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WORD OF MOUTH

3-D filmmakers are counting on Comic-Con

Even Disney footage will be screened at the fanboy festival, where early buzz could lead to big box office.

July 23, 2009|John Horn

Robert Zemeckis has never been to Comic-Con International in San Diego, and the director's "Disney's A Christmas Carol" seems like an unusual choice for a first appearance. But like several filmmakers heading to this week's colossal fanboy convention, Comic-Con -- with its new 3-D projection system -- offers an exceptional occasion to position upcoming releases.

Snippets of film shown at earlier Comic-Cons have helped launch several blockbusters, including "300," "Iron Man" and "Twilight." But fan reaction to early footage from some less-accomplished films -- "Catwoman" and "Good Luck Chuck" among them -- has helped send the underachievers to an early grave.

While many new movies will make Comic-Con cameos, only a select few will have footage shown in 3-D: "A Christmas Carol," James Cameron's "Avatar" for 20th Century Fox, Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" for Disney, the Sony animated movie "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," a Disney remake of "Tron" and New Line's thriller sequel "The Final Destination" among them.

While the new wave of 3-D has brought unexpectedly strong returns for several 2009 releases -- among them the slasher film "My Bloody Valentine," the animated "Coraline" and "Monsters vs. Aliens" -- its power has cooled with the glut of recent 3-D titles, including "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

With DVD sales and international grosses slipping, Hollywood is banking on 3-D movies (whose tickets generally cost about $2 to $3 more) to help bolster profits. And since a good showing in front of the Comic-Con crowd can stoke a movie's early buzz, these 3-D screenings could be extremely valuable to both the filmmakers and the studios.

Zemeckis is confident that his "Christmas Carol" footage -- scheduled to be shown this morning in Comic-Con's first ever 3-D presentation in its 6,500-seat Hall H -- will prove not only that the 3-D technology is well suited to his movie but also, and more critically, that his movie is well suited to Comic-Con's horror, superhero and fantasy fanatics.

"What we hope to accomplish is that anyone at Comic-Con realizes that it's not a movie for the traditional Disney audience. It's a classic ghost story," the director says of his Nov. 6 adaptation of the Charles Dickens fable. "I hope that this is a way to present to the audience at large that this is a movie for real movie fans, and real ghost story fans and fans of graphic novels."

The "Christmas Carol" footage combines the director's "Polar Express" motion-capture filmmaking technique (in which the recorded performances of live actors are converted into life-like animated characters) with some of the scary style he showed in his 2000 genre film, "What Lies Beneath."

When Marley (Gary Oldman) visits Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) in an extended scene to be shown at Comic-Con, it's such a frightening encounter that most 9-year-olds will dive for cover.

"This is my second movie that I designed exclusively for 3-D," says Zemeckis of his follow-up to the 3-D "Beowulf." "And we haven't seen a lot of movies that are designed solely with 3-D in mind. We want everyone to understand what the real possibilities are for this art form."

Craig Perry, a producer of "The Final Destination," hopes to show some of Comic-Con's 125,000 guests that, when it comes to 3-D scares, the convention's other presentations can't touch his film.

"None of them is going to have our violent mayhem," Perry says of his R-rated Aug. 28 thriller carrying the tag line "This summer, death saved the best for 3-D." "I defy them to get the audience reaction that we are going to get."

Getting a reaction has grown increasingly difficult among horror fans because so many movies with increasingly grisly chills are hurled their way.

Perry says his Comic-Con presentation this afternoon will show Hall H visitors that 3-D filming has given the fourth "Final Destination" movie "an added dimension of audience engagement." Spotlighted scenes involving a killer carwash, lethal swimming pool and deadly hair salon, Perry says, will prove "that this isn't your grandma's 'Final Destination.' "

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directors of the much kinder "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," are headed to Comic-Con with a mission similar to Zemeckis': Our animated movie is not just for kids. "Chance of Meatballs," adapted from the imaginative children's picture book by Judi and Ron Barrett, arrives in theaters Sept. 18.

"Our goal was to make a movie that was a fun spectacle for families that also pushed the comedy envelope," Lord and Miller wrote in an e-mail interview. "If any movie was going to be 3-D, it would have to be the one about food falling from the sky. Seeing the movie in 3-D makes for a really immersive 'lean forward' experience. When used well it truly pulls you into the story. Which really helps the giant-hot-dog-in-your-face shot."

The 3-D "Avatar" presentation this afternoon for Cameron's Dec. 18 sci-fi drama, about a paralyzed soldier who inhabits an alien body, is certainly going to be the convention's hardest-to-get ticket. But Cameron, who is as meticulous a director as there is, knows he's leaving something to chance -- he has no power over how the 3-D projection system was installed in the cavernous San Diego Convention Center hall.

"I'm assuming, of course, that their 3-D projection has been installed in a good way and is top-notch," Cameron says. "Normally, we control our own projection. But at Comic-Con, it's going to be whatever the Comic-Con dudes put in."

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john.horn@latimes.com

Times staff writer Geoff Boucher contributed to this report.

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