CCI: Warner Bros.

Thu, July 30th, 2009 at 2:01pm PDT

TV/Film
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer
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Denzel Washington and the cast and crew of "The Book of Eli"

As the studio that owns DC Comics, among other prestigious content creators, Warner Bros. has a lot to live up to when it comes to Comic-Con International. Fans count on the company to deliver genre fare that lives up to their high levels of expectations. Obviously, this is no easy task, but somehow the studio managed to bring something to please every one of the six thousand audience members present for the WB panel in San Diego.

WB began its presentation with a touch of childhood nostalgia. A video introducing the “Where the Wild Things Are” feature was shown, and included interviews with director Spike Jonze as well as the book’s author, Maurice Sendak. A few snippets from the movie were shown too, mostly of Max (king of the Wild Things) speaking with the monster Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini). The lights then came up, and the young actor playing Max (coincidentally named Max Records) joined the panelists on stage.

The boy seemed a tad nervous when looking out upon the sea of audience members, but no one will deny that he presented himself well. He quickly explained, “I’ve never done anything like this before, so I might just be reading things off my hand.” Amusingly, he looked to his hand a couple of times during the presentation. Records then introduced a few more scenes from the film.

For those who haven’t seen the film’s trailer, Jonze has done a masterful job of translating the creatures from the book to the movie. They’re huge, scary-yet-playful, and most importantly, believable. There is a true sense of wonder and emotion in all the scenes between Max and the monsters.

When the lights came up, Records said he spoke to Sendak recently and the author told him, “You know, I really like this movie and I hope people like it. Because if they don’t, they can go straight to hell.”

The young actor also mentioned how much he enjoyed working with Jonze. Records said the director had a penchant for creating a huge tower of flame with a propane tank when he wanted a “fear” reaction shot from the boy. Records laughed and admitted, “It worked!”

The Hughes Brothers and Gary Oldman

With that, Max Records left the stage and the next film had its turn – “The Book of Eli.” This presentation began with an animated graphic novel that served as a prelude to the movie. Called “Billy,” the feature gave a hint as to the events that lead to the bleak future of “Eli.” The animation will eventually be found online at the film’s website, along with other animated comics.

Directors The Hughes Brothers (twins Albert and Allen) introduced three members of their cast: Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman, and Denzel Washington. The filmmakers mentioned they hadn’t made a film since “From Hell,” and that they felt very fortunate to have such a talented cast.

The film’s trailer showed a semi-apocalyptic future. Washington’s character travels across this landscape with an important book -- which Oldman’s character wants. Washington has to shoot and fight to get to his destination, and along the way receives some help from Kunis. When the trailer concluded, the panel opened itself up to questions from audience members.

One of the first queries, amusingly, was from a set of twins. They directed their inquiry to Kunis, and asked how she liked being directed by twins. The actress said it was a positive experience, and asked the twin who posed the question if he had a desire to work with his brother. “I’d rather work with Mila Kunis” was his happy response.

When asked how the two male leads liked working with one another, Oldman said, “It was like good sex.”

“Yeah! We had a ball,” added Washington.

The next audience member to the microphone asked Oldman why he always seemed to get typecast as the menacing villain. The actor said, “I don’t know why. I’m not particularly threatening-looking. Naked, I look like a bald chicken.”

Of course, being at Comic-Con, a fan was bound to ask Oldman about his most famous comics-related role, that of Jim Gordon in the Batman franchise. The individual asked when Oldman when he and the Batman crew plan on shooting the next film in the series. To everyone’s surprise, Oldman said that they’ll start filming next year, “but you didn’t hear it from me.” This surprised – and pleased – many fans, as no other news has been relayed yet about another Batman film since “The Dark Knight’s” record-breaking run at the box office. Time will tell how accurate this information is.

“The Book of Eli” cast and directors then waved farewell to the crowd, reminding them that the film opens on January 15.

Jackie Earle Haley and the crew of "Nightmare on Elm Street"

Following this, the crowd was promised a trip to a familiar street… specifically Elm Street. The producers of the remake of “Nightmare on Elm Street” – Andrew Form and Bradley Fuller – took the stage with director Samuel Bayer and the new Freddy Krueger, actor Jackie Earle Haley.

A trailer was shown, and to those who grew up with the original film, it felt quite familiar -- yet new. It’s clear from the trailer’s clips that more of Krueger’s origin will be seen in this update, and there is no doubt that the film will provide more than its fair share of chills. However, it was somewhat interesting that the trailer contained what seemed like the same creepy kids jumping rope from the original movie. They also sang their telltale rhyme: “One, two, Freddy’s after you. Three, four, better lock your door.”

Other familiar elements included kids trying to stay awake and Freddy’s metallic claws along with his striped sweater. A glimpse of Freddy’s face was shown, but it looked very different from the Freddy fans are familiar with. This Freddy’s facial burns actually look like grotesque burns.

After the trailer, the audience Q&A followed. One of the first queries concerned the actor who played the original Freddy, Robert Englund. A fan asked whether the actor had a cameo in the new film. Alas, the producers indicated this wasn’t going to occur, although they said that Englund has been very supportive of the work Haley has done.

Haley said he had a great time with the role. “I want to thank the producers for picking me, and thank you – the fans – for suggesting me.”

The next audience member jokingly asked Haley, “What would you whisper to Freddy’s victims if they asked you to save them? Would you say, ‘Noooo?’” The audience and actor laughed, as this was a reference to Haley’s part in the “Watchmen” film.

Another question which came up – and which the producers seemed to expect – was why they were making a film that was only a couple of decades old? The producers compared this remake to the “Batman” films. They said they loved Tim Burton’s vision in the original 1989 film, but they also loved what Christopher Nolan has done with the rebooted franchise. “Both were great, but different.”

Director Samuel Bayer

The producers want this “Nightmare on Elm Street” film to be scarier than the original – “less jokey.” With that, makeup artist Andrew Clement designed a new look for Freddy. It took Haley three-and-a-half hours to get into makeup and over an hour to get out of it. The actor called it a “more disconcerting and alarming” kind of look. From the reactions of the crowd that saw the trailer, it’s clear they agreed.

After the “Elm Street” team left the stage, the audience was treated to “The Box” – the third film from “Donnie Darko” filmmaker Richard Kelly. The film stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden and poses a morality question to audiences: would you press a button that killed someone – a person you didn’t know – if you were given one million dollars to do so?

The trailer for this film gave some idea of the consequences for this action, as Frank Langella’s character (Arlington Steward, the deliverer of the offer) made Marsden and Diaz’s characters question their very sanity. It looks very thought-provoking and appropriately disturbing.

The director then sat down with the actors and talked a bit about the film. Kelly explained that it’s based on a short story called “Button, Button” written by Richard Matheson. It was originally published in “Playboy,” and the director optioned it six years ago and struggled with a way to turn it into a movie. Kelly said he “cracked the story” when he realized it should take place in Virginia in 1976 and deal with events concerning NASA from that time.

The writer-director added that the time period was important because the idea of “someone you don’t know” is almost impossible in the present with social networking and Google. He also thought it was interesting to have Diaz and Marsden being “two married moral characters living beyond their means,” as this is something many people now presently relate to.

Kelly also mentioned that the film’s couple was somewhat modeled on his parents. Kelly’s Dad worked at NASA and his mom was a schoolteacher. The actors actually met the director’s parents and got to talk with the two to get a sense of them. As the characters were based a bit on his folks, Kelly also said there are actually no swear words in this film.

Richard Kelly and the cast of "The Box"

“Except ‘Frak!’” Cameron jokingly added.

The director and actors also answered a few questions from the audience. And like Oldman in the “Book of Eli” presentation, a fan asked Marsden if he knew anything about the next Superman film, because he had a role in “Superman Returns.” Sadly, the actor said he knew nothing. “You fans probably know more about the next movie than I do,” he said with a smile.

An audience member asked Kelly how it felt to be making a film with a big studio like Warner Bros., as his previous two films were smaller productions. The filmmaker mentioned that he was thankful for Diaz agreeing to be in the movie, which made the financing of the film possible. He also said he finally hopes “to make a movie that grosses over a million dollars.”

With that, the questions were finished, but before “The Box” group left, they had a present to bestow to an audience member – an autographed “box unit,” just like the one in the film. Everyone in the crowd was asked to peek under their seats, and a female fan with a “Box” poster under her chair won the prize. She happily accepted…and pressed the button!

Following this, the “Jonah Hex” group took a turn on the stage (for more details on this presentation, check out the “CCI: Jonah Hex” article posted here at CBR). And when they wrapped, Robert Downey Jr. took the center stage. The audience applauded loudly when he appeared.

“I’ll make this quick,” he said. “122 years ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave us the first superhero. He was an intellectual superhero and was also the first western martial artist, or so I’m told. He is one of the most recognizable names on earth – so much so, that many people often think he was a real person. I’m talking, of course, about Sherlock Holmes.” And with that, a special presentation of Downey’s “Sherlock Holmes” played for the audience.

The Sherlock Holmes on display for the crowd was like a Victorian-age Batman. He fought, he deduced, he joked, and he charmed. Jude Law plays his not-so-eager assistant Watson, while Rachel McAdams plays a Catwoman of sorts in the character of Irene Adler. The audience cheered, hooted, and hollered with excitement throughout this extended trailer, and applauded loudly when it was over.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Rachel McAdams

At this point, Downey had several people join him on stage, including producers Susan Downey (his wife), Joel Silver, and Lionel Wigram, as well as actress Rachel McAdams. Together, they talked about the history of this project. Wigram had always loved the character and tried to pursue getting the film made. Finally, he created a comic book of sorts that would show how “cool” the character could be. He took it to Warner Bros., showed Joel Silver, and the producer eventually agreed that it should be made. A story was developed, director Guy Ritchie was brought on board (a “badass gentleman,” according to Downey), and Downey jumped into the role.

While answering questions from the audience, Downey explained that in looking at the original novels, it became clear that Holmes had actually been misrepresented in previous incarnations on TV and in film. Downey said that with this version of the character, “he’s been changed less than ever before.”

A fan asked about the possibility of other supporting cast from the book appearing in the film, such as Moriarity and others. McAdams answered that Mrs. Hudson is present and possibly a few others can be found, such as the character she plays – Irene Adler. However, the actress admitted that her character has only appeared in ten pages of a Holmes’ novel, although she “combed those ten pages thoroughly.”

Downey added that they “worked their asses off” in making the film, and hoped that fans enjoy it when the film is released. With the actor’s final words, the Warner Bros. presentation concluded and fans gave Downey Jr. one last big cheer.

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TAGS:  cci2009, warner bros, robert downey, jr., jackie earle haley, gary oldman

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