2009's Comic-Con is helping to build buzz for a crop of exciting new films such as New Moon and Avatar.

The Hype Machine

on July 24, 2009 by Gary Gentile
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In the week that the world remembered the 40th anniversary of man walking on the Moon, director James Cameron launched his own imaginative journey to the planet Pandora, where his 3D sci-fi flick Avatar unfolds.

Cameron debuted about 20 minutes of footage from his latest big-budget blockbuster at the annual Comic-Con gathering in San Diego this week. The reaction to the film—one of the most anticipated movies this year—was nothing short of cosmic.

“The effects are sensational,” says Harry Medved, a spokesman for the online movie ticketing company Fandango. “The 3D technology really has caught up with James Cameron’s imagination. You feel you can reach out and touch this virtual environment.”

Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox had been strangely silent about the film until recently, leading some to wonder if there was enough time to promote the film before its December 18 premiere.

But those fears evaporated this week as Cameron and the studio pulled out the stops to promote the epic film. To compensate for the fact that it would be difficult to show an effective trailer without the use of special 3D glasses, Cameron said he would be taking over a number of IMAX and other 3D movie locations throughout the country on August 21 to show 15 minutes of the film.

While Avatar generated much of the buzz at Comic-Con, other films also created a stir.

The teenage vampire flick The Twilight Saga: New Moon caused quite a fuss thanks to the presence of its stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. The sequel is slated to hit theaters on November 21, when it will try to improve upon the original's impressive $69.6 million opening weekend.

Conventioneers were blown away by the footage from the big-screen adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. The film, directed by Spike Jonze, is a combination of live action and computer-generated effects.

“The film had some really bad buzz when they were first working on it,” says Medved..

Fans were worried that the CGI creatures would appear spectacularly fake, a fate that ruined the 2003 big-screen adaptation of The Hulk.

The reaction to the special effects in Jonze's film was similar to the appreciation shown for the effects in A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey.

Technology has mastered some sticky challenges, including how to render the human eye in a computer-generated feature. Moviegoers were more than put off by the dead, glassy eyes in Polar Express. But the eyes in Jim Carrey’s CGI ghost are definitely those of the comedian, Medved said.

One strong theme running through Comic-Con was the original storytelling that will soon hit theaters.

While lots of sequels are planned, filmmakers are also blazing new paths, adapting material that years ago may never have been made into mainstream fare.

One example is the film Jonah Hex, an adaptation of the futuristic, supernatural Western graphic novel. The film, scheduled for next year, features Josh Brolin and Megan Fox. On a panel discussion, Brolin commented on the risks studios are finally willing to take.

“Audiences are a lot smarter than studios give them credit for,” he said.

District 9, a film about aliens living in prison camps, also thrilled Comic-Con audiences. The original story, which is produced by Peter Jackson, debuts in theaters on August 14.

The other major theme so far is the huge number of 3D films ready to hit theaters.

The Walt Disney Co. touted the release of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D this October. Comic-Con attendees were also treated to several minutes of footage from the next installment, Toy Story 3, which was conceived and animated in 3D. That film debuts in June 2010.

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