Editor’s Note: Since Comic-Con starts next week, I asked Trey Murphy, an Assistant Product Buyer for Blockbuster and a Comic-Con veteran, to share some of his con experiences.
The word “epic” is thrown around quite often these days. Most of the time, it’s correctly used to describe something massively large, grand and/or almost incomprehensibly huge. For example: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, footage of the Hindenburg disaster, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium and the ego of any basketball star who feels the need to take an hour of primetime to announce what team he’ll be playing for next season can all be described as nothing shy of epic.
However, when it comes to describing San Diego Comic-Con, the word “epic” isn’t quite epic enough.
Every July, for about four days, upwards of 100,000 people converge upon San Diego, California to indulge in what can only be described as fanboy bliss. It’s a time for those with an extreme love for all things related to comics, science fiction, fantasy and horror to let their inner selves (the ones usually held in submission during social situations, work and family gatherings) roam free amongst others with similar interests.
It is with no amount of shame whatsoever that I openly admit to being such a person, at least when it comes to film. Film has always played a massive role in my life — sci-fi, fantasy and horror in particular. Films such as Aliens, Blade Runner, Labyrinth, Near Dark, The Terminator, Predator, John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Dark Crystal and a slew of others all helped mold me into the person I am today. So, when a friend asked if I would like to join him for Comic-Con some years ago, the urge to participate could not be resisted.
Being a regular science fiction/horror convention attendee, I figured going to Comic-Con would be a similar experience, only on a larger scale and over a longer period of time. This was a massive underestimate.
Just walking out onto the main floor is beyond overwhelming. Unlike smaller, more traditional conventions, the main floor is crammed end to end with studio booths, artists, authors and vendors, all of which are trying to get your attention. If one isn’t careful, they could easily blow their entire budget within the first twenty minutes of roaming the floor. (I almost shelled out over $200 for an original Alien poster after only a few steps in the door!)
When it comes to the floor, it was really hard to know where to begin. Imagine going into a large airline hanger that’s filled wall to wall with almost every kind of merchandise you can imagine. From books and magazines, to toys and action figures, to shirts and posters, and even a few vehicles thrown in, if there’s some piece of fanboy merchandise you’re looking for, your best chance at finding it in person is on the Comic-Con floor.
But merchandise isn’t the only thing to be found on the floor. Big studios will often have large sections of the floor reserved just so they can show off and build awareness of what they’ve got coming down the pipe. (One year I attended, there was even a life-size Castle Greyskull!!)
So, what is one to do when braving the floor? I found it best to start at one end and zigzag side to side until reaching the other end of the convention floor. But if you want to sample the floor from end to end and still enjoy everything else the con has to offer, you can’t spend too much time at one booth. You’ve got to sample and move on. And, after almost two hours of collecting tons of studio freebies and spending a handful of cash, that’s exactly what I did.
When one thinks of Comic-Con, the floor isn’t what usually comes to mind. The big news from the con usually comes from the presentations/announcements that take place. From television shows to big budget films, studios no doubt shell out the big bucks to ensure they’ve got a slot to show off their goods at the show.
I was able to attend some of the smaller presentations, which included Southland Tales, Happy Tree Friends, and Pan’s Labyrinth. The Pan’s Labyrinth bit was pretty amazing. Guillermo del Toro was present, and talked at great lengths about the creation of the film, all well before the film hit theaters and anyone knew what to expect. But some of the more memorable and grand studio presentations can be experienced in Hall H.
Hall H, like the convention floor, is massive. It’s laid out in the shape of a V, with a raised stage at the tip. Foldout chairs are lined up in rows going from the stage out. Projection screens are hung from the ceiling in several places for those not close enough to actually see what’s happening on stage. The room itself holds between five and six thousand people, and is so large it even has its own restrooms.
One never quite knows what to expect when entering Hall H. Sure, there’s a program guide letting you know what studios are presenting, but there are always surprises in store.
Some of the more memorable events I’ve attended in Hall H over the past few years include a Disney presentation of footage from their then upcoming films Up and Bolt, featuring makers from both films. We were first treated to the opening scene of Up, followed by a lighthearted and often humorous Q&A with the filmmakers. Afterward, the studio showed over 20 minutes of footage from Bolt. Sure, the final product didn’t turn out to be quite as amazing as Up, but seeing over 20 minutes of exclusive footage before anyone else in the world kind of makes one feel like an insider at times.
Seeing Kevin Smith hold his own in front of the massive Hall H crowd was another fun bit. His ability to take criticism as well as praise from the audience and turn it into something humorous is always a good time. Say what you will about his films, the man knows how to put on a show.
Being one of the first to see a three minute clip from Zack Snyder’s take on Frank Miller’s 300 was also pretty incredible. The audience reaction was so great, Snyder played the clip two more times. The roar of the audience was deafening.
While all of these were fantastic, one of my favorite Hall H experiences has to be the Grindhouse presentation from 2006. As with those listed above, we were shown a good amount of footage from the film, including the now classic trailer for the soon to be released Machete. However, what truly made this presentation unique was seeing Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino on stage with the cast, discussing what all they were intending to do with the film. They impressed upon the crowd their love for 70s grindhouse films, and why they wanted to make their own. Regardless of how commonplace it has become in many circles to take hits at Rodriguez and Tarantino these days, one can’t deny the frantic energy they were able to produce with their Hall H presentation.
San Diego Comic-Con has a great deal of fun to offer all who attend. And while these experiences did leave lasting memories, they represent only a small fraction of what makes the con a special event so far beyond epic that it must to be seen, heard and felt to truly be believed.