Comic-Con is big draw for those who make, those who watch fantasy films

The Baltimore Sun

SAN DIEGO -- Zack Snyder was just another movie director hawking his wares at last year's Comic-Con convention when he joined Frank Miller, the graphic novelist, here to talk about a planned adaptation of Miller's 300.

What a difference a year makes.

Snyder, a sandy-haired 41-year-old, arrived this time in triumph. All of Petco Park, the city's Major League Baseball stadium, was reserved for a Friday night screening and celebration of 300, which became a surprise global hit for Warner Bros. in March.

Earlier in the day, fans packed one of the convention center's enormous halls (capacity, 6,500) to glean Snyder's thoughts about Watchmen, the movie he expects to make of the famous comic series, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, about the underbelly of superhero life. To hoots and hollers of approval, the director promised to keep faith with the comic.

The 4 1/2 -day Comic-Con International - "The Con," to enthusiasts - began its 38th year with a preview session on Wednesday evening. It was expected to draw well over 100,000 science fiction and fantasy buffs to its hundreds of presentations and a booth-lined floor crammed with robots, latex monsters and geeks who have long since blurred any line between the real and imagined.

For Hollywood, increasingly reliant on animation and fantasy for superhits, the convention has become an obligatory first promotional stop for the next wave of blockbusters.

Paramount Pictures screened a 3-D excerpt from Beowulf, its computer-assisted telling of the warrior-meets-monster (and an all-hips-and-lips Angelina Jolie) saga, due from director Robert Zemeckis in November. And Leonard Nimoy showed up Thursday to join the bandwagon for Paramount's newest Star Trek movie, even though it won't reach theaters until Christmas 2008. Nimoy will play an older Spock to a younger version played by Zachary Quinto (Heroes). Director J.J. Abrams, a co-creator of Lost, said that William Shatner would probably reunite with Nimoy in the movie.

Marvel Studios was expected on Saturday to join with Universal to promote a new version of The Incredible Hulk and with Paramount to push the coming debut of Iron Man. And the television networks have taken to the convention just as eagerly, with the casts of shows including Heroes, Lost, and The Bionic Woman making appearances.

Comic-Con has also begun to draw entertainment dealmakers, who have been trolling for meetings with comic artists and writers.

Snyder's presentation a year ago laid the groundwork for 300, which stunned the film industry when it opened to more than $70 million in ticket sales in its first weekend, despite the director's relative lack of status - his most impressive credential at that point was a Dawn of the Dead remake - and a dearth of big stars. The movie, which cost about $65 million to make, has earned about $456 million in ticket sales worldwide.

"There's no place more important for Watchmen than this place," Snyder said during a short break between sessions where he had discussed, among other things, the casting of the film, which includes Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, and Jackie Earle Haley. Referring to the special reverence comic-book fans hold for Moore's story, he added: "Watchmen is as serious as a heart attack when it comes to the fans."

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