Lines are par for the course at Comic-Con. There are lines to get into the rooms where the panels are held, lines to buy special merchandise, lines to try out various “activations” that allow fans to step into the worlds of characters from their favorite TV shows. But this year, the lines were too long and Comic-Con was too crowded. And for what?
Of course, it’s up to each individual to decide whether waiting in line for hours for something is worth it to them. For some people, it's absolutely worth it to wait 10, 16 or even 24 hours to see the new footage superhero behemoths like Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. debut at Comic-Con. For some people, it’s worth it to wait 12 hours to get an appointment for the Westworld experience, an activation where fans can pretend they’re about to enter the titular Disney-on-steroids theme park from the HBO TV show. But this year (and of course, this is said every year), the lines were worse than ever. Most of the high-profile experiences at Comic-Con, whether they were hot-ticket activations or getting into Hall H, where all the biggest TV and movie panels are held, had absurdly long lines that were arguably not worth it.
On the activation side, yes, some of these fan experiences were pretty cool. The aforementioned Westworld experience did make it feel as if you were really stepping into the show: Participants entered the lobby of the Delos Corporation in small groups before undergoing a short personality evaluation and receiving either a white hat or a black hat (the color of the hat has special significance for viewers of the show). Then guests were escorted to the Mariposa Saloon, where they tried three strong specialty cocktails served by “hosts” (i.e., actors pretending to be robots, as in the show). It blurred the line between the world of the show and the real world so well that it was disappointing to return to reality — the hosts asked participants about what they were planning to do once they got into the park, but for participants, those questions were tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that no one can actually go into the park. It may also be the only activation that ran on schedule — appointments started and ended precisely when they were supposed to.
The activation for FX’s Legion, a show in the X-Men universe, also blurred the lines between fiction and reality. Guests entered one by one, assuming the identity of the show’s main character, David Haller. The actors in the activation fit guests with a "hololens," a sort of VR rig, and treated guests like untrustworthy patients in psychiatric care. The hololens tech didn’t quite work as intended, especially when it came to helping the guests appear to move things with their minds, but the interplay between the sights in the hololens, the prerecorded sounds and the physical environment and actors created a genuinely unnerving but also super affective experience.
On the other side, though, activations such as those for Blade Runner 2049 and Game of Thrones were cool but not worth waiting in line for hours on end. The 2049 activation started with a VR experience, which felt a lot like a motion-simulator ride with '80s video-game graphics, before leading guests on a walk-through of a buildout of the world, then ending (of course) at a bar. Game of Thrones’ activation this year was great for aspiring social media influencers, since it offered five opportunities to get a kick-ass profile pic or video for Instagram, but that’s pretty much all it was — five photo ops.
Meanwhile, Hall H was an intoxicating place to be, as always. There’s nothing like being in a room with thousands of other superfans who are all getting to see footage from movies and TV shows they love for the very first time. It’s cool to see the casts from those shows and movies onstage, too, but the Q&As are always so short and the stage is so physically far away from most of the audience, that the best part of being in Hall H is seeing the exclusive footage. Or, at least, it used to be exclusive — now, since it’s nearly impossible to prevent 6,500 people from recording the screen with their phones, the studios post most of what they show in the Hall online before the panels are even over. It’s a move that’s in the best interest of fans who can’t make it to Comic-Con or couldn’t get into Hall H that day, but when all the exclusive footage is immediately posted online, it’s hard not to wonder if camping out to get into the hall is worth it, especially when you have to get in line two days beforehand — if you even can get in, and still make the cutoff after hundreds of people join the line ahead of you late in the game or use fake wristbands to cut in the line to get in the hall.
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It didn’t help that most of the footage shown in the hall wasn’t that exciting, either. The crowd in Hall H was definitely excited about Ready Player One, a new Spielberg movie set in a virtual-reality world, the trailer for season two of Stranger Things and, of course, the entire Marvel Studios panel, but the energy in the hall felt surprisingly low most of the day. Fans didn’t seem too enthused by DC Comics’ movie offerings, which this year were footage from Aquaman and a new trailer for Justice League. Their time onstage felt a little bungled — it started off with a list of names/announcements for upcoming movies, such as Wonder Woman II, The Flash: Flashpoint and Green Lantern Corps, but those titles were never addressed again, not even to give the audience an idea of when any of those movies might come out. It didn't help that the panel ended half an hour before it was scheduled to, leaving fans feeling shortchanged.
Even outside of Hall H, lines and crowds were heinous. Walking the exhibition floor was often a nightmare, like being stuck in an alternate reality where everything is molasses and people are constantly yelling at you to keep moving. Sunday afternoon, when the floor has usually cleared out a bit as people have headed home, was a crowded, congested mess. Even the blood drive, which is held about half a mile away from the convention center, saw unprecedented lines.
Attendees could be heard giving the same advice to each other: This year, you can only do one thing a day, if that. That’s not the spirit of Comic-Con — the best part of the Con is wandering around, seeing cool cosplayers, happening across random panels, seeing unexpected interactions. But it’s impossible to do that if you’re stuck in line all day.