SDCC '08 - Wolverine Makes Earth Stand Still @ Fox Panel

San Diego Comic-Con 2008’s barrage of movie unveils began with a stumble as ‘technical’ difficulties delayed the start of the Fox feature panel for nearly 45 minutes. But the first-day crowd seemed surprisingly forgiving, and their patience was rewarded with a star-studded panel with a huge surprise (more on that later).

A huge cheer greeted the arrival onstage of the first group, the cast & crew from the upcoming remake of “The Day The Earth Stood Still.” Actually, star Keanu Reeves made the first appearance and introduced co-star Jennifer Connelly, director Scott Derrickson (first directing effort was 2005’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and producer Erwin Stoff (he’s been Keanu’s agent/mgr since Keanu was 16).

Keanu seemed in great spirits, having fun with the constant ‘Keanu’ chants, even doing a funny reference to ‘Point Break’ …which would have had everyone cheering if the microphones would have worked.

Derrickson talked about his affection and respect for Robert Wise (who directed the original) and how much it meant for him to get a chance to re-imagine the film.

Derrickson talked about the original film being a product of its time, with the Cold War unease prevalent in the movie’s tone, and that it made it ripe to be remade. He also talked about the huge advances in visual effects making this enticing.

He added that he obviously wanted to pay homage to the 1951 movie but that he was determined to not be as focused on the ‘ship from outer space’ aspect of the original.

A scene from the movie was shown next. Klaatu is being interrogated in some government facility and then he escapes by using some sort of telepathic power to overpower the agents and walking out. A quick but effective scene that hinted at Klaatu’s power, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it, along with Reeves’ unusually menacing performance.

The Q&A picked up right after, with Keanu describing his process for becoming Klaatu. Connelly finally joined in. The Oscar-winning actress mentioned that the film runs the gamut from thrilling to tense and it has spectacular sequences, but that it offered a chance to delve into really serious issues.

“It was a really great process working with Scott (Derrickson) and Jaden Smith (Will’s son) who plays my stepson,” Connelly said.

“Klaatu is starting to have a conflict about a decision he made earlier in the film, he’s getting a more human understanding,” Reeves said. “He’s being affected, he’s becoming ambivalent ... and thinking that maybe they’re not as bad as he thought they were.”

The topic of Gort – the subject of much online quibbling - was addressed. “There’s definitely Gort in this film. There wouldn’t be a film without Gort.”

He did say there was much discussion about how to present him, lots of artwork, character designs … but said ultimately they didn’t move very far from the original Gort. He says WETA is still working on the final details of how Gort will appear on screen, and wasn’t specific on whether he would be all CGI or an actor in suit with effects layered over.

Derrickson also talked about the ‘breakthrough’ design of the space ship – it’s a bio-sphere that is almost like a small planet.

The presentation ended with an extended trailer that was very well received by the audience.

The cast from “Max Payne” then took their seats on the podium after a quick (and gritty) scene from the movie.

Mark Wahlberg (Max), Mila Kunis (Mona Sax), Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges (Jim Bravura) and director John Moore were all on hand.

Moore said the toughest part about making a movie based on such a popular video game was “not to mess this up. The story is the game, you have to follow it through, and the challenge is not to screw it up.”

Wahlberg was asked about taking a character so well known in another medium and turning it into his own. He said he read the script before seeing the game. With the crowd 'oohing' and 'ahhing' his every word, Wahlberg cracked that “it was like doing a concert in Japan. You don’t say anything and they go ‘wooo.’ Now I know why the New Kids wanted to go back. You miss this stuff and gets you all warm in the pants.” (co-star Mila Kunis, who is young enough that she probably missed the New Kids On the Block and Markie Mark phases in the 90s, cracked up with this line).

Wahlberg added after doing "Invincible", "The Happening", and "The Lovely Bones", he wanted to kick some ass again so the film really intrigued him.

Then they showed a clip from the movie where Max faces off against 3 thugs in a subway station.

Mila Kunis was next to talk, talking about playing Mona. “I got to kick ass in high heels and learn to take apart weapons.” She also mentioned that she gets to beat up Wahlberg in the movie.

Wahlberg then praised co-star Ludacris for his performance, saying it will blow everyone away. Wahlberg mentioned that being a music industry vet himself, he’s always skeptical about musicians moving into film, but that Ludacris proved his mettle with this role. The shout-out seemed to touch the hip-hop star. “It really means a lot to hear Mark say that,” he said.

While both those films made a solid impact with the crowd (especially ‘Max Payne’ with its ultra-violent trailer motored by Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”), both were overshadowed by a certain mutton-chopped surprise guest.

“He came straight from Australia, Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman!”

It was absolute pandemonium as the star of next year’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” walked onstage.

Jackman said he came straight from the airport to the Con, adding that they have just wrapped filming on the X-spinoff.

“I’ve been waiting to bring Wolverine to Comic-Con for years,” Jackman said. “I owe you guys my career.” He pointed out that the three X-Men movies never did huge presentations at SDCC for one reason or another and said there was no way he would miss it this time around.

Jackman then earned huge points with the gathering by not only lavishing praise on Wolverine co-creator Len Wein, and then ran offstage to shake Wein’s hand, who was sitting up front. Is it any wonder fanboys love this guy?

Jackman told Wein “thank you for creating this character. It made my career,” he said.

The Aussie actor talked about the film being action-packed and bad ass, and said to expect ‘lots of berserker rage in this one.’

Ever the showman, the Tony-award winner asked the audience, “So you guys want to see some footage?” He pointed out again the film just wrapped production and a lot of the shots are finalized, but admitted there was no way he could come here empty-handed.

And then we saw footage of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” First impressions: Liev Schreiber looks insane as Sabretooth. He and Jackman appear to have lots of scenes together including a number of fights. There were several scenes that were instantly recognizable to longtime X-Men and Wolverine readers (including a scene from the Weapon X training program that looked right out of Barry Windsor Smith’s classic origin story).We also saw a ton of mutants in the quick-cut trailer, including the Blob, Deadpool, and …. Um, what was his name? Oh, yeah.

GAMBIT!

The reaction to the Ragin’ Cajun’s appearance nearly blew the roof off Hall H. Jackman even commented on it afterward.

So ended the first panel of Comic-Con ’08, and with it we have the first Big Splash of the show. Just like “Iron Man” kicked things off last year with a bang, Jackman’s surprise appearance and the clips from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” just set the bar for other acts to follow. They have their work cut out for them.

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