October 9th through 12th saw the New York Comic Con return to Javits Center, bigger and more jam packed with stuff than before. And while NYCC saw its fair share of comic announcements, film and television promotion dominated a substantial portion of the scheduled panels. Deadshirt’s Max Robinson was on hand to watch extended early footage from Big Hero 6, Tomorrowland and Birdman and shares his first impressions below.
Big Hero 6
Release date: November 7, 2014
I’ll be upfront: the initial trailer Disney put out for Big Hero 6 didn’t do much for me. But at Disney’s joint panel for Big Hero 6 and Tomorrowland, they showed off some scenes that definitely turned me around in terms of anticipation. The first scene screened for the panel audience, an introduction to the movie’s various super-scientists and their signature inventions; Damon Wayans Jr.’s Wasabi has a linebacker’s build but meticulously organizes every item in his toolbox and flips out if one is out of place, Genesis Rodriguez voices Honey Lemon with a palpable midwestern excitement when she shows off a matter disintegrator that turns objects pink. It’s a fairly short sequence, but it efficiently sets up the film’s core cast and informs you of everything you need to know about their relationships.
A second scene, following the characters as they attempt to outrun a swarm of nanites in a Mini Cooper through the mashup streets of “San Fransokyo,” was surprisingly tense and showed off some impressive menace from the film’s techno-organic kabuki-mask-wearing villain. Disney’s in-house animation tends to yield movies with ambitious messages that never quite click as films the way most Pixar releases do (Wreck-It Ralph is a pretty stunning parable for how institutional discrimination works once you get past the terrible second act), Big Hero 6 looks like it’ll offer up heart and thrills at the very least.
Release date: May 22nd, 2015
Brad Bird’s newest film has been shrouded in secrecy aside from some broad strokes (George Clooney plays an aging former boy genius, it’s a movie adaptation of the famous theme park ride a la Pirates of the Caribbean) until Thursday, when Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof premiered the film’s initial teaser trailer. After bringing the film’s principal cast on stage (including Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie), the panel surprised a packed house with an appearance from George Clooney and a substantial sequence from the film. The sequence has the kind of trademarks and signatures we’ve come to expect from Bird, namely clever action beats and pacing; this is a movie where George Clooney and a spunky teenage girl wreck rictus grin androids with baseball bats and Portal-style sci-fi gadgets as they run through a house.
The thing that’s pretty intriguing about Tomorrowland is Bird and Lindelof have been pretty vocal about this being a “discovery” movie in the same vein as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and that definitely comes across. The mundane Florida of Tomorrowland appears to be a futuristic police state startlingly close to our own (riot footage plays in the background in several scenes, for instance) and the footage shown from the movie implies Bird and co. are attempting to make a piece of science-fiction with a powerful statement behind it. Whatever the end result is, Tomorrowland doesn’t look like your typical summer blockbuster fare.
Birdman (or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Release date: October 17, 2014
Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman is sort of an odd choice to do a Comic Con panel for. Despite the subject matter (Michael Keaton playing a fictionalized Michael Keaton-type having a mental breakdown and haunted by the spectre of a superhero he played twenty years ago), it’s not the kind of material that’s going to generate the “fan reaction” studios want from these sort of events. Nevertheless, Keaton and co-star Edward Norton were on hand to screen the film’s first ten minutes, as well as a few additional scenes and what they showed was impressive in scope and strangeness.
The film’s opening is essentially one massive tracking shot, courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki (best known for his recent space cinematography in Gravity). As we follow Keaton’s Riggan Thomson through the theatre of the Broadway play he’s trying (and failing) to get off the ground, we’re surprised by sudden, inexplicable flashes of violence (a stagelight falls on an actor’s head mid-conversation with Thomson) and Mexican Magical Realism (when we first meet Thomson, he’s seemingly hovering above the ground in his underwear like Dr. Manhattan). A brief scene of Thomson browbeating Ed Norton’s character, a new actor brought into the production at the last minute, showcases Keaton’s still incredible sense of comic timing.
Iñárrituife appears to be using Keaton as a vessel for a number of compelling conflicts, like an aging celebrity looking back on his life with regrets, and the struggle for an artist to create meaningful work. As Birdman (also Keaton) groans about a dressing room smelling like “balls” and bullies Thomson to make another big budget superhero movie with visions of CGI mayhem, you get the sense this is all leading to a beautiful emotional powder keg explosion. With all this in mind, it’s easy to see why Birdman‘s garnered so much early buzz.