Hollywood homes in on Geek Nation

Comic-Con brings throngs of fans

SAN DIEGO -- Fans were front and center at this year's San Diego Comic-Con International as interaction between Hollywood and the Geek Nation reached new heights, especially at the event's now-signature studio presentations.

"Without you guys I wouldn't have a career," said surprise guest Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine, during Fox's "X-Men" panel. "Without you guys, there wouldn't be this base of comic book movies."

Teams from virtually every major TV and film studio were on hand to rollout stars, gift bags, glitzy presentations and targeted panels in a bid to connect with the more than 125,000 passionate fans in attendance. After a few years of massive growth, not all of it smooth, the Con seems to have found its groove -- and an acceptance that long lines are a way of life now.

The event delivered some surprises and provided an opportunity for the studios to gauge and generate buzz on their projects. Warners' "Watchmen," Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," and Disney's "Tron 2.0" emerged as the most talked-about, while Summit created a sensation unlike anything the 39-year-old event had seen when the "fan girl" crowd went nuts over the vampire romance "Twilight."

If decibel levels and enthusiasm count, studios as a whole were successful in their attempts to woo the fickle fanbase.

Warner Bros. threw the two A-list presentations during the 4 1/2-day event that concluded Sunday. It showcased the graphic novel adaptation "Watchmen" on Friday and "Terminator Salvation" on Saturday. During the "Watchmen" presentation, press and industryites stood six deep along the side to hear director Zack Snyder and his cast.

The two panels showed how seriously Warners takes Comic-Con as executives from Alan Horn, Jeff Robinov and Kevin McCormick on down packed every seat in the VIP section of WB's tightly organized panels. Not every studio was quite as gung-ho. Fox's Tom Rothman and Sony's Jeff Blake showed up, but their VIP sections were mostly an oasis of half-empty seats in a sea of packed fans.

"Terminator" appeared to have built buzz and awareness thanks to the event. The film's director, McG, who has been judged harshly by the fan community in the past, won over the crowd with a fun presentation and strong footage.

Fox's "May Payne," Universal's "Wolfman" and Disney's "Bolt" and Disney/Pixar's "Up" also were well received.

Surprises proved a way to win fans' hearts. On the event's first day, Fox trotted out Jackman to showcase some footage from "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Disney, meanwhile, brought test footage from the new "Tron," which quickly became the talk of the Con. At one party Saturday night, people huddled around a man who was showing off the footage on his iPhone.

The Force was strong with the studios for which filmmakers and stars made a point of interacting with the fanbase.

"Lost" showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof charmed fans while handing out prizes during a question-and-answer session, while star Matthew Fox posed with a devotee onstage. Film helmer McG brought laughed it up onstage with a fan who did a killer Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.

Jet-lagged "Wolverine" star Jackman waded into the audience to pay tribute to the film's co-creator, Len Wien.

Among the most entertaining session was Columbia's panel for "Pineapple Express," which saw Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, James Franco and others take the Con hilariously deep into R-rated territory. Certain questioners became fixtures, and some appeared in character, including one whose shtick even threw off Rogen.

There wasn't much real news. Sam Raimi is developing a new "Evil Dead" movie with his brother, Ivan; producer Michael Uslan announced plans for a "Doc Savage" adaptation; and a writer for "The Simpsons" said a sequel to the hit film was unlikely.

Comic-Con's party scene, however, seemed to hit new heights. Rather than the industry seeking beachheads in the heart of geek nation as in the past, this year it seemed that Tinseltown's entire social scene was transplanted to San Diego. There was a Paris Hilton sighting Thursday, but it was Friday night's DC Comics bash that was one of the highlights. The bash has become a don't-miss event with its mix of stars, comic creators and execs.

WMA and UTA threw competing shindigs, but the Maxim-"Pineapple Express" festivities seemed the most popular. Saturday night was the established Sci Fi/Entertainment Weekly party, competing for attendees with "The Wrath of Con," a bash thrown by IESB, Bloody Disgusting and Lakeshore Entertainment.

Not all of the participants were thrilled with Hollywood's high-profile presence, however.

"I'm going to try to find some comic readers," one scribe said as he left a party filled with execs, agents and stars.