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A Day at the Con

19 Apr, 2010 By: John Latchem

(L-R): Burt Ward and Adam West

This past weekend’s Wizard World Anaheim Comic Con proves that not every fanboy event has to be up to the level of that show in San Diego.

The Anaheim event was the kind of quaint, low-key festival that really gives fans their money’s worth: a chance to see a handful of reasonable celebrities without the god-awful crowds bigger shows often attract.

There couldn’t have been more than a few thousand people at the Anaheim show over the weekend, compared to more than 120,000 who descend upon San Diego. Comic-Con International, of course, draws fans from around the world. Wizard World mostly caters to local audiences.

In fact, Anaheim Comic Con wasn’t even the biggest show held at the Anaheim Convention Center over the weekend. That honor goes to a convention of coffee industry professionals, which took up most of the floor room. Due to how the halls were sectioned off, the Comic Con show floor (which was half exhibitors and half celebrities offering paid autographs) was at the extreme south end of the convention center, while panels were held in rooms on the second floor of the north end of the hall, several hundred feet if not a quarter mile away. Covering that distance can be quite a chore, especially considering the average attendee isn’t in the best of shape, and the average panelist must have been in their 70s. (At one point I passed by an exhausted-looking Mickey Rooney, who was being dragged around in a wheelchair by his handlers.)

I know that Anaheim has been making a play for the International show (which is close to a three-year extension with San Diego, to 2015, according to Internet buzz). But if this past weekend is any indication, I have yet to be convinced the Anaheim Convention Center is an ideal venue for a show the scope of Comic-Con International.

Still, even the few hours I spent there were a reasonable experience, and a tad more mellow than the hustle and bustle of the big show, which is how I prefer it.

Of the three days (April 16-18), I attended only on Saturday and caught some of the afternoon panels. (Click here for photo gallery).

One I was really keen on seeing was a panel celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, one of my favorite movies. At the same time, it seems, the real “Star Wars” news was emanating from the C2E2 Con in Chicago, where Lucasfilm’s Steve Sansweet said a Blu-ray of the saga was in the works. TheDigitalBits.com estimates a release date of October 2011.

The Anaheim panel turned out to be underwhelming, consisting only of a Q&A with Billy Dee Williams, who mostly defended Lando’s decision to betray Han Solo, and who discussed how much the Sarlaac in Return of the Jedi looked like a part of the female anatomy.

ESB director Irvin Kershner was slated to appear but sadly had to cancel after being hospitalized a few days earlier due to complications from cancer.

Still, the room was packed to capacity with hundreds of guests, as opposed to the next panel, a Q&A with Superman producer Ilya Salkind, attended by only about 50 people. He was joined by Aaron Smolinski, who played the baby Kal-El in the first movie and the kid in the photo booth in the third (I said it was a low-key event). Salkind has a habit of being verbose, but he can be really insightful about the making of the franchise. He said he was encouraged by news that Christopher Nolan would oversee the next Superman movie because he thought Nolan’s Batman movies were great.

Salkind continued to justify his creative decisions for Superman II and said Superman III’s original concept involved Supergirl and traditional Superman villains Brainiac and the impish Mr. Mxyzptlk, yet the powers that be started meddling after Richard Pryor mentioned on “The Tonight Show” that he wanted to be in a Superman movie (though if anyone has seen the original plot outline for III online, you’ll probably agree it was mostly unfilmable). Remnants of the original concept that survived into the final film include Superman’s battle with the super computer, and the fight between Superman and Clark Kent (which most fans consider the best part of the movie).

William Shatner then put in a brief appearance to discuss not only the pilot he shot for a sitcom based on the Twitter meme “Sh*t My Dad Says,” but also previous projects such as Invasion Iowa, Kingdom of the Spiders and “Boston Legal” (not much talk about “Star Trek,” oddly). He also discussed current projects, such as his celebrity interview show, “Raw Nerve,” and a new show, “Aftermath,” in which he catches up with media figures years after their 15 minutes are up. In one amusing interlude, Shatner was asked about playing a villain in three “Columbo” movies, and began to memorialize Peter Falk when an audience member said he was dead. “I know he died, I just forgot about it,” Shatner commented (which isn’t a surprising sentiment, since as far as I know Falk is still very much alive, and only about 4 years older than Shatner). It’s probably a miracle Shatner could attend at all, since he was almost grounded in Europe by the Iceland volcanic ash cloud.

But the best panel involved a reunion of the 1960s Batman cast, which quickly devolved into a battle of double entendres. Describing how they got to the Batmobile, Adam West said, “his pole was bigger.” Julie Newmar (Catwoman) said her costume was like “melted licorice poured onto her body.” Lee Meriwether (Catwoman in the movie based on the show) looked so happy to be among the fans, but embarrassed by the tone of the conversation. West said Fox and Warner lawyers were trying to divvy up the DVD rights to the show and hoped it would be resolved soon (his analysis may be overly simplistic, but we might as well hope for the best, right?). He nonetheless plugged his own DVD reflections on the show. What a fun panel, and proof that you don’t need the superstars of today to have a good time at the Con.

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