Archive for July, 2012


Review by C.J. Bunce

Thursday evening brought in the newest national movie theater marathon, this time for Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.  Starting at six p.m. with Batman Begins, followed by The Dark Knight and culminating with a midnight showing of the new feature film, fans of Nolan’s vision of Batman surely got their fix.  Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is as it’s described–dark.  But none as dark and bleak as the third and final installment.

Can you have fun at a movie that is so dark?  The “dark” I am referring to in the context of Nolan’s film is “the bleak future ahead.”  Batman films before Nolan also were dark, but in a fantasy, comic book way.  I miss the sleek Batmobiles of earlier films.  To be fair, the current various DC Comics Batman series are pretty dark–gruesome at times–so maybe movies are just mirroring the evolution of the comic stories.  There’s a bit of a battle between making your story seem real and still have the rules of comic books apply.  Battle scenes in the current franchise, with Tumbler tanks that could be right out of an Iraq army base, take away some of the fun, the fantasy, of watching superhero films.  I want my Batman movies to be not only dark but also fun, and I am looking for escapism, not realism.  If you have the same mindset, can you still have fun watching the new Batman movie?  Sure.  What I am not sure of is whether you may like The Dark Knight Rises more were you to see it without the benefit of the Dark Knight Marathon.

   

I attended last night’s screening of the full marathon with borg.com writer Art Schmidt.  And we had fun.  Crowds at these big screenings really want to be there, and really want to like the new movie.  But where I had the most fun was re-watching Nolan’s second installment–The Dark Knight–on the big IMAX screen.  And I think the crowd simply responded, audibly, better to The Dark Knight than The Dark Knight Rises.  Would I have liked The Dark Knight Rises more had it not been viewed at the end of such a solid film as The Dark Knight?  That’s the question I am left pondering.

I’d seen both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in the theater when first released.  I was not a fan of Batman Begins, other than I liked Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox.  I will acknowledge in the first two films the nods to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One as a positive thing.  I should have liked Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul, but didn’t.  Last night, in the right mindset for a fun evening of movie watching, I was pleasantly surprised that I found Batman Begins to be better than I had remembered from viewing it in its initial release.

But it was installment two, The Dark Knight, that proved to be the highlight of the entire night.  It cemented the reasoning for Heath Ledger being awarded an Academy Award for his performance as the Joker.  His performance was both creepy and comical, despite his grim, psychotic nature.  But Aaron Eckhart’s brilliant performance as Harvey Dent was not far behind.  The writers of this “trilogy” seem to me to have screwed up somehow.  Why?  After watching all three films the real hero of the trilogy is unquestionably Harvey Dent.  Despite him turning criminal after going through the murder of his fiance and the destruction of his face, he is entirely a sympathetic victim who acted heroically until his world was devastated.  But this is all wrong–the hero of a Batman trilogy should be Batman, plain and simple.  After watching the newest film, The Dark Knight Rises, we are left with a vision of Batman as a whiny adult who could not get beyond early tragedy in his life.  Sure, he had it tough, and yes, he is a sympathetic character, but the character never really moves beyond the mindset of the young Bruce Wayne sitting in a cave.  Classic Batman stories do not rely on Bruce Wayne moping around about his problems–he is able to push them aside and help other people.  For me, the fatal flaw in Nolan’s trilogy is this basic thread at the core of Bruce Wayne’s character.  What Batman fans want is a movie where Batman gets to be the hero, where he saves the day, and leaves a better world behind.

Most of The Dark Knight Rises does not even feature Christian Bale in the Batsuit.  I’ve always thought a detective story focusing solely on Bruce Wayne and his analytical skills would be a great idea.  For a book, yes.  But now I know it doesn’t work for a movie.  Fans want to see Batman being Batman.  And not being beaten to a pulp by an ugly thug who has little motivation or character development.  Tom Hardy’s Bane is just bad for the sake of being bad.  Without revealing details, I think a plot twist at the end is predictable, and a last-minute attempt to make us feel sorry for Bane is too little, too late.  You cannot really even tell what actor is playing Bane.  The marquis credits say it is Tom Hardy, a solid young character actor who has been in Star Trek Nemesis, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Blackhawk Down and Inception, but how would any of us know who he was with that face-covering breathing apparatus?   What does that thing even do?  He acts like Darth Vader, even holding someone up by his neck.  He sounds like Ian McKellan’s Gandalf.  His dialogue is muffled.  He speaks in loud shouts like the ringmaster at a circus.

Marion Cotillard’s character Miranda seemed to be an afterthought in the script, a character whose actions would have insulted the intelligence of the Wayne and Fox characters from prior films.  There is no chemistry between Wayne and Miranda, yet out of nowhere they are a couple—right after Wayne speaks longingly of Rachel (who was killed by the Joker in the last film), and while we movie goers see him developing some attraction to Anne Hathaway’s Salina Kyle.  (Seeing Batman Begins back to back with The Dark Knight also showed why Katie Holmes was better cast as Rachel than Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Caine, Bale, Freeman, and Oldman all were underused in The Dark Knight Rises, and when used they play caricatures of their roles from past films, even repeating scenes from the past two films, often doing things that seem out of character, like Caine turning his back on Bruce, like Gordon turning his back on Batman.  Matthew Modine added to his list of drab roles by playing a police officer who came off as annoying and irrelevant.  There are points where you don’t know whether to cheer the street mob or the police, the bad guys or the good.  Ultimately everything becomes a free-for-all and Nolan tries to make Gotham a cross between the Holocaust and New York City in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a nice opportunity to shine in the film, but too much time is spent on his character, and not enough on Bruce Wayne or Batman, where the focus should have been.  Throughout the movie you can’t help but look for how Gordon-Levitt will fill Batman’s shoes one day–like Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt in the last Indiana Jones movie.  Note to Hollywood producers: if you are going to reboot your franchises every five years you don’t need to worry about taking valuable screen time to build up having younger characters pick up the reins for the title roles in future movies.

The best part of the movie was without a doubt Anne Hathaway as Salina Kyle.  Although there were a few directing decisions that seemed like missed opportunities—like what could have been a more overt and less subtle switch from innocent maid to deceitful thief in a key early scene—her dialogue was the best of anyone’s in the film and her performance was also spot on.  Her character had chemistry with Wayne, and if there was a saving grace to the movie it was the scenes of Batman and Catwoman together.  Hathaway seemed literally to bring out better acting by Bale.

One good scene had Fox introduce Wayne to some new gadgetry, straight out of any Q scene in a 007 movie.  Cameos from actors in past movies were also a nice addition, added some fun to the film, and the story at least made an effort to try to tie up storylines from early films.

Despair and hopelessness accounted for a long film that I thought would never end.  Once it got to an ending, the creators could not decide which ending to use, so they used them all.  The sound was loud throughout without letting up, lots of thumps and bass notes to tell you when you’re supposed to feel angst or fear.  I know operatically the third scene of a three-part work often can have a large gothic, epic feel winding up to a conclusion, but the film did not feel like an ending, more like another installment in a continuing franchise.  But the foundation of this third installment rests on the proposition that Harvey Dent was a bad guy in installment two.  Harvey Dent was a victim who turned bad in the end.  Gordon and Wayne do the right thing by not revealing the criminal acts he committed after his life was ruined.  After all, Harvey Dent was dead.  Yet so much of The Dark Knight Rises hinges on Gordon’s conflicts with this decision to keep this quiet.  In the big scheme of things it’s not the gravity needed to support a film.  It’s not enough to support a story and what happens to cause Gotham to fall apart.

The crowd had a good time but there sure was a lot to discuss afterward.  Ultimately disappointment was what I walked away with for the new film, happy that I got to see The Dark Knight movie in the theater again, and it really left me looking forward to a new director and a new vision for future Batman films.

The Dark Knight Rises at our theater included a great, extended trailer for the next James Bond 007 film, Skyfall, including revealing the new Q actor as the young Ben Whishaw from The Hour—a very cool switch-up from the older characters playing Q in the past.  We also saw a previously released trailer for The Hobbit, which looked great, and a fun preview for Expendables 2.  The big reveal we were waiting for was the teaser trailer for DC Comics’ coming Superman reboot Man of Steel, and it was disappointing–very bland and unremarkable for what we heard was to be an exciting new preview.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Let me start near the end.  I stood amid a sea of at least 200 people at 9 pm on Friday the 13th outside of a Petco Park gate.  Around me were a man dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, a man disguised as a zombie, a man wearing the uniform of someone in special ops, a trio of lovely ladies and many more people in smart running shoes.  The metal gates leading inside opened and we moved into a small area that normally serves as the queue area for a concession stand, and now had a chain-link fence serving as a cage holding back about 20 zombies.  A man struggled and wrestled with two more zombies on a leash.  A bullhorn squawked and a voice advised us to remain calm, as this was a safe zone. One of the zombies on its leash grabbed its handler and started to feed. His zombie sister joined him in his feast.  The chain-link cage opened and zombies poured into our safe zone.  The man on the bullhorn exhorted us all to run and run now.

I became pretty familiar with the words and actions in this first room.  (“We’re with FEMA, we know what we’re doing” was my favorite backhanded political swipe.)  On Friday afternoon, I stood just beyond that first section of “The Walking Dead Escape” in a room with body bags, a couple of closed-circuit TVs showing a continuous loop of zombie disaster scenes and a small, narrow pathway leading to the next part of the course.  A cloud of fog, assuming the breezes flowing through the park did not blow too swiftly in those couple of minutes, met the survivors as they frantically pushed their way inside.  I shambled along in the fog, they found my business casual zombie presence and avoided my reach as I swung around my one good arm and tried to catch people in my grasp.  They screamed and dodged and I became the center of an island of dread with streams of survivors running around both sides of me.  The zombies from the cage would wander in and join me for a little before returning to their posts.

(Full disclosure, as our training instructed us, I figured out that I had my right collarbone snapped when I became infected and could only move my left arm and my head stayed anchored to my shoulder.  I’m a method zombie.  Also, I didn’t try too hard to catch anyone, because if you were trying to avoid the zombie hoard, it would suck to get touched by the first “wild” one you saw.  However, in one of the first batches of people to come through the course, one guy got scared and actually jumped back into my chest, then jumped back the way he came and ran scared as I stifled a laugh while continuing my forward shuffle.  I think that was the only real contact I made.)

Eventually, the zombie horde got bored with just this sample of the carnage and followed the survivors further and further into the course.  We found other places to set ourselves up and give the people running another chance to avoid the undead.  We did anything to prolong the excitement of the chase and to avoid the wait between waves.  When the survivors escaped, we took pictures of each other and I even took the time to sit by a working electrical outlet (you wouldn’t expect that during the apocalypse) and charged my phone.

This reflection on the survivors getting to have all the fun got me to thinking, why shouldn’t I be a survivor?  Why shouldn’t I go back and try my hand at surviving the zombie apocalypse?  So, once I finished my shift, I emerged into the daylight, my makeup fading and my humanity returning.  I found the box office, used my right arm that now worked perfectly to pull out my wallet and I tried to figure out the spookiest time possible.  The last shift in the dark of night on Friday the 13th fit the bill.

Surviving became a blur.  Once I jogged through the first gauntlet, we all piled up behind the first set of obstacles – rope nets and a big slide – and were thinned out so the horde of survivors didn’t overwhelm the horde of zombies and to make the experience more fun. We ran around burned out cars.  We crawled under obstacles and through chain link tunnels. Zombies waited around corners.  Zombies wandered around mazes of construction barriers throughout every level of Petco.

I did perform one heroic deed and I have to thank the zombie for it.  A maze of barriers stood in front of me and about four other survivors.  I darted inside and the lone zombie guard turned toward me, allowing himself to be distracted by middle-aged-man flesh, leaving the path to freedom open for the others.  They ran through without any worry and I managed to escape his grasp.  Three of the survivors, the same trio of lovely young ladies from the beginning of the course, thanked me for my heroism as we continued our escape.  I felt my breast swell from more than just being out of shape and trying to catch my breath.

“The Walking Dead Escape” let me feel like a hero in that small moment.  That’s what made it fit in with Comic-Con so well.  If I may paraphrase the chorus of a David Bowie song, we could all be heroes, just for four days.

AMC Theaters’ newest marathon event is tonight, the Dark Knight Trilogy Marathon, and with more than 60,000 advance ticket sales it has already become the biggest selling marathon movie event to date.  Starting at 6 p.m. and culminating with the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises at midnight, tonight is sure to be a big night for Batman fans.

Until then, for your viewing pleasure and to get you psyched for Batman night, here is a gallery of all of the Batman cars–the Batmobiles–that have appeared on-screen, from the TV series in the 1960s to today’s bulky offroad vehicle, featured on the lawn between the Hilton Bayfront Hotel and the San Diego Convention Center last weekend as part of the Comic-Con festivities.  The photos I took this weekend don’t do justice to these big, sleek, bad Bat-cars.

First off, above is the original 1955 modified Lincoln that became the Batmobile driven by Adam West in the original Batman TV series.

My favorite of them all and the best looking in person–Michael Keaton’s Batmobile from the 1989 Batman and Batman Returns movies.

Val Kilmer’s Batmobile from Batman Forever.

George Cooney’s Batmobile from Batman and Robin.

Christian Bale’s Batmobile “The Tumbler” from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Christian Bale’s Batmobile from the new film The Dark Knight Rises.

Christian Bale’s Batcycle from the new film The Dark Knight Rises, on display in the Comic-Con exhibit hall at the Warner Brothers booth.  The cycle is a separating feature of the Tumbler.

Details for tonight’s movie event across the country:

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

It’s time again for our annual photos of the best cosplay costumes from the San Diego Comic-Con.  Lots of good costumes this year and we had no contender for worst costume of the show like we had last year.

How do you judge the best when anything goes?  You’ve got traditional Star Trek and Star Wars uniforms you will find at any pop culture convention.   You also have a huge following of video game and animated series characters.  I saw several people light up at many Korra costumes waiting in line for panels Friday.  Many others were from shows I never heard of.  What makes Comic-Con great is that there is something for everyone, no matter what your age and interests.  So another “best of” list from an attendee may be full of video game and animated series costumes.  The costumes below are just the ones that made me stop in my tracks.

First up is this brilliant idea–the crusader from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who guarded the Holy Grail.  The classic line from the entire series is echoed in his placard “Choose Wisely.”  This is an example of a great idea using a relatively obscure yet instantly identifiable character I’d never seen portrayed at a Con before.

If you’ve read borg.com for very long you will recognize these two aliens from one of my favorite movies by one of my favorite directors: John Carpenter’s They Live.  If you’ve seen this movie you’ll know this man and woman nailed it, both with perfect masks but also with messages reflecting the symbolism throughout the movie.  Of course, I was not wearing my sunglasses so I walked right past these guys.  This photo was taken by my friends William and Sean from Elite Comics.  Star of the movie Roddy Piper was at last year’s show in a They Live shirt and I bet he would have loved these guys.

I would wager this furry fellow is from one of those anime or animated shows.  I have special affection for cosplayers who torture themselves for their art.  This guy had to be hot to the point of passing out.  Having worn only a prosthetic head last year I can say for certainty this guy was not comfortable, yet he was quick to perform beautifully for a kid in the hall.

The best subgroup of cosplay is the mash-up.  Nail a good mash-up and you’ll please two sets of fans at the Con.  This “leasure suit Boba Fett” takes the mash-up in a new direction and caused instant laughs.  I loved the red 1970s Adidas Dragon shoes.  You just couldn’t walk past this Mandalorian giving you a toast as you approached him.  Yeah, baby!

I’m a sucker for Muppets and Sesame Street characters.  I still have yet to run into Super Grover but keep looking.  Meanwhile this great Big Bird could not move three feet without being asked to get in a photo.  He couldn’t look any better.

Like the crusader above this human-sized walking Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters was a creative idea–exactly what you hope to see at a Con.  This outfit was nicely made and you couldn’t tell how this guy was able to breathe in this inflated suit.  Give him a hug, it’s OK.  Just don’t squeeze too hard.

I’m not sure if these two were at the Con together or just stopping for a snapshot but they sure matched.  I love Predator and this costume was as good as you can get at a convention.

I was stopped in a line for about 40 minutes across from this group.  They were so quiet, yet they harbored this vile little superheroine.  Hit Girl, from Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass comic book series.  This little girl actually looked better than the girl who played the role in the movie.  Nothing is more terrifying than creepy little girls, yet this group seemed pretty calm about it.

One thing you might not know about San Diego is that the entire town gets involved in Comic-Con.  Every other restaurant will have servers wearing some kind of homage to a comic book character.  Most have unique convention week menus with things like Captain America burgers, or as my friend Sean discovered, the Mighty Thor burger, complete with beef and barbecued pulled pork, or even gooey Iron Fries.  But this Spider-man at Starbucks was the only employee I saw over the weekend in full supersuit.  And he made a pretty good peppermint mocha.  Way to go, Starbucks!

As I said earlier this week, at the 2012 Comic-Con so many great Star Wars cosplayers walked the exhibit floor halls that they really seemed to dominate the convention.  Most could hardly be distinguished from the screenused originals.  But this costume outdid them all, a full hairy Chewbacca like no costume I’d seen before, complete with a built-in sound system that allowed the person inside to play certain Chewbacca sounds from the movies.  Check out the changing color of the hair, like a real animal would look.  The bandolier looks great.  The face looks better than the original mask being sold in the next Profiles in History auction.  And the wearer has the height right.  Stunning suit.  So this one makes the top of my list for SDCC 2012.

Nice job, cosplayers, for entertaining those of us who wimped out this year and attended in normal clothes!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

The CW Network’s new TV series Arrow will not be aired until the Fall, but the CW previewed the entire pilot for the series last Wednesday and Friday to thousands of attendees at Comic-Con.  The auditorium erupted in cheers to several scenes in the series opener, starting some worthy buzz for this newest DC Comics Justice League superhero to hit the small screen.  Was it good?  Absolutely.  And even for a fan of the traditional character’s story, updates made for TV were well thought out and did little to detract from the core of what makes Green Arrow the unique character that has survived as a key comic book character for 70 years.  The pilot deftly managed to alter far less of the source material than, for example, the Green Lantern movie released in 2011, and in doing so created a truer, more refreshing story with appropriate nods to the past, and one that promises to survive, should it find its fan base.

Oliver Queen, played by Stephen Amell, is son of one of Starling City’s preeminent business magnates and head of Queen Industries, Robert Queen (played by Jamey Sheridan).  Oliver was on a yacht with his father and cheating below deck on his girlfriend Dinah “Laurel” Lance (a legal aid lawyer played by Katie Cassidy) with Laurel’s impressionable younger sister.  A surprise storm sinks the craft, the sister is sucked into the sea and drowns and Oliver, his dad, and a crewmember are left floating in a lifeboat.  Before running out of food Oliver’s dad kills the crewmember and himself to give Oliver a chance at survival.  All of this backstory is interspersed throughout the episode, building up to the revelation that the father and crewmember were dead by his father’s hand.  Oliver stays on the island five years until rescued by natives of another island sailing by.  By then he has become a sort of Grizzly Adams, hairy, physically strong and singularly adept at survival, including impressively wielding a bow and arrow.

When he returns home to Starling City, his mother, played by Susanna Thompson, is now romantically linked with his father’s former business partner and this does not sit well with Oliver.  Despite his numerous apologies, Laurel Lance has no place in her life for Oliver and blames Oliver for her sister’s death.  Oliver has his own sister, Thea (Willa Holland) a misguided youth tempted by parties and the like, and Oliver immediately returns to his role as big brother, irking the girl.  In one of the best updates to the traditional Green Arrow story, Oliver’s nickname for the sister is Speedy.  Green Arrow fans will know Speedy as the long-time sidekick of Green Arrow.  In the Phil Hester, Ande Parks, and Kevin Smith run of the Green Arrow comic book, a wayward girl with HIV named Mia was taken under Oliver’s wing, and she became Speedy, so there is some history with a female Speedy (in my view the best incarnation of his sidekick).  Hopefully the series will survive long enough for this to take on the Speedy story as its own fleshed-out subplot.  The first Speedy had drug issues, and you could see that history seeping into his sister’s character arc.

Laurel has been friends with Oliver’s best friend Tommy, played by Colin Donnell, since Oliver was presumed dead.  Tommy immediately steps back into a supportive role for his friend.  Another wealthy late-twenty-something guy like Oliver, Tommy surprisingly fit in well in the pilot.  A tad smarmy, he is the only one to really celebrate Oliver’s return and give him the “welcome home” party he deserves.  In his party scenes we see Oliver’s only similarity to Batman’s Bruce Wayne, a little window into the excesses shown by Christian Bale in his stints as the the caped crusader that were echoed in the traditional Oliver Queen.  Despite that slight similarity, series writers/creators Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim have shown Oliver to be a completely different superhero.  And this is best highlighted when Oliver begins cleaning up the streets of his former home, donning a green suede hooded outfit like Robin Hood.  The city is riddled with crime and nasty masked characters who try to kidnap Oliver, only for Oliver to kill them off one by one.  A superhero that kills is definitely against mainstream norms but it also has history with this character, most recently in the superb Justice League Cry for Justice mini-series, which left Oliver murdering the villain Prometheus in part for maiming the original Speedy, now called Red Arrow.

How often have you watched Batman let the Joker live after committing horrible crimes and wondered why he didn’t just end the Joker once and for all?  After Joker killed the second Robin (Jason Todd) in A Death in the Family?  After the Joker assaulted Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and left her disabled in The Killing Joke?  It’s long overdue that the vigilantism that is the undercurrent of both Batman and Green Arrow comes through in a story.  It didn’t occur in the original Flash TV series, in any Superman movie or in the Green Lantern movie.  So the audience that previewed the new Arrow was introduced to an element never before seen in a major DC Comics character and they loved it.  And Amell, later in the panel, proved that he understands his character, saying, “You couldn’t expect that Oliver was going to undertake something so monumental without there being collateral damage.  You don’t have to agree with his tactics, but you should respect what he’s trying to do.”

The pilot set up a web of subplots that can be handled throughout the first season.  Oliver’s mother seems to be behind his kidnapping upon his return.  Why?  Who is she working with?  How does it relate to some secret Oliver’s father may have disclosed to him on the yacht?  Will Diggle be a friend to Oliver or spy for his mother?

British actor and genre favorite Paul Blackthorne (The Dresden Files) plays his American accent here as Detective Quentin Lance, Laurel’s father and an angry cop investigating the crime element in the city as well as trying to track the new hooded vigilante killing off local crimelords and their lackeys.  He also can’t move beyond his younger daughter’s death these five years later.  Adding further difficulty to Oliver’s covert superhero doings, after the botched kidnapping, Oliver’s mother hires a full-time bodyguard named John Diggle (played by David Ramsey) to accompany Oliver everywhere.  Initially easily ditched by Oliver, Diggle learns quickly, giving Oliver an extra obstacle to fulfilling his goal of secretly cleaning up the city.  Like Green Arrow in his history of DC Comics stories, his alias is not so expertly hidden and Tommy suspects that it is Oliver who is the new hooded vigilante–yet another future story element to investigate.  The pilot also included a few throwaway characters that probably shouldn’t survive the pilot–typical stereotypes that you’d stuff into a pilot as filler, including Roger R. Cross as Detective Hilton and Brian Markinson as villain Adam Hunt.  Does Detective Lance need a partner?  If there was a downside to the pilot it was too many second tier characters.

Diehard fans of any character or story will always wrestle with any change or update to a character when translated from its original source material.  Changes like updating Star City to Starling City actually help to pull the character from the comic book world into the real world, although my initial reaction was “why change that?” or “why not just place him in Seattle where he lived for decades as written by Mike Grell?”  I asked Neal Adams at Comic-Con to give me his take on the new series, and he’s just not interested.  Adams, along with Denny O’Neil, created the modern, cocky and cool Oliver Queen at the tail end of the 1960s.  The biggest changes to Green Arrow later came from Mike Grell, who really amplified the role of Dinah Lance into Oliver’s story, and made Green Arrow the ultimate urban hunter.  I think Grell would at least like the direction this new Oliver Queen appears to be heading.  Do I wish this was a scene for scene adaptation of Grell’s Longbow Hunters series or his other stories?  You bet.  But since nothing ever matches what you’d envision, this at least gets Green Arrow a long overdue screen adaptation (the rest of the key seven Justice League members: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Green Lantern have had at least their own animated series over the years), keeps Black Canary as his love interest, and features Ollie showing his stuff as urban archer.  If the writers can keep the series interesting and fresh, people will watch and we can see some expanded stories if the series will last.  When I look at series like Supernatural and Smallville, whose early episodes seemed to me to be very thin, it should be a no-brainer for CW to make this series into something just as successful.  Amell later in the panel admitted that he hopes it makes it ten years.  Wishful thinking?

After the preview of the pilot, series stars Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy and writers Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim responded to some well thought out questions from the panel moderator.  During the pilot Amell’s voice seemed very familiar and I had to look away to figure out who I was hearing.  He sounds a lot like a young, cocky Tom Cruise, from around the time of Top Gun.  Amell’s command of the character comes through in his voiceovers and Cruise’s early “immature jerk” roles seem to be reflected albeit not intentionally in Amell’s performance as the cocky side of Oliver.  I know many don’t like voiceovers, but I am one who prefers the Harrison Ford voiceover Blade Runner to the edited version, so I thought the voiceover here was also a good touch.  Amell responded very passionately to questions about playing Oliver Queen.  Amell sounds like he is inside Oliver’s head, both in voice delivery and in the word choice drafted by the writers.

The series features an older cast than Smallville, less teen soap opera, less typical CW, and more adult drama, if maybe at the younger end of the adult set.  Writer Andrew Kreisberg calls the show a crime drama, a family drama and a romance.  But even with that age block the actors appeared youthfully ambitious and eager about their new gig.

When asked whether we’ll see Cassidy’s Laurel Lance turn into action heroine Black Canary, in particular donning the character’s signature fishnet stockings, it seemed clear that both she planned on it saying she is “definitely ready” and Kreisberg and Guggenheim couldn’t say no to the roar from the crowd.  Kreisberg said that fans would see this transpire “not as soon as you want, but a lot sooner than you think.”  The creators didn’t shy away from the fact that they wanted and selected attractive stars for the series, reflecting the attractive characters from the source material.  Amell was the first who auditioned for Oliver and according to the writers, he was immediately selected for the role.

A key scene in one of the trailers, reported here several weeks ago, shows Amell doing a nearly impossible feat climbing a series of workout bars.  Amell said no CGI was used, and he, indeed, did these scenes on his own.  One of the writers added that that was “something you won’t see in Batman.”

CW revealed Kelly Hu will be guest starring in a future episode as the DC villain, China White, first appearing in the 2007 mini-series Green Arrow: Year One.  As I had speculated this past February here, the writers acknowledged relying heavily on the modern origin story in Green Arrow: Year One, illustrated by the artist known as Jock.  Not a classic Green Arrow story by any means, it did seem to serve as backdrop for at least the pilot episode.  A very recent villain like China White seems to me to be DC Comics taking an easy route.  Why not some bigger villains?  At least Deathstroke was disclosed as another villain we can look for in the series.  The writers advised watching each episode for “Easter Eggs,” like this Deathstroke mask found in one of the show’s trailers:

All said, I had trepidations about taking my favorite character into his own series, but I am quite pleased so far and am looking forward to watching the full series in the Fall CW lineup.  The pilot for Arrow premieres to the rest of the world Wednesday, October 10, 2012.

I will feature the actual Arrow costume in a later post, as it was on display at the SDCC DC Comics booth.

One additional benefit to attended the previews of the pilot was a convention exclusive comic book for the series that I was happy to get my hands on, pictured here with a cover by none other than the great Green Arrow artist, Mike Grell:

Full trailers can be found in my earlier post here.

Before midnight Thursday night Firefly fans were already lined up for Ballroom 20 at the San Diego Convention Center.  I say Firefly fans not because I interviewed them all, but because it was well known why most of them were waiting in line, despite the fact that the panels in the same room included the cast of the TV series Community, Korra, Bones, and Arrow.  I would wager I was the only person there in line to see the pilot for the new fall TV series Arrow, among maybe 7,000 people by the time the doors opened, who stood in line for the day of panels in the big hall.  I’m a lifelong Green Arrow fan, and I could hardly profess being the #1 Green Arrow fan around and miss the Arrow panel.  But if you’re a sci-fi fan of one franchise you’re a sci-fi fan of all, and I’d received advance press releases about the Firefly reunion and thought it sounded like a big deal so I was really curious about it.  I also am a fan of Adam Baldwin from his My Bodyguard days through Chuck as well as actor Alan Tudyk.

Because it was my first year with Comic-Con press credentials I flew out anyway with friends (sadly without my spousal unit who stayed behind) and met up with my old friend and borg.com writer Jason McClain.  Everyone turned in early Thursday night by my standards.  The bus stop at Petco Field had changed which led me to walk by the front of the convention center and about 200 uber-fans already camped out and many fast asleep around 12:30 a.m. Friday.  After a few weeks of 100 degree temperatures in the Midwest it occurred to me how nice the cool sea breeze felt.  I like to sleep on a firm mattress–the harder the better.  Hmm… how bad is sleeping on cement anyway?  I initially had no intention of visiting any panels this year but figured I’d just hang out in the exhibit hall for the weekend.  Why not see what this camping out at the Con thing is all about?  I headed to my hotel and on the bus met folks on their way back to the center for the Firefly panel.  Nowhere close to feeling like winding down for the night I took a shower, changed into my Friday clothes, grabbed some extra shirts and headed back on the bus toward downtown at about 1 a.m.

One to two hundred more people were in line and I caught up with the people from St. Louis I met on the bus.  I nestled in with my backpack as a pillow under a palm tree on some nice lawn turf.  Not so bad!  New friends Cody and Sam even offered me their hotel pillows.  The night life was surprisingly peaceful, a true Zen moment.  Back in the line everyone was still bustling but gradually teetering on the edge of sleep.  Conversations about where neighbors in line were from and what they did and what they like.  Who they were, what they were doing, where they were going.  Why they liked The Walking Dead.  Why they didn’t like The Walking Dead.  The low murmur of card playing and conversation lulled by the hour until a kid started running down the line at 3 a.m. shouting “Joss Whedon just stopped by the front of the line!”

No one really believed it, but likewise, if Whedon really was there no one wanted to miss seeing him.  People got up one by one to walk toward the front of the line.  A trusting crowd, people left their things behind–the only time you could get away with this in any city on Earth.  Expecting at best to see Whedon with a series of “handlers,” instead there he was talking one by one with folks in the line.  Soon everyone mobbed around him, and what you’d think would be one-off photos with a few fans, he soon was taking photos with anyone who asked, meanwhile autographing copies of Firefly DVDs and Comic-Con badges for those who had nothing else to get signed.  Sensitive to the sleepers, he said he didn’t think he should wake them up.  I (and others) thought they’d feel pretty lousy later finding out they missed seeing him and we walked ahead waking people up.  He leaned in on several people who awakened with looks of not knowing where they were or who this guy was who was talking to them.  It was quite funny to see.  We were all really caught offguard.

At best when celebrities show up to meet “the people on the street” they shake a few hands, have their publicity moment, the camera lights dim and they jump in their car in drive away.   Like when U.S. Presidents who stop their cavalcade to shake a few hands.  In this case, Whedon did something I’d never seen or heard of before.  He went through the entire line and acknowledged everyone, which took at least a half an hour.  And there was no camera crew there.  In fact I have seen no major press coverage of his visit at all.  I and a crew from a Southern California magazine were probably the only thing close to press around.  The energy was palpable.  Exciting doesn’t come close.  This guy just directed The Avengers, the new top selling movie of all time and the best reviewed superhero flick in decades.  He created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the best vampire franchise ever with a phenomenal fan base in its own right.  But for his past shows he hadn’t done this before.  Firefly, his own concocted western story set in outer space, clearly holds a special place for Whedon.

You can tell from the quiet and nervous crowd laughter that folks were pretty surprised.  Check out this video by one of my 5,000 new friends that I didn’t get to meet, who just happened take footage of me getting a photo taken with Whedon that I stumbled across on YouTube (THANKS, whoever you are!):

And I may look a little presumptious stepping in for a photo but trust me, we all took turns rotating in for a photo or autograph.  That’s what he was there for.  No one asked him typical celebrity questions.  It was all pretty quiet and everyone half asleep.  I did hear someone shout out “How about doing a Wonder Woman movie next time?”

Your own photo with Joss Whedon? Priceless.

The constellations aligned just right for this day, and after Whedon went on to his hotel no one could get back to sleep.  We heard he made this stop to our line on his way back to his hotel after a late ending party.  Not thinking I’d need any technology on this outing I worked with the gang from the SoCal magazine to get photos uploaded and online.  See my 3:30 a.m. photos posted here.  (Thanks for letting me use your laptop, guys!).

My new friends from a SoCal magazine.

And so we waited and talked.  For nine more hours.  And it never got boring.  I didn’t even bring a book to read.  You may have read before about visitors to Comic-Con.  One hundred and fifty thousand like-minded, self-professed geeks and nerds (and all proud of it), you will find no better community anywhere.  Folks watched out for each other.  The convention security staff opened the doors for restroom and water fountain visits.  You can’t imagine a more peaceful assemblage of thousands of people with a common cause–not only having fun for fun’s sake, but believing in being part of something bigger.  I connected with a few great guys from near my hometown in Iowa who sat next to me in the ballroom.  The community aspect came through in what Whedon would talk about during the panel.  “When you’re telling a story, you are trying to connect to people in a particular way.  It’s not just about what you want to say, it’s about inviting them into a world and the way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, have made you part of it, part of the story.  You are living in Firefly.  When I see you guys I don’t think the show is off the air.  I don’t think there’s a show.  I think that’s what the world is like.”

New friend Sam, a high school junior from St. Louis. And that Joss Whedon guy.

Later at the Con I connected with long-time Star Trek chronicler Larry Nemecek (author of books on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the First Contact film) and he thought Firefly’s fan base reminded him of the fan base that kept the original Star Trek series on the air.  And that is all that these fans want–for the series to return–just like those Star Trek fans that ended up being successful back in the 1960s.  Clearly from the series cast, they want the same thing.  If any modern fan base could make it happen I wouldn’t be surprised if it were these guys, many sporting Adam Baldwin/Jayne’s motherly-knitted orange hat, these fans define the fanatic.

Originally billed as a reunion of the whole cast, a few didn’t make it, but it didn’t affect the mood of the crowd.  The panel featured Nathan Fillion (Mal), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Summer Glau (River), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Sean Maher (Simon), writer Jose Molina, writer/director Tim Minear and creator Joss Whedon.

When Baldwin walked on stage, it was like Elvis or Michael Jackson or the Beatles arrived.  It was a roar like no other and he strode across the stage with a great smile and his arms raised, soaking it all in.  He later pulled out an orange knitted cap, replica to the one he wore on the series as the character Jayne, a hat that he later gave to a girl in the crowd.  Clearly a now-defining prop for Baldwin and Firefly fans, he acknowledged what such a prop could do for an actor.  “This hat is a goldmine.  It’s like a birthday cake in a wasteland,” he said.  He mentioned he auctioned off the real hat for thousands of dollars for a charity, which received applauds from the crowd.

Meeting Whedon earlier in the day made the ballroom event that much more energized.  Many in the crowd said Whedon “was one of us.”  By the end of the panel, nary a dry eye was in the house.  Whatever this Firefly energy and this 10th anniversary reunion was about, no one, including the cast and creator Whedon, wanted this to end.   The first to start getting choked up was series star Nathan Fillion when the cast described why he, the actor, was the right captain for the production.  He said Mal was “the best character I ever played” and “If I can get through this without crying, it’ll look a lot cooler.”  Whedon added “There was never a moment from the time we met when he wasn’t the captain.”

The Q&A was energetic and funny.  A fan asked for each of the panelists to describe their craziest fan story.  Writer/director Tim Minnear responded, “That time we were off the air for 10 years and thousands of fans showed up like it was yesterday.”

“Everything we were doing was for the right reasons, with the right people, that we were making something that was more than the sum of its parts.  That I had the best cast I will ever work with.”  He added in deadpan, “We also had Alan,” referring to actor Alan Tudyk, known for playing hilarious characters like Wat in the movie A Knight’s Tale.

One member of the audience asked if an animated version was possible.  The answer was in the negative but Fillion suggested he’d like to do a radio version and started to make special effects sounds with his hands, and he and Tudyk performed an ad libbed, brilliantly funny scene.

“The 27 people that saw it when it aired loved it,” Whedon said of the series, referring to his fans comprised in large part of people who were much younger when the series first aired and have only seen the series on DVD.

One bit started by actor Simon Maher replayed an old Christopher Walken Saturday Night Live bit, to cheers from the crowd:

Maher:  I think you might have a fever.
Fillion:  The only cure is more Firefly.

Fans who missed the convention would have liked what was probably the best question of the night:  “What if there would have been a Season 2 instead of the movie?”   Whedon answered:  “It would’ve been littler.  Most of the Reavers would’ve been off-screen [dramatizing large actions scenes off-camera with his arms].  I don’t think I would have killed anybody.”  At that point Alan Tudyk’s arms shot up in triumph, causing laughs.  (Tudyk’s character was ultimately killed off in the film).  Whedon continued: “I think we would’ve delved more into the Blue Sun conspiracy, which we had to drop.  And we would’ve learned about Book and about Inara.  For some reason, that’s the question that’s going to make me cry.”

Whedon said he felt bad that the missing actresses from the cast were unable to attend the reunion panel.  Only actress Summer Glau was on the night’s panel, and she seemed to be holding back a lot of emotion.

Comic-Con is over for another year.  I ended up going about 44 hours without sleep.  All worth it.  Time to think about getting tickets for next year.  Costumes to create.  Finding a hotel again.  What panels the show organizers can come up with to top this one.  I think I’ll ask my mom to knit me an orange hat.

To understand why a series like Firefly has such a loyal following, and what fan loyalty is all about, you need only look to Joss Whedon and his visit to a bunch of people on a sidewalk outside a convention center in San Diego in July.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

If there was a theme to this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego it would be zombies.  Like no year before you could not turn left or right without someone dragging one of their feet with a dazed look.  The San Diego Padres Petco Stadium was blocked off and turned into a gauntlet/run/haunted house where fans of The Walking Dead could either be made up to look like zombies or be a survivor and attempt to run through 40 minutes of obstacles, and hiding zombies, to get out the exit gate without being “infected”.

As for costumes, it was cartoons and anime that seemed to monopolize cosplayers over superheroes and sci-fi.  You name the series, someone was wearing their gear.  But the best costumes overall remain the diehard Star Wars fans, whose Boba Fetts and Imperial armor could hardly be distinguished from the real thing.

As for panels, all the advance buzz and most talked about panel was the panel for Firefly, but The Hobbit, Game of Thrones, and Expendables 2 were not far behind–Arnold Schwartzenegger drew a huge mob of fans as he entered the convention hall.

As for marketing, Quentin Tarentino’s new movie Django was in well represented, along with the NBC TV series Grimm, and the remake of Total Recall.

If you’re a fan, like I am, of Green Arrow, come back this week for a review of the pilot for the new CW Network series Arrow, as well as a look at the Green Arrow suit from the series.  Creator of the Silver Age look for Green Arrow, Neal Adams, was talking with convention guests and sketching Batman and other characters for fans.

Star Trek fans had a lot to see as well, with attendance at the con by Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner and Levar Burton, and Wil Wheaton could be found circulating the halls.

Fans of series like Grimm and Haven could see the series stars on panels and then meet the actors afterward for signings.

More to come…

Things that sometimes happen at Comic-Con:

– On a whim, you decide to spend the night sleeping on the street outside the convention center with 5,000 friends you didn’t even know you had. (Hey, who needs to pay for a hotel when you can do that?)

– After a few hours of finding just the right way to use a backpack as a pillow, Joss Whedon shows up and you can’t get back to sleep. 44 hours without sleep? No problem. Food? I can eat at the end of the panels!

– After eating meal after meal at upscale restaurants you find what you really want, a sub shop, two blocks away from the convention center.

– Oh, and you see probably one of the most anticipated and ultimately the best panels at any comic convention–the panel celebrating the tenth anniversary of the last of Firefly–in the UK Firefly is time after time voted by fans as the best sci-fi series ever, and the fan following over here in the states is second to none.

– Great fun with new friends you spend the day with from Iowa and Kansas and Missouri and the West Coast.

– Hours on concrete results in great panels for the TV series Community and Bones, and the new animated Korra series from the Last Airbender universe.

– You get to see the pilot for the November premiering TV series Arrow, featuring your favorite DC Comics characters Green Arrow and Black Canary, you get to see his costume in person and see the stars of the show. And pick up a Con exclusive comic book for the series!

Pretty hard to beat.

All this after a fun first day of Comic-Con chatting with Neal Adams, Brent Spiner, Frank Cho, David Peterson… lots of great costumes… great toy displays.  We’ll provide coverage from the convention over the coming week.

SAN DIEGO, CA–Photo credit C.J. Bunce borg.com.  Joss Whedon surprised fans camping out on the street at San Diego Comic-Con International at 3 a.m.   He walked the entire line greeting fans and signing autographs.  The infamous Ballroom 20 will feature the full cast of Whedon’s Firefly TV series at 12:20 later today for a 10th anniversary celebration.

Additional photos:

Off to Comic-Con?  Preview night was last night and if you’re taking off for the official Day 1 of San Diego’s Annual Comic-Con International this morning here is an efficient traveler’s list of things to remember:

  • Plane ticket
  • Remove mini Swiss Army knife from keychain and leave at home (so they will let you on the plane)
  • Comic-Con ticket with clear scan – you’ll need it to get in the door
  • Carryon luggage with expandable duffle to carry home swag in
  • Clothes and toiletries (don’t forget, liquids in one quart bags–yep that TSA rule is still in place)
  • Backback or similar quick carry item
  • Cosplay costumes and accessories (bring ’em if you have ’em)
  • Items you want signed by talent
  • Camera
  • Phone
  • Chargers
  • Snacks (for plane, for long lines)
  • Address of hotel

Everyone is different so think about what YOU need different from the above items.

Once you’ve got that down, make sure you have a Comic-Con “plan of attack” on an a phone app or written out.  Here’s the link to the Comic-Con website of all the events broken down by day.  Some guests have limited tickets for autographs so check those out early here.  Don’t forget to grab your Quick Guide once you get your badge but here is a digital version if you need it.

Warner Bros swag bags are back!

(And save me an Arrow swag bag!)  It includes maps showing booth and room arrangements that will help you get to panels quicker.   The main booths are pretty close to last year’s event, so get your bearing from whatever gate you enter through and note main exhibits like the DC booth and studio booths as “landmarks”.

If you’re having trouble selecting a few panels, here are some suggestions to get you started with today’s panels, including the Comic-Con preview summaries:

10:15-11:15 TheOneRing.net: The Truth About The Hobbit The Hobbit movie is imminent just at the book turns 75. With on-set visits, intrepid reporting, and the pulse of fans worldwide, the TORn staff shred rumors, answer questions, share New Zealand images-but not as part of the official publicity machine. Also featuring a special visual presentation from Weta Workshop and an account of Fandalf traveling the world and (all that is the tip of the iceberg!). Featuring Cliff Broadway (Ringers: Lord of the Fans) and Larry D. Curtis (Hobbit embedded reporter) and additional staff and guests.  Room 6DE

11:30-12:30 DC Comics: Tales from The Dark and The Edge— They’re some of the hardest hitting-and strangest-comics anywhere, and this is your chance to find out what’s coming up in these DC Comics-The New 52 titles, with editor Pat McCallum and creators Jeff Lemire (Justice League Dark), Rob Liefeld (Deathstroke, Grifter), and Jimmy Palmiotti (All-Star Western). Room 6DE

11:45-12:45 Stan Lee’s World of Heroes— The legendary Stan Lee introduces his new YouTube channel that tells the stories of heroes, villains, and the fans who love them. In this epic panel, Stan, Mark Hamill (Star Wars), Adrianne Curry (America’s Next Top Model), Peter David (The Hulk), Jace Hall (The Jace Hall Show), and Bonnie Burton (Star Wars Craft book) talk about their new shows, debut new episodes and trailers, answer questions from fans, and provide a few Stan Lee surprises. Room 6BCF

1:00-2:00 Marvel: House of Ideas— Love having the best comics in the industry on your mobile devices? Want to know how Marvel stays on the cutting edge of technology while bringing you what you’ve come to love? Well, this panel is for you, True Believer! Get exciting news from chief creative officer Joe Quesada on what’s happening on the Marvel Comics App, Marvel Dot Com, and Marvel’s vast social media presence in this don’t-miss panel. Room 7AB

2:00-3:00 DC Comics: Batman: Beyond the Night of Owls— Gotham City’s Night of the Owls may be over-but the fallout will affect Batman’s hometown for years to come! Find out what’s on the horizon for the Dark Knight and his crimefighting cohorts in this panel featuring Batman group editor Mike Marts, with Chris Burnham (Batman, Incorporated), Tony Daniel (Detective Comics), David Finch (Batman: The Dark Knight), Kyle Higgins (Nightwing), Gregg Hurwitz (Batman: The Dark Knight), Gail Simone (Batgirl), Scott Snyder (Batman), J. H. Williams III (Batwoman), and others. Room 6DE

2:15-3:15 USA Network’s PsychPsych returns to Comic-Con for a fourth consecutive year, with a fan-focused event that will invite the audience to be not just viewers, but active participants. Psych-O fans can look forward to a hilarious and uncensored experience with the creative team behind the hottest fake psychic detective agency on TV. Psych stars James Roday (Shawn Spencer), Dulé Hill (Burton “Gus” Guster), Maggie Lawson (Juliet O’Hara), Tim Omundson (Carlton Lassiter), Kirsten Nelson (Chief Karen Vick), and Corbin Bernsen (Henry Spencer), along with Psych producers Steve Franks (creator/executive producer), Kelly Kulchak (executive producer), and Chris Henze (executive producer) will dedicate the afternoon to answering fan questions and interacting with the audience, sharing secrets & stories from the set in this “chat” with 4,250 of their closest fans. Attendees will see video clips produced exclusively for Comic-Con, a never-before-seen “first look” at the Season 7 episodes currently in production, and a taste of Psych’s milestone 100th episode, “100 CLUEs”. Ballroom 20

3:15-4:15 DC Entertainment-All Access: DC NOW!— At DC Entertainment, there’s never been a better time to be a comics fan. Come to this all-access panel and find out what some of DC’s top talent is looking forward to, with Amanda Conner (Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre), Geoff Johns (Justice League, Green Lantern, Aquaman), Rob Liefeld (Deathstroke, Grifter, Savage Hawkman), Scott Lobdell (Teen Titans, Superboy, Red Hood and the Outlaws), Francis Manapul (Flash), Jimmy Palmiotti (All-Star Western), Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing) and others. Room 6DE

3:45-4:45 The Walking Dead   The bestselling, award-winning comic The Walking Dead has been a critical and commercial success — and its TV adaptation on AMC holds its own weight as a record-setting juggernaut. Join creator/writer Robert Kirkman and series artist Charlie Adlard for a rare sit-down, where they will discuss the past, present, and future of the decade’s most talked about zombie phenomenon. A Q&A will follow the conversation between the visionary collaborators. Room 6A

4:00-5:00 Abstract Studio: Terry Moore—   Don’t miss fan favorite Terry Moore as he discusses his new hit horror series Rachel Rising, his acclaimed sci-fi series Echo, and exciting plans for the 20th anniversary celebration of his epic series Strangers in Paradise! Terry will fill you in on all the latest news and then open the floor for the ever-popular Q&A.  Room 23ABC

4:45-5:45 The Expendables 2-Real American Heroes Sylvester Stallone and the legendary cast of the sequel to 2010’s smash hit film preview the real-deal muscles, weapons, skills, and explosions that went into making a film even bigger and badder than the original. Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Arnold Schwarzenegger will join the panel discussion. Hall H

Don’t forget the most important rule… have fun!

C.J. Bunce

Editor
borg.com

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