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Comic-Con Highlights Feature Big Surprises

Comic-Con is more than half over and the masses of comic, sci-fi and genre fans have been treated to a cornocopia of delights. On Thursday, horror master David Cronenberg gave the attendees a sneak peek at his new film, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, which was adapted from a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Josh Olson wrote the screenplay, which he said is loosely based on the graphic novel.

On Saturday, fans wrapped around the block several times to get into Hall H to catch the Warner Bros. presentation. Kicking it off was V FOR VENDETTA, which included bald star Natalie Portman, producers Joel Silver and Grant Hill and original graphic novel co-creator David Lloyd. Many of the fan questions were directed toward Portman, who got into the role by reading FAITH AND TREASON and MACBETH and watching the documentary THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND. Lloyd commented on his graphic novel partner Alan Moore's non-participation in the film by saying that he and Moore see things differently.

Then THE CORPSE BRIDE producer Allison Abbate and co-director Mike Johnson came out to share their thoughts on Tim Burton's new stop-motion feature as well as one of the four musical sequences in the film. Following that fans were treated to a video hello from HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE director Mike Newell followed by a special Comic-Con exclusive trailer for the film.

Next up was the world premiere of the trailer for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM director Darren Aronofsky's new sci-fi feature THE FOUNTAIN. The director and star Rachel Weisz came out to take questions from the crowd with Weisz spilling the beans on some spoilers to the fans. Then Aronofsky delighted the audience with a special presentation of the first 10 minutes of the time jumping sci-fi adventure. For comic fans, there will be a comic version of the film, based on the original script, from Vertigo's Kent Williams.

Next up was Sony with its new film based on the Chris Van Allsburg children's book ZATHURA. Director John Favreau said that he approached the film like the sci-fi films of his youth, using as many practical effects as possible using CG to integrate the effects as a whole and add to the space shots. The crowd was then treated to a scene from the film. Closing out the session, Sony played the new trailer for THE LEGEND OF ZORRO.

Following next, animation historian Jerry Beck lead the Disney panel, which kicked off with CHICKEN LITTLE. Talking to the audience were director Mark Dindal (EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE) and producer Randy Fullmer. Dindal highlighted the studios innovations in squash-and-stretch in 3D with a comparison of a vintage Goofy baseball sequence with a bird pitcher from CHICKEN LITTLE. He said his idea to adapt the tale into a feature came to him on the way home from work, thinking what would happen if Chicken Little was involved in a situation where the sky was really falling.

Disney then switched gears to live-action with a behind-the-scenes look at PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2: DEAD MAN'S CHEST, giving the fans a glimpse of the half human/ half sea creature Davey Jones and the crew of the Flying Dutchman. Talking to fans about their new family film, SKY HIGH, about a high school of superheroes, director Mike Mitchell, screenwriter Paul Hernandez and star/ Comic-Con fav Bruce Campell. They showed a scene from the film and talked about combining practical effects with CG. The production used the stunt coordinators from the SPIDER-MAN films.

Closing out the Disney presentation, Beck talked with a host of filmmakers behind TOY STORY for the 10th anniversary for the groundbreaking classic. MONSTER, INC. co-director Pete Docter, writer Joe Ranft and Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom discussed the creation of the first 3D animated feature out of a small rented space in the Bay Area. The upcoming special edition DVD will actually feature video of when the producers told director John Lasseter and the other filmmakers that the picture had been greenlit.

Closing out Friday's daylong STAR WARS celebration was Lucasfilm fan relations rep Steve Sansweet with the STAR WARS Spectacular. The big announcement for the fans was that the STAR WARS 3D Clone Wars animated series had begun pre-production and would be ready to go on the air in fall 2007. The style of the series will have an anime vibe. The studio is now actively recruiting 300 animators from all over the world. Sansweet said that interested talent should visit www.lucasfilm.com/animation to find out what skills the studio is looking for.

For gaming fans, Sansweet unveiled trailers for STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT II, which will come out in the fall, and STAR WARS: EMPIRE AT WAR, which will allow players to revamp the STAR WARS universe, taking place before STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE. Over ridding the session was the idea that STAR WARS is forever and will live on past the feature films. Fans were treated to a look at the new home of Lucasfilm, ILM and LucasArts, a retrospective montage of the entire series and a touching fan documentary highlighting the heritage and future of Lucas' modern myth.

Saturday was a full day indeed for Comic-Con attendees starting off the day with the highly anticipated Bryan Singer directed SUPERMAN RETURNS. The director flew in from the set in Australia special for the event to talk to fans about his process of bringing the Man of Steel back to the silver screen. The guests packed into the 6,500-seat hall were the first to see footage from the film, which garnered Singer a standing ovation.

Paramount Pictures followed, starting with WAR OF THE WORLDS visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman fielding questions from the crowd and sharing a clip from the film. However, the big part of the event was the premiere of the trailer and additional footage from the live-action version of AEON FLUX. The panel consisted of original anime creator Peter Chung - who signed special designed t-shirts from a new animated feature he is developing at the AWN booth - Oscar-winning star Charlize Theron, director Karyn Kusama and producers David Gale and Gale Anne Hurd. Chung, having seen the footage for the first time at the panel, was wowed with what he saw and said, I didn't think you could do that in live-action.

Comic-Con fav Kevin Smith was next in the Hall H line-up, fielding questions in a hilarious fashion. However, for the visual effects field, Smith brought out DONNIE DARKO director Richard Kelly to give the audience a sneak peek at his humorous sci-fier SOUTHLAND TALES, which Smith will star in as a crippled Gulf War vet.

Universal had the next turn. First they showcased their forthcoming horror/comedy SLITHER with writer/director James Gunn and cast members Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry and Nathan Fillion. The premiere trailer showed off the film's bloody make-up work. Director Gunn said that many of the creatures in the film are practical effects, but tentacles and other more movable parts will be done in CG.

Fillion returned for the next panel, which covered fan fav SERENITY, which is based on the short lived TV series FIREFLY from BUFFY creator Joss Whedon, who was in attendance. Fans gushed over the rest of cast - Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Gina Torres, Sean Maher, Ron Glass and Jewel Staite. The audience was also treated to a fight sequence from the film.

Kicking off the second Sony session, director Len Wiseman unveiled the first footage from UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, which hits theaters in January. Also on hand to talk to the fans were stars Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman and production designer and special effects artist Patrick Tatopoulos.

Next was director Rupert Wainwright and LOST actress Maggie Grace showcasing their new film, a remake of John Carpenter's THE FOG. After debuting the first trailer for the film, which also stars HELLBOY's Selma Blair and SMALLVILLE's Tom Welling, Wainwright said that the thing that impressed him the most about working with Carpenter was how respectful he was to allowing Wainwright to have his space and freedom to create his version of the story.

But for comic fans, the real treat was the first look at GHOST RIDER, starring Nicolas Cage. On hand were director Mark Steven Johnson, star Eva Mendes and Marvel Studios head Avi Arad. Because the film has just wrapped filming, Ghost Rider with head aflame was not unveiled, but attendees did get to see the one-sheet design of the character on the flaming motorcycle. Johnson said that during filming Cage or his stunt double either wore a green collar or full head hood so that the CG head could be filled in later. In an artistic decision, Johnson said he would use the fire of the skull to mirror the mood of the character with anger displayed as large white flames and sadness as simmering blue fire.

Not on the schedule, Sony surprised the crowd with director Rob Cohen, showing the trailer for his new action-packed jet flick, STEALTH. Then the XXX helmer brought out cast members Jessica Biel, Josh Lucas and Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx to answer the fans' questions about the upcoming adrenaline ride.

But the surprises and treats did not end there. Next was KING KONG. Via video, Peter Jackson showed off a rough look at the final two minutes of Kong's fight with the T-Rexs. Even in animatic form, the sequence impressed the crowd. As the lights went up after the playing of the clip, flashes when berserk as the film's stars Oscar winner Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts and Jack Black took the stage and answered fans' questions.

Closing out the night, Black returned to rock the house with his band Tenacious D and talk about their movie TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY.

On Sunday, game fans were treated to the first look at the live-action adapation of DOOM, which will actually feature first person moments simular to the game. On stage to treat fans to their thoughts were stars The Rock and Karl Urban, producers Lorenzo DiBoneventura and John Wells, special effects supervisor Jon Farhat and Id Software ceo Todd Hollenshead.

Closing out the festivities in Hall H, Walt Disney and Walden Media treated fans to a behind-scenes look at THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. Exec producer Perry Moore moderated a panel featuring director Andrew Adamson and Mark Johnson (via satelite in London), Oscar-winning effects supervisor Richard Taylor, special makeup effects artist Howard Berger and CGI animation visual effects supervisor Dean Wright. The panelists went into the detail of creating the prostetic creatures and how CG was used to enhance their look by creating non-human legs and such.

Attendees were treated to new footage and the announcement that Liam Neeson will voice the lion king Aslan.

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Rick DeMott
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