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WonderCon 2005 blog

In short, I interviewed Robbie Stamp (executive producer of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Bat-composers Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter (of Batman: the Animated Series and just about every DC animation since), legendary comics artist Neal Adams (Batman, Deadman), Elisha Cuthbert and Joel Silver for House of Wax, Christian Bale (Batman in Batman Begins), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen from the Superman films), and writer Jeph Loeb (Batman: Dark Victory, Batman: Hush, Batman: The Long Halloween, and TV's Smallville). Those chats will be rolling out here in the coming weeks.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18: After checking in at the press desk at the Moscone Convention Center, it was time to walk over to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy press event. There, the press corps hunkered down in a small hotel suite (in shifts) to watch Disney's four-minute-and-five-second "sizzle reel" featurette on the film. Beside some familiar sights and sounds from the trailer, the reel swiftly dazzles with behind-the-scenes glimpses and cast and crew interview snippets. The Vogons are on hand, courtesy of Jim Henson's Creature Workshop, and you'll be pleased to know that the Vogon performers (ahhhh...real performers) stay in character when receiving direction from Garth Jennings. Plenty of eye-popping images—as in the recently debuted trailer—fly by, but one, in particular, caused a stir among Douglas Adams fanatics: the BBC model of Marvin the Robot, queuing up next to the new Marvin (body: Warwick Davis; voice: Alan Rickman). Next, interviewers took turns grilling Robbie Stamp, but to his credit, he greeted everyone with a smile and a peppy attitude. Clearly, he relishes stumping for a film he, the late Adams, and others have pushed so hard to make a reality. In other words, he was a real hoopy frood, and our chat will be available here (say it with me, now)...soon.

Dashing through the city streets, I lighted on the Argent Hotel to chat with composers and orchestrators Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter. Since the days of Batman: the Animated Series, these three have shared much of the DC-animated musical workload, for series including Batman Beyond, Superman, Justice League, and Teen Titans, and for features including Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Gracious and patient with the layman questions, the trio showed that they had good reason to officially team up in the company "Dynamic Music Partners." Watch this space.

Next, I took a break from WonderCon-related activity, ironically, to high-tail it over to the Four Seasons and speak with Ming-Na, star of Mulan II and The Batman (hello: genre convention a few blocks away). That charming conversation will be up soon on the Interviews and Batman Begins pages.

Late interviews spelled lateness to Neal Adams's unique WonderCon panel. Comics--what comics? It was time for science, class, as Neal wittily held court before a thoughtfully brow-furrowed audience. After screening a one-hour version of his film Two Guys in a Bar, Adams invited all comers to defend the Pangea Theory and subduction theory (of oceanic plates) or to deflate Adams's staunchly held opinion that the Earth is growing. As Neal presents it, it's compelling stuff, and the panel was one more small step for Adams to get his working theory (a more logical one than the randomness of current geological theory, Neal points out) before an audience, in this case, a fairly receptive one. After checking in with Neal about our interview, I knew it was time to hit the long road home (especially since the exhibition hall was closed for the night).

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19: Started the day at 10am, trolling for interviews. After making plans with Marc McClure, it was time to sit down with Neal Adams. Neal made an intriguing, winking reference (to a fan) about possibly doing Batman again, but perhaps his tongue was planted in cheek. Meanwhile, every other fan asks, "When is Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams #3 coming out?" Neal patiently explains that the delay is no doubt rooted, synergistically, in DC's soon-to-be-released Batman Begins, since his Ra's Al-Ghul material will be in #3. Look for my interview here, soon.

Robbie Stamp's public now awaited. As Paramount seasoned the room with War of the Worlds hats and T-shirts, Disney put on their show. Robbie assured fans that, despite the posthumous hiring of Karey Kirkpatrick, Douglas's overall vision of the project will be intact, including but not limted to highly improbable whale "dropping." Buena Vista's "sizzle reel" was met with thunderous applause, and after a Q&A that got the fans yet more excited, Stamp capped the presentation with a true exclusive (even the press hadn't seen this yet): a new trailer with the first airing of Stephen Fry performing the Voice of the Book. Fry narrates the trailer, which spoofs movie trailers by explaining what they are in the manner of a guide entry. Big laughs from the audience, as Fry deconstructed the first Hitchhiker's trailer to be a cynical Hollywood formula product. A winning presentation, through and through. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opens April 29.

After checking out the press room, I listened to artist Doug Chiang (Star Wars Episodes I and II) and production designer Rick Carter (Jurassic Park) not talk about War of the Worlds. Seriously, they couldn't let too much slip. The war machines will appear (not what they look like, though), a ferry sequence will again be included, Dr. Clayton Forrester will be referred to in the film, and the aliens are identified as being from "up there" and not Mars. Paramount screened the Japanese trailer and a featurette in which Spielberg referred to the importance of giving people "a common enemy" (in other words, George Bush'll love it). War of the Worlds looks pretty slick, but there's still not enough continuous footage to gauge much. The War of the Worlds opens June 29.

The Serenity panel was a real crowd-pleaser. Joss Whedon came out and noodled around with the crowd a bit. "I'm still making this movie," he wondered, and joked about how long he will continue to tinker with it (it actually opens September 30). Whedon brought Astonishing X-Men artist John Cassaday onstage to officially announce that they'd agreed to do another year as a writer-artist team on Astonishing X-Men. Then Whedon introduced three actors from Serenity (and its TV forebear Firefly): Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb), Summer Glau (River Tam), and Nathan Fillion (Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds). After goofing around a bit, the four took questions from the audience. One woman asked what other character each would like to play. Baldwin said Inara, played by Morena Baccarin, and riffed on being suited to play a woman. Glau said Mal, and said the only change she'd make would be to make the pants tighter. Fillion said River and proceeded to demonstrate that he would make silly faces and cuckoo sounds to better communicate the character. Asked what question he never gets asked but would like to be asked, Whedon quipped, "Have you lost weight?" Mostly, it was a mutual ball-busting-slash-love-fest among the four talents, and the film looks at least as promising as the criminally underrated series.

Before the panel was over, I had to hustle over to the press room to interview Elisha Cuthbert and Joel Silver about House of Wax. That interview will be posted soon. Then, I hung out and awaited the emergence of Christian Bale, who sat down next to me at a literal round-table with some other press. Though Bale reportedly hates doing interviews, he was affable, and looked me straight in the eye when he answered my questions. The complete interview is available here.

After completing my interviews for the day, I returned to the big room for Fox's Fantastic Four panel. Julian McMahon took pleasure in announcing "The Doctor is in!": Dr. Doom, that is. McMahon sported a "Von Doom" label stocking cap given to him by a film staffer; a belt and jeans were also made for him, to spoof the Von Dutch clothing line ("I have my own brand!" McMahon enthused. He explained that in his native Australia, the Fantastic Four cartoons arrived before the comics, and he used to watch them religiously at 5:30 a.m. Though he eventually read some of the comics—after being cast as Victor Von Doom—he focused on the man described in the script, a "blatantly evil and indestructible" character McMahon described as a "very wealthy, Rupert Murdoch-like person who starts to kill everybody." At this, the Fox representative at McMahon's side turned bright red. "Can I say that?" McMahon asked. "You just did," said the Fox flack. McMahon backtracked to describe a man neither "a villain nor misunderstood," but rather, a man who is "egotistical, proud, and losing everything. He's emotionally and physically distraught [by his] transformation from a man to a monster."

McMahon noted that he'll return to Charmed for the series' 150th episode (he left voluntarily to pursue other work when he felt the character of Cole Turner had run its course). Though McMahon admitted he hadn't consulted other actors who'd played Marvel villains, he and Ian McKellen chatted business (McKellen visited the Fantastic Four set on a few occasions). The actor endured ten-hour makeup sessions to become the baddie ("the Chinese water torture"). Asked for his favorite moment as Doom, McMahon hedged, then hit on one, when he took a picture with his daughter. McMahon, 6'4" in costume and built like a tank, towered over his daughter, who stood on an applebox, pointed at Daddy and laughed (the picture's on display in the McMahon home). Asked how he and Michael Chiklis (the Thing) got along, McMahon said very well, "aside from the fact that he's a prick." Actually, the two have met at several FX network events (Chiklis headlines FX show The Shield; McMahon stars in FX's Nip/Tuck). According to McMahon, Chiklis phoned him to say, "You gotta get this role, man" just before Chiklis stepped on stage at last summer's San Diego ComicCon. Fantastic Four opens July 8 (as McMahon mockingly pointed out ad infinitum!).

Fox cleared the way for the WB. While Batfans squirmed nervously, Joel Silver and Elisha Cuthbert talked about House of Wax and showed the trailer. Cuthbert fielded questions about 24 (mum's the word) and Old School and Silver answered queries about Wonder Woman (he proclaimed that he's hitting up Joss Whedon at every opportunity) and V for Vendetta, about to start filming in Berlin.

The main event of the day was Christian Bale, who strode out on stage to face a roomful of Batman fanatics. Asked about Empire of the Sun at one point, Bale demurred that the crowd was there to hear about Batman (though he later confessed that Patrick Bateman may be his most cherished role and alluded to his weight loss for The Machinist. Mostly, it was all Battalk. I'll eventually post more of Bale's comments to the public and the press; in the meantime, check out his comments to Groucho here. Bale stayed in his seat to watch, along with the audience, the end of the panel: a six-minute reel of exclusive footage from Batman Begins. If you're sensitive to any spoilers at all, skip the rest of this paragraph. The footage was very promising, lingering on scenes long enough to illuminate a thematic depth you won't be seeing in those kinetic TV spots. The reel begins with Bruce as a boy on the grounds of Wayne Manor. Playing with young Rachel Dodson, Bruce falls into a deep hole, where a flurry of Bats terrifies him. After he's hoisted out, his father Thomas Wayne assures him that the bats were more afraid than he was. Judging by the reel, fear is the film's central theme. After footage of Thomas and Martha being murdered by Joe Chill (they're walking home early from a play because Bruce was scared of the performance). Bruce steps into the temple of Ra's Al-Ghul and finds himself sized up and physically challenged by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). Ducard instructs Wayne that he must master his own fear before he can use fear against the weak. Another scene shows Ducard sparring with Wayne on an icy plain. Back in Gotham City, Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) becomes the Scarecrow, sprays Batman with flammable liquid, raises a lighter, and lights Batman on fire. Batman, lit up like a Roman candle, spins, crashes through a window, and takes a flaming plunge toward the street.

When Bale left the stage, charisma-free Steve Sansweet took it. But when you're Lucasfilm's head of fan relations, and you're there to present exclusive glimpses at Star Wars—Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, you don't need charisma. Sansweet mostly let the video clips—including the weblogs "C-3PO: His Moment to Shine" (a fond farewell to the character of C-3PO so dubbed because the robot gets to be super-shiny for the first time) and "Pick-Ups and Reshoots"—do the talking (check out these clips now at Sansweet also rolled featurettes about last year's Star Wars panels at the San Diego Comic-Con and another about Star Wars Celebration II (Star Wars Celebration III happens April 21 - 24, 2005 in Indianapolis; again, see Yet more clips highlighted the use of models and Hayden Christiansen donning the Darth Vader costume for the first time. Sansweet also ran previews for the new Lucasfilm game Star Wars: Republic Commando and the new super-sized season of Star Wars—Clone Wars. Lastly, Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) came on stage to explain how he learned he'd been cast in Episode III (a call from Rick McCallum) and innovations to the Chewie suit. Guess what? It's more comfortable (lighter, with a cooling system). While not a blazingly exciting panel, Sansweet offered enough glimpses to whet the appetite.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20: I arrived in the morning and walked around the exhibit hall a bit: quite a massive marketplace, including many vendors, artist exhibition booths, and celebrity signing tables. At the DC Comics booth, I took the opportunity to have Batman writer Jeph Loeb sign issues of his Hush story arc.

Since Brian Michael Bendis fell ill, WonderCon cancelled his scheduled conversation with Kevin Smith, but it was replaced by a panel called "The Stars of Superman II. Here, Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), and Jack O'Halloran (Non) regaled the crowd with opinions ("yay" on Richard Donner; nay on Richard Lester), stories, and news about the Superman film, Smallville, and their personal pursuits.

After that, I returned to the exhibit hall, where I interviewed the gracious and gregarious McClure (transcript coming soon) and Loeb, who was equally welcoming to my questions about his work on Batman titles. Before calling it quits for Wondercon 2005, I moseyed over to the event billed by the con as one of "two must-see events": "Starship Smackdown III: San Francisco!" I went to see if I could pick up an interview with announced guest Steven Melching (writer for WB's The Batman). He wasn't there. CFQ Magazine publisher Mark A. Altman was moderating a panel of two with a third on the phone (so much for "more surprise guests than you can shake the Cygnus at"; I noted no surprise guests, except for the crowd). When I walked in, the panel was debating who would win in a clash of Mork's egg and the Red Dwarf. Sigh. Thus, this year's con ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

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