It’s only the first day, but pound-for-pound there’s no denying that Fox’s Hall H panel on Thursday afternoon was the biggest event of this year’s Comic-Con, so far. Twihards had their moment in the morning and the inaugural Film District panel treated cinephiles to a hilariously candid (yet refreshingly technical) conversation between Guillermo del Toro and Nicolas Winding-Refn, but the Comic-Con buzz we’ve come to know wasn’t truly palpable until Damon Lindelof sauntered on stage and introduced a slate of films that included a Ridley Scott-directed Alien prequel and a curiously rousing Planet of the Apes reboot.
So here are the seven things we learned from the biggest panel of SDCC 2011, day one:
- Prometheus is an Alien movie to its core
Lindelof didn’t waste any time giving the fans exactly what they came to see, kicking things off by offering the Hall H audience the first footage from Prometheus. Less of a sizzle reel than a promotional package that casually cut between an interview with Ridley Scott and footage from the film, Prometheus didn’t need the Zack Snyder bombast to work the room into a frenzy.
The spare and tactile look of the film immediately harkens back to the original Alien, and most of the footage took place within the recognizable confines of an industrial spaceship (the clip showed us the trio of enormous airplane hangars in which the production is shooting its interiors). We saw Charlize Theron walking around as a shiny corporate suit, a close-up of Michael Fassbender shedding a single tear, lots of Idris Elba looking intense as mechanical doors slide closed in the nick of time, and -- most importantly -- a cave filled with hundreds upon hundreds of alien eggs. Scott promised that the last five minutes of the film would address a critical question about the Alien universe, raised in the first film and unanswered ever since.
- Ridley Scott will never shoot in 2D, again.
When asked about his first experience working with 3D, Scott responded (via a remarkably fluid satellite connection from Iceland) that he’ll “Never work without 3D, again. Not even for the smallest dialogue scenes.” A silent Hall H seemed stunned. Scott -- a director known for his technical knowledge and prowess -- continued, “3D has been a wonderful exercise, it opens up the universe.”
- Charlize Theron’s character continues the Alien franchise’s proud condition of women kicking ass.
Ripley might be absent this time around, but Prometheus won’t be lacking for strong women. Theron plays Meredith Vickers, a business-minded suit who the actress describes as “The machine that runs the machine that takes this mission into space. Cold and frigid, she’s not a scientist and not a believer -- you know she’s going to be a problem.” From the glimpse we got, it looks like Vickers is a less unctuous riff on the Paul Reiser character from Aliens, transformed by some gruesome xenomorph encounters into a fierce, flame-throwing Ripley for the 21st century.
- Prometheus will probably be rated PG-13. For now.
When pressed about the film’s eventual rating, Scott responded that he “Has a responsibility to my studio,” but he also mentioned that he’s shooting the elements required to push this thing into more hardcore territory. “I always make sure you’ve got both options -- you’d be crazy not to -- and we’ll decide in the big Fox screening room which is the best way of going.” Translation: Prometheus will be PG-13, but the unrated Blu-ray is going to be a whole new experience.
- There’s nothing too high-concept for the guy behind Gattaca
Andrew Niccol likes his premises intense and his metaphors heavy, and his newest film seems poised to be the most Andrew Niccol film ever made. In Time is a star-studded action flick about a near future in which time has replaced cash as the prevailing currency. Very pretty people such as Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried buy their coffee with minutes rather than money, and -- in a world in which everyone’s natural life ends at 25 years-old -- the “rich” have essentially accumulated enough time to live forever, while the poor seldom live to see 30.
The busy footage Niccol screened suggested that Timberlake’s working class character is framed for a murder and gifted with well over 100 years of life, which kickstarts a rambunctious thriller in which Cillian Murphy (evoking Colin Ferrell in Minority Report) is always close on his tail. This hyper-literal interpretation of the maxim that “time is money” seems a bit thin to support an entire film, but it’ll be neat to see a film in which all of the characters look the same age, regardless of how old they’re actually supposed to be (i.e. Olivia Wilde plays Justin Timberlake’s mother). It’s too early to tell if In Time will finally deliver on the promise of Gattaca or if it will be the Surrogates of 2011, but Niccol’s film is now firmly entrenched on our radars.
- Rise of the Apes has some serious soul
Upon taking the stage, Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Robert Wyatt immediately explained why it was so important to make this film without the use of real apes, rightly opining that “It would be a bit of cruel irony to tell this story of the exploited and oppressed with living creatures.” Any fears that such a decision to shy away from the real deal might make for a one-way ticket on The Polar Express to mo-cap hell were immediately dispelled by the footage, in which lead ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) matched his savage nature with a soulfulness far more believable than that of co-star James Franco. The folks at WETA haven’t only avoided the infamous problem of the uncanny valley, they’ve made Caesar's eyes the looking glass through which the audience can begin to fully relate and support the film’s primitive protagonist. A scene in which Caesar cares for John Lithgow’s senile character is touching and real, suggesting that Rise of the Apes might be one of the rare films that was truly made possible by its technology.
- Andy Serkis just got a promotion
The Fox panel ended with an unrelated bit of news: Andy Serkis has already completed his acting work for The Hobbit, and for the next 200 days of the film’s production will be serving as the director of Peter Jackson’s 2nd unit. The guy who “made” the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is now literally making its prequels.