Ah, the first proper day of the convention! The sun is beating down, yet the San Diego Convention Centre – which, if you’ve never been is the size of a few footie pitches – is glacially and gloriously cool thanks either to a well-maintained air conditioning system or a thousand scrawny blokes waving palm fronds. We can never work out which.
The first item on today’s agenda is exploring upstairs, where the press has rooms set aside for interviews. This year, there’s also a handy dedicated pressroom, complete with free wi-fi Internet access (handy, as the convention centre charges $25 a day for the same thing), which lives up to the phrase “you get what you pay for”, as it’s patchy at best. But hey – free, so we're not gonna complain. We think someone from security would beat us up if we did. Pressroom checked out and press releases gathered (they’re making 28 Weeks Later, apparently) it’s chocks away and off to our first Panel. Sliding into one of the bigger rooms in the upstairs area, it’s Dean Devlin and his producers introducing Flyboys. Devlin causes a fan ripple by announcing that he’s seriously working on Stargate 2 & 3, which apparently will be kept separate from the sprawling TV spin-offs. Flyboys looks sort of okay, but doesn’t really click for us yet. Perhaps when the finished film shows up it’ll have evolved into something cool.
One of the tricks to getting a good seat in Comic-Con panel events is going into a room for an earlier, less well-attended display and sticking around for the next one. Sometimes we get thwarted by those security teams, who often like to empty the rooms between panels to keep the flow of people going, but when it works, it works and soon we're sat in a decent position to watch the Warner Bros Animation Panel. There are various presentations from the films that the company is releasing – The Ant Bully, Happy Feet and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Ant Bully looks like fun, though there’s an itch in the back of TF's mind that tells us Antz and A Bug’s Life have already covered most of the material. Still, director John A Davis is a personable host, taking us through the character development and explaining the challenges. The trailer is shown, which explains the basics – a kid is shrunk down to the size of an ant and has to help the colony (which includes insects with the voices of Nic Cage, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts) fight an evil exterminator (Paul Giamatti).
Three questions for…
Writer/Director, The Ant Bully
You’re the only director on this – usually animated films have co-directors. What gives?
You’re right. I killed the other guy! No I directed Jimmy Neutron alone and decided to do it again on this. But I found out why people work together – because there’s so much to do, as nothing exists, and everything has to be directed, not just the actors!
What made you go with the cartoon look for the humans?
We tried to get a much more heightened reality, but when you make humans look too real, it looks creepy. So we went on a fine line with making the humans cartoony and not too real. They had to function in this stylised world.
What was it like working with Meryl Streep, Nic Cage and Julia Roberts?
The idea of it is more intimidating than the reality, because once you get to work, I’m the boss! It’s my job to give them the ammunition they need to bring their characters to life.
Next up is Happy Feet, George Miller’s (Babe: Pig In The City/Mad Max) new ‘toon about a penguin (Elijah Wood) who can’t sing in a world where vocal stylings are key to attracting a mate. But he can dance like Fred Astaire, and is helped in his quest to find love by a crazed penguin pal voiced by ubiquitous cartoon voice Robin Williams. Miller wasn’t around to introduce his film, but he did send extended footage and a video of himself explaining what he wanted the film to be. Apparently it’s about finding your place if you’re an outsider, a theme we're sure has never been seen in animated movies before. Still, the film looks like massive fun.
Also on the panel is Kevin Munroe, who is directing the brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles CG film. Munroe shows an extended montage of unfinished footage and premieres the teaser trailer (which can be found at
It’s hugely impressive. The heroes in a half-shell are back to former glories. Turtle Power! Munroe fields questions about John Woo’s involvement – or lack of (he was attached to an earlier development, but never got anything going) and whether Vanilla Ice will be providing any songs. We were relieved when Munroe answered in the negative to that one…
Three questions for…
Writer/Director, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
So is it luxury working on a big CG movie?
We wish! We work in a basement in Encino that is literally like the Turtle lair, with pipes overhead. You can hear it every time someone flushes the toilet. We’ve been working in this bubble for two years so it’s cool to show it to people.
What’s the tone?
We want to get it back to the original comics. It’s dark and dangerous. That’s comic books. The original Turtles comics were a goof on Frank Miller’s take on Daredevil. We take that and run with it.
Is it an origin story?
No, it’s more of a rebirth story. Leonardo has been around the world, training to be a better leader and the other three are stuck at home. So we see how that affects them – they want to be out there fighting crime, and the family has been fractured.
Once the panel is finished, we hotfoot it around the corner to the pressrooms for the various roundtables. With the growing numbers of press types turning up, these events are becoming even bigger scrums than before. But we manage to get our questions answered and even manage to collar Kevin Munroe for a couple of minutes to geek out about his meeting Turtles co-creator Peter Laird in order to get Laird’s approval to make the movie.
Snacking quickly on a nutrigrain bar as we walk back to the presentation rooms, we dip into the presentation of The Tripper, which is proving to be one of the comedy highlights of the convention. David Arquette is making his directorial debut with the comedy horror film that features a Ronald Reagan-masked killer hunting rich kids at a rock concert. We’d like to report on what it looks like, but sadly Arquette had managed to lose the tape containing all the footage he’d brought. Much fun is made of him during the panel, which he takes in good spirits mostly because he appears to be very stoned, drunk, both or just high on life. He’s brought a stack of pictures to sign in the hope it makes everything better, and one lucky punter gets his request when Arquette scribbles, “To Tim – Fuck you! – David Arquette” on a pic for a friend. The goofy actor also swears us all to a pact of silence (“If you ruin the movie, you suck!”) so to stay on his good side, we won’t give away the ending to the movie here. Oh, and according to Arquette, it’s “really awesome” being married to Courteney Cox. So now you know.
Still giggling, we hang around the room, grabbing a front row seat for another comedy highlight – Guillermo Del Toro presenting Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s brought along Pan’s star Doug Jones (AKA Hellboy’s Abe Sapien), who is quickly questioned about the possibility of his appearing as the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel. Jones gives his coy answer that we’ve already reported on: “I like this colour on me…” while pointing to his silvery shirt. “I hope they let me wear more of it…” And Del Toro is in fine form, spouting swear words with every sentence, his eyes twinkling and his passion evident (“Fuck is my second language!”). He also pounded on the industry: “Filmmaking is vision plus faith plus balls, all three of which Hollywood knows little about.” Jones was left to cover his eyes, mouth and ears and every other thing his friend uttered, but it was clear the pair were having a blast. The world needs more talent like Guillermo. Oh, and for those of you eagerly awaiting Hellboy 2, be patient, he’s doing all he can to get it going.
After the panel, it was time to step briefly out into the real world, where we headed out in the cooling (but still warm) evening air to San Diego’s Gaslamp district. It’s here that there are a variety of cool restaurants offering every quality level from haute cuisine to Hooters. Sadly, we weren't there to dine – we’d been invited to come and see the film Accepted, a tale of a slacker (Justin Long) who is rejected from every college. The rejection and threats from his parents spur him to create his own faculty, and comedy ensues. We won’t review it here, as we’d hate to be hunted down for breaking embargo…