with you, Joss.
8:13 pm - Okay, so we lied. One more time-stamped entry, as we have finally vacated Hall H exhausted, bleary-eyed but still riding the tide of nerdgasms and vapor-trails of caffeine. While stopped at a street crossing, a young man asks if we heard the gossip going around about a stabbing in Hall H, and if it's true. Well, seeing as how he's talking to someone who was there when it happened, yeah, dude, it's true. Gossip is probably a little bit overblown, but it happened. He just takes another bite of his Pinkberry and shakes his head. "Why would someone do that? This is Comic-Con! This is the happiest day of my life."