Last weekend was WonderCon, the large, three-day pop culture convention organized by the same people who bring us San Diego Comic-Con every year. Normally, WonderCon takes place in San Francisco. Due to remodeling at its hometown convention center, however, this year's event moved to Anaheim.
It was the first time in its 25-year history that WonderCon took place in Southern California. It was also the first time I was able to attend the convention. More importantly, though, WonderCon 2012 was the place where I sat in on my first Big Hollywood Movie panel.
That must sound odd. I've covered San Diego Comic-Con for three years, but I've never been inside Hall H at the San Diego Convention Center, home to SDCC's Big Hollywood Movie programming. Though I've been to press conferences, I've never seen studios make the big blockbuster push directly to fans via convention panels.
At WonderCon, a friend texted me to see if I wanted to check out the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter panel. Why not? Thanks to rain and horrible Disneyland traffic, I had already missed Adventure Time, which was the only panel I wanted to see.
Together, we walked to Ballroom 3, where my friend immediately remarked that it reminded her of Hall H. There was one difference, though. At shortly before 1 p.m. on a Saturday, it took less than 20 minutes to get through the entry line.
I haven't done the Hall H thing mainly because it is an all-day mission. Lines are long and start early — I've even seen people camp out for a spot — and this causes a problem when you're running around trying to grab so-and-so for an interview.
Lines aside, I'm wary of the panels. After so many utterly disappointing movie experiences over the course of the past decade, I don't want to get excited for anything. Excitement only leads to dismay. I learned that with the Star Wars prequels and again with several different Tim Burton movies and, because I never learn my lesson, again with a slew of other films.
Maybe I was being too hard on the moviemaking world. Not everything could be as bad as Phantom Menace or Alice in Wonderland or, well, maybe I should stop now before the list gets too long.
Inside WonderCon, Ballroom 3 was massive and as dark as a movie theater. People popped out from beside the door with swag, like posters for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Prometheus — nice, thick pieces that would look pretty cool on a bedroom wall. Someone else handed out 3-D glasses. Another person gave us business cards for Weyland Corp.
We fumbled around in the dark until we found two seats behind a big-screen TV set up in the middle of the room. On the screen, two people — Klaus and Mel, who are characters from the film — were talking about a spiritual journey or something that makes no sense when you walk in near the end of a conversation. This was all part of the panel for The Sound of My Voice, a new film about a couple infiltrating a cult; it's due in theaters this April. The film itself looked interesting and I liked when star Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, who co-wrote the script together, appeared to talk about the DIY aspect of making the movie.
The panel, though, was strange. When one audience member mentioned that he had seen The Sound of My Voice at Sundance, someone within earshot of us remarked that he must be working on the film. My friend noted that the questions in general didn't sound like con questions. Certainly, no one fished for spoilers. Everything seemed really well-rehearsed, which was a little disheartening.
The Fox panel, which was listed in WonderCon's guide with no mention of movies or panelists, just a vague promise of “very special guests,” opened with an animated video greeting from Tim Burton, who is co-producing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, and adapted the story for the big screen, hosted the panel, which featured director-producer Timur Bekmambetov and actor Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln). This felt more natural than the previous panel. Someone asked a question while wearing a luchador mask. Someone else managed to work a diss against Twilight into a question and the room roared with applause. When they played a lengthy action sequence from the film, the audience was rapt.
Hearing about the novel's origins was a treat. Grahame-Smith said that while he was touring with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, he noticed that bookstores seemed to have a lot of Abraham Lincoln books as well as copies of Twilight. The session, though, seemed a bit short and left me wanting to know a lot more about the movie.
Right after this segment of the Fox panel, Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost and co-writer of the new Ridley Scott film Prometheus, came out on stage and introduced the director himself. At that moment, it was impossible to resist the excitement in the room. Alien! Blade Runner! Scott is responsible for so many films that have moved the people in this room, myself included. But that wasn't all. Prometheus stars Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender quickly joined the two on stage. It was time to start Instagramming.
I may not have been to a Big Hollywood Movie panel before, but I've been to a lot of huge concerts. The two aren't that different. When you see a band play an arena or stadium, it's the enthusiasm of the crowd that makes the show. If the band messes up on stage, or just doesn't sound quite as good as they do on album, it's hardly noticeable amidst the chorus of screams.
Here at WonderCon, in a room so big that I couldn't see the actual stage, there was a similar feeling. Lindelof, Scott, Theron and Fassbender could have been pushing the worst movie ever made and it wouldn't matter. In that moment, they have some sort of godlike status, where all you can think about is the best work of theirs that you have seen. And when they played the latest trailer for Prometheus, it was like the biggest rock band on the planet just busted out the song that's everyone's jam.
At the end of the panel, I still wasn't sure quite how Prometheus fits into the Alien canon. I can't explain the plot, either. But my friend and I left that room excited for the new movie. Maybe this will ultimately lead to disappointment. Maybe it won't. However, I now intend to see Prometheus when it opens in June. I will likely drag at least one person with me. We will purchase tickets, thus feeding the moviemaking economy. It's also very likely that I will see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and The Sound of My Voice in the theater. The marketing groups have done their job at WonderCon — they sold the tickets well before the reviews hit the streets.