Movie fans who endured the line for Comic-Con International in San Diego’s infamous Hall H on Saturday were treated to a morning of first looks and panel discussion for upcoming films from Warner Bros. Pictures.
Moderated by Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick, the Saturday schedule of Hall H events started with a very wide surprise as Warner Bros. stepped up the Comic-Con experience with a new degree of visual spectacle. Curtains swung open to reveal projector screens on each side of the walls, allowing for a special 180-degree promotional video for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
While the film wasn’t on the schedule of events, that didn’t stop director Zack Snyder from kicking the panel off with an update for the movie and a teaser clip. The video featured an armored Batman, reminiscent of his appearance in “The Dark Knight Returns,” activating the Bat Signal. As the spotlight shines into the sky, the camera pans up to reveal Superman hovering in the beam of light. With Superman’s eyes glowing red, the clip ends with the two heroes staring each other down over what is presumably the rooftops of Gotham City.
“I’m not giving them microphones because I’m afraid you guys would ask them questions,” Snyder joked.
“If you think I’m not going to take a picture of this, you’re insane,” said Hardwick before capturing his first selfie of the day.
Continuing with the panel’s scheduled events, Hardwick introduced Channing Tatum to show off new clips from “Jupiter Ascending.” With the Wachowskis currently shooting “Sense8” for Netflix and co-star Mila Kunis too pregnant for the trip, it was up to Tatum to continue with the film’s promotion with a new trailer full of exposition and space battles.
“It’s the Wachowskis, so you never know what you’re going to get with them,” said Tatum Tatum of his work with the filmmakers behind “The Matrix.” “They are absolutely out of their minds.”
After Tatum left the stage, the Hall H audience went mad as Hardwick introduced director George Miller with a tribute to his post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” trilogy.
Miller is now working on a new film in the franchise, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” starring Tom Hardy as the road warrior.
With decades between the last movie and this one, Hardwick asked Miller why he decided to revisit the franchise after so long. “The story popped in my head and just wouldn’t go away,” said Miller. “I love chase movies. They are kind of the purest form of cinema.”
And while technology has advanced over the years, the tried and true methods of storyboarding remain. With a film that boasts a lot of action and little dialogue, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is built off of 7500 storyboard panels. “It’s an incredibly long comic book,” said Miller.
Asked how much the filmmaking process has changed since 1979’s “Mad Max,” Miller said that while the technology and business of the film making industry has changed, the idea of creating a story for people remains. “Put simply, it really is an opportunity to go back and tell a simple allegory,” said Miller. “They’re kind of like westerns on wheels.”
The success of the “Mad Max” franchise was something Miller didn’t see coming when he first started the series. “It’s always a surprise. You work so hard on a movie and you put it out there and you have no idea how it will be received,” said Miller. “If you had told me that I’d be making another one all these years later, I’d never believe you.”
Opening up the panel to a Q&A from the audience, Miller was asked how his life experience has influenced the way he approaches filmmaking since he started.
“I look back at the old films and I can barely remember how I understood how to make them,” the director said. “You kind of lose any sense of yourself and you’re kind of working on instinct and gut.” Before going any further, the Hall H audience became the first in the world to get a look at footage from “Mad Max: Fury Road” via the film’s first trailer.
Following the trailer’s debut, Miller shared some details about the movie, starting with Charlize Theron’s character, the Imperator Furiosa. “She is the chief of a big war-rig that chases across the wasteland, and Max, the guy that just wants to be by himself, gets caught up in it,” Miller explained. The director also confirmed that the movie will take place over a relatively short period of time, similar to “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.”
The next audience member asked which movie was harder to make, the original 1979 film or the current one. “The first movie was the toughest movie I ever had to make,” said Miller. “The budget was low, but more importantly, I really didn’t know what to expect. By the time I got here, I knew a lot more of what to expect. Basically, I’m definitely able to make the movie I want to make.”
With the movie set for release in May, Miller is starting to put the finishing touches on the film. He revealed that immediately following his trip to Comic-Con he would be in a recording session to finish the score with Tom Holkenborg, better known as Junkie XL. “Pretty soon we’ll be mixing it together, tying up a few things, then it will be bye-bye ‘Fury Road’ to me,” said Miller.
Last, but not least, the Warner Bros. panel concluded with a feature on “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.” After warming up the audience with a recap of the previous five movies in the franchise, Hardwick left the stage and passed on moderation duties to Stephen Colbert.
Dressed as his character, the Laketown Spy Master from “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug,” Colbert and his son took to the stage to announce the start of the panel. “If I could only go back in time and show this to my 13-year-old self,” said Colbert.
After sharing a blooper reel from the previous films, Colbert brought out the panel guests: director Peter Jackson, co-writer Philippa Boyens and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Graham McTavis, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis. Jackson apologized on behalf of actors Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen, who couldn’t make it to the panel. Freeman and Armitage are on stage in London and McKellen is shooting another movie.
“But they do send their love, and I’m sure you will see them again,” said Jackson.
The movie itself is finished shooting in theory, but less so in practice. “We’ve got battle sequences to do and a lot of other really intricate things, so we’re doing motion capture for that, or we’re doing animation in the case of some of the big creatures,” said Jackson. “Then that goes on to the motion capture stage and I go on with a camera and I film it, which I absolutely love doing. So I’m still shooting the movie in a sense.”
With so much motion capture and special effects work involved, Colbert asked if this was the first time some of cast members actually met the others, even if they had already done scenes with them.
“I didn’t meet Cate until well after I’d finished working with her,” said Cumberbatch.
Colbert then brought the topic back to the beginning, pointing out that Jackson first started working on adapting “The Lord of the Rings” in 1995. “By the time this film is released, you will have spent twenty years thinking about this world,” said Colbert. “Did you imagine that this would take a generation of your life?”
“It’s a commitment that I’ve really enjoyed taking,” said Jackson. He revealed that he had originally pitched “The Hobbit” as a single movie, to be followed with two movies for “The Lord of the Rings” to be filmed back-to-back.
“I do want to complain to you again, as I have before,” said Colbert, “that since ‘The Hobbit’ was one book that became three movies, technically you owe us six more movies for the trilogy.”
“If Warners could find a way to do that, they would certainly be very happy,” said Jackson.
Colbert also asked Jackson about the tone of the “Hobbit” movies and how it has changed from the first movie to the last. “I think it’s extended the way you would imagine since seeing the first two. I guess everybody in the room already knows what’s going to happen at the end of ‘The Hobbit.’ There is a lot of sadness and tragedy, which is good. It’s always great when you can kill off some main characters,” said Jackson. “It’s not as comical as the first ‘Hobbit’ movie for sure. We’re progressively getting toward the tone of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring.'”
With all the additional material included in “The Hobbit” trilogy, Colbert asked the screenwriters what kind of things they would have included in the first trilogy if they were working under similar conditions. “Of course, The Old Forest, easily,” said Boyens. “And Tom.”
“Did you think about Tom Bombadil at all?” asked Colbert.
“We did,” said Boyens. “Pete had some very funny ideas, including seeing his head when they were on the roads. … But that will have to be for another generation of filmmakers I suspect.”
Colbert moved on to Cumberbatch, pointing out that he was playing the two biggest villains in the movies, Sauron and Smaug, and asked what the biggest difference was between the two.
“One’s a dragon and one’s an all-seeing, non-corporeal entity of evil,” joked Cumberbatch. “But no, one’s real and made of something that’s vulnerable and one seems to have been born of everything that’s evil and difficult to pin down and actually kill.”
Colbert also asked about his motion capture work and if it had any advantages over traditional acting. “Oh yeah, you’re completely free to just make a complete fool of yourself and lose yourself in your imagination,” said Cumberbatch. “It’s much harder than what these guys did with green screen. Acting opposite ping pong balls and marks of tape and pretending that’s your reality in the whole costume, with continuity, taking into account how the camera moves. I was just throwing myself around a carpeted floor like a lunatic.”
As the only representative of the dwarves at the panel, Graham McTavish commented on being one of the film’s unlikely protagonists. “It’s been an extraordinary experience being a dwarf when you’re six-foot-three,” said McTavish. “That alone was an experience I’ll never forget.”
While Bloom and Lilly have enjoyed their fair share of action scenes in the movies, Blanchett has yet to earn a fight scene in the trilogy, something she’s actually thankful for considering her footwear. “I have to wear these hugely high sort of disco glam boots, so it’s a little bit tricky to even walk,” said Blanchett.
“We do get to see Galadriel losing it a bit in this sixth movie,” said Jackson.
“I lose my shit,” Blanchett said. “Elven shit.”
“I’m sure it sparkles,” said Colbert.
Colbert also observed that there is a class in the Elvish culture and the conflict between pairing Leglolas and Tauriel.
“Yes, I’m a low-class elf. Is that what you want me to say,” said Lilly. “I’m a low-class, trashy elf, but my shit still sparkles.”
Letting his television persona shine through, Colbert brought up his victory over Boyens in a “Lord of the Rings” trivia contest. “You know what was really funny,” said Boyens. “It was me and Stephen, and we were asking each other questions, and I think nobody else in the room knew if we were getting them right or wrong.”
“That was in the final round,” said Jackson. “Stephen Fry and I designed questions for the two of you to start with and when it all got a little bit crazy in the end you guys just started firing really hard ones at each other. And none of us knew what was right.”
Of the New Zealand experience, Colbert asked the panel guests what they thought of shooting on location in Jackson’s native land. “I’d never been before, but I absolutely made the most of it,” said Pace. “I loved being outside and hiking and stuff and you can’t find a better place for it than New Zealand.”
“We spent two weeks down there. I had a strong feeling that I should never leave New Zealand. That this was where I will be a man,” said Colbert. “It really calls out to you. Are you as raw as this mountain is? Can you carve out a life? Plus, no bears.”
Speaking about the books, Colbert asked which cast members had read the source material. Specifically if Wood had gone back to read the books after starring as Frodo Baggins in the first trilogy.
“I actually haven’t,” said Wood, invoking groans among the audience. “Listen, I’ve said this before. I’m okay.”
But while Wood hasn’t read the books, Lilly admitted she loves them too much to finish them. “I loved reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’ so much when I was young that when I got about twenty-five pages to the end of ‘Return of the King’ I took my book, closed it, and I said, ‘I will never read those pages because this story must go on,'” said Lilly. “And I have never read those pages. Ever.”
Looking toward the end of the table, Colbert asked Serkis about his motion capture company in London. Serkis explained how his work on “The Lord of the Rings” changed his life, and that he only realized it during the last weeks of work when Jackson asked him to play King Kong.
“I thought my life was going back to the reality of playing normal characters in normal films in a normal, traditional way. Then the idea just hit me. ‘Hold on a minute. I just played this three-and-a-half-foot ring junkie and now I’m going to play a 25-foot gorilla. Wow, this means typecasting is no more,” said Serkis. “This means you can do anything.”
After discussing how much the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy changed the face of movies, particularly when it comes to large-scale battle sequences, the audience was treated to the world’s first screening of the “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” teaser trailer.
“Thank you for not giving away the part where the leader of the spy network saves the day,” Colbert joked.
Opening up the panel to fan questions, the first audience member asked if Legolas teaches Bard archery, or if Bard teaches Legolas.
“Do you want a sensible answer, or do you want a silly answer?” asked Evans.
“The trick is, both of these guys are really good at archery at real life,” said Lilly. “So they’re both quietly thinking, ‘How do I tell them I’m better?'”
Another question came from an aspiring actress asking about the kind of techniques the actors use to get into character, particularly when there’s no actor to play off of. All of the panelists looked to Serkis for the answer.
“The fact of the matter is that although there is technology involved in the way of creating characters like Gollum, really, all it is is exactly the same. All you need is the eyes of another actor to look into, and that’s it,” said Serkis. “People attach this kind of mystery to performance capture. Really, the magic is having brilliant actors together in a room.”
“It’s like layers of imagination,” said Pace. “You’ve got Tolkien’s imagination, then our imagination comes in, then CGI comes on top of that, and it’s like all these beautiful collaborations on top of each other, but if everyone’s imagination is kind of alive, I think the movie gets cool.”
The next question asked if each of the actors could take their character to Comic-Con, where would they go?
“Hall H,” said Cumberbatch. “I don’t think I could fit anywhere else.”
“I don’t know, I’d ride my elk right up that aisle right there,” said Pace.
“Well, my secret dream,” said Serkis in his Gollum voice, “I would quite like to go backstage with Stephen Colbert, and see what it’s got inside its costume, precious.”
Next up, a Hall H attendee asked how much influence the style of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy had on making “The Hobbit.” “We come at it from a different direction than Tolkien did,” said Jackson. “He sort of worked his way up and we’re working our way down the other direction really.”
For the last question of the panel, a huge fan of the Extended Edition versions of the home release movies asked if there was a longer cut of the movies possible down the road. Jackson revealed that there are a few extra scenes left that haven’t made it into the previous films, including one with a young Aragorn.
“It’s not without its issue because ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was seven million feet of 35 millimeter film, which is sitting in a mountain in Arizona somewhere at the moment,” said Jackson. “It’s a big logistical thing that I think might be tough to get around. But if there’s enough interest from people, maybe they will.”
The panel came to an end with the announcement the Hobbit Fan Fellowship Contest, which offers fans a chance to be one of 75 people to watch “The Battle of Five Armies” with Peter Jackson in the theater. The prize also includes a trip to Hobbiton and other New Zealand locations.
To kick off the contest, two Hall H audience members were chosen on the spot to be the first two winners. “That’s only two of 75,” said Jackson. “We still have 73 places to go so we will hopefully see you down in New Zealand in November for this secret screening.”