CCI, Day 2: Talkin' "Stardust" with the Dream King

Paramount Pictures debuted footage from their new film "Stardust" Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego. On hand were producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, writer Neil Gaiman, artist Charles Vess, and co-writer of the Stardust screenplay, Jane Goldman.

"People have been trying to make 'Stardust' a movie since about 1998, and I let Matthew Vaughan do it because I trust him," Gaiman said. He brought on Goldman, whom Gaiman also trusts, especially because they both "let me look over their shoulder and occasionally kibitz."

Gaiman met Vaughn when he wanted to buy the rights to Gaiman's short story "Snow Glass Apples." The two struck a deal: If Vaughn produced Gaiman's first film, "A Short Film about John Bolton," then he would get the rights.

Originally, the two had tried to convince Terry Gilliam to direct "Stardust" with Vaughn producing, but Terry didn't want to do another fairy tale right after "Brothers Grimm." Additionally, Gaiman confirmed that Gilliam was back on board to direct the movie version of he and Terry Pratchett's "Good Omens," but had not paid the option price: "one groat each."

Goldman relayed a preliminary word from the absent director Matthew Vaughn: "This is really raw footage," but Vaughn was "really excited" about it and "so proud of the content," that he wanted the Comic-Con attendees to see it.

In the first clip shown, Tristan (played by Charlie Cox) goes to woo his love Victoria, but is interrupted by her beau, Humphrey, and loses a fencing duel with him.

"In an effort to win Victoria's heart, Tristan promises to bring her back a fallen star," Gaiman said. It's fallen on the other side of the wall that their village is built next to, and so, "Here we see Tristan doing his best to cross that wall, initially."

In the second clip, Tristan indeed attempts to cross the wall, and learns from the old man that guards it that his father once crossed, or tried to cross, the wall. When Tristan tries to get by, the old man performs a back flip and beats him silly with his walking stick.

"On the other side of the wall, we have a number of people are interested in the fallen star as well," Gaiman said. These include a group of witches called the Lillim (their leader, Lamia, is played by Michelle Pfeiffer), and "a number of lords, princes who sort of kill each other as a sort of means of succession."

In the third clip, Lamia is coerced into telling the truth of her mission to an old harridan. Afterwards, she curses the old woman in a spectacular fashion, after revealing her true identity.

"Matthew really wanted us to stress that nothing has been done to the footage you're seeing," Gaiman said. "He's currently back in England, shooting green screen stuff and worrying."

"This is a character who's not in the book, in fact, it's one and a half characters who are not in the book," Gaiman said. Captain Shakespeare is a flying pirate whose ship captures lightning bolts to sell, played by Robert DeNiro. Ferdy the Fence is another new character for the movie, played by Ricky Gervais.

In the fourth clip, Captain Shakespeare haggles with Ferdy over the price of lightning bolts.

"We can't believe our luck with the incredible cast we got," Goldman said, "The one person you might not recognize is Charlie Cox who played Tristan."

"We found a lot of actors who could play the nerdy side of Tristan, and some who could play the cool side of Tristan after he's grown up, but no one but Charlie could do both," Gaiman said.

The fifth clip shown was Tristan and Yvaine (Claire Danes) walking across the mountains towards wall, joking. The sixth clip was Lamia cursing Ferdy not to speak, only to make animal noises, after he couldn't give her the information she desired. The seventh clip is Septimus (Mark Strong) interrogating Ferdy.

Asked if he was satisfied with the design of the set and movie, Vess replied, "It was little hair raising hearing about it secondhand." But when he finally saw the set last week, despite his brain being dead from work and the flight, "it immediately came back to life seeing the beautiful visualizations they've done."

Gaiman pointed out one place where his imagination, Vess' drawings, and the movie set designers had all converged into what he'd really imagined while writing the story. "The inn the witch magics up in the mountains was just like having walked into the thing that I had imagined, and the thing that Charles drew." But most of the movie isn't what he'd imagined. "It looks cooler. It doesn't even look like a fantasy movie, it looks like itself, whatever that is."

A new hardback of the "Stardust" graphic novel will be released by DC Comics in March, in time for the film and Vess is doing a new cover for it.

Vess apparently wandered around the set with a huge smile for a couple days, and "he went to the art department and said, do you have any paper?" And then he drew a "new, gorgeous cover, then he gave the pencil drawing to Claire Danes, because it sort of looked a bit like her."

"Stardust" isn't the only movie property Gaiman is attached to, although the others currently stand anywhere from a few years off to the misty reaches of Development Hell.

Gaiman talked about the adaptation of his book "Coraline," "which I suspect you'll probably find more about it next year."

It's being directed by Henry Selick in stop motion, and Dakota Fanning plays Coraline.

"I think she's going to make a great stop motion little Coraline." Gaiman added.

Regarding an adaptation of "American Gods," "lots of producers and directors have approached me, and I tend to say, 'sure, sounds good,' and then they look at me and say, 'how would you make that into a movie?' And I say; 'I have no idea,' and that's where that ends."

"Sandman," according to Gaiman, "is just floating in a void and in all honesty, I'd rather no Sandman movie got made than a bad Sandman movie got made." "I figure one day -- with any luck, during our lifetimes -- a director will come along with a love for the book" like Raimi had for "Spider-Man," or Peter Jackson had for "The Lord of the Rings" and it'll get made, Gaiman said.

The "Death" movie is moving very slowly through the system, "it doesn't seem to be dead yet, which is the best thing you can say about Death, I suppose."

Goldman then read a note from Vaughn, which expressed his regret at not being able to be at Comic-Con, "I'm sitting on a sound stage right now and wondering if I love or hate green screen." Charlie Cox and Claire Danes were shooting the Babylon candle scene, and all three were wishing it really worked so that they could fly to the con. "I hope you all like the film."

Gaiman then revealed information about next year's Comic-Con, and about the "Beowulf" movie.

"Next year, I will probably wind up a guest of Comic-Con and be here for the full four days and sign things for everybody."

He will be doing a panel with Roger Avery, Angelina Jolie, Crispin Glover, possibly Anthony Hopkins, and Ray Winston, but not Bob Zemekis (who hates panels) to talk about "Beowulf." It will be released November, 22, 2007, and it will use the tech they developed on "Polar Express" and "Monster House," but will take it "further than you would imagine."

It's a "cheerfully violent, very, very strange take on the Beowulf legend." It's both "Remarkably faithful, and deeply deeply weird."

He then showed the logo for the film, along with the Web site: www.beowulfmovie.com

There was one final, surprise announcement from di Bonaventura regarding the "Transformers" movie. They rolled a short note from director Michael Bay, who announced "We've added a new cast member"

At that point, a cell phone was brought out to di Bonaventura, and speaking was Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Peter was the original voice of Optimus Prime from the '80s cartoon series.

As for comics, Gaiman was asked about his current run on Marvel's "Eternals," and if he will continue on the title after the initial 6-issue mini-series.

"It will mostly depend on time. I'm definitely finding myself going, 'there was an awful lot more plot and things I have in my head than I'll be able to fit in by the last page of issue 6.'"

According to Gaiman, "John Romita, Jr. keeps saying things like, if you want to carry on, I'll keep drawing it."

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