SAN DIEGO – Sometimes the archenemy of a superhero movie is the super-fan, the kind with the power to create a firestorm of negative buzz on the Internet over a perceived injustice to a beloved character. Now Hollywood has discovered a place where it can try to leap that fan skepticism in a single bound: Comic-Con International (search).
The sci-fi gathering was attended by an estimated 80,000 people this weekend, including celebrities and filmmakers from such forthcoming films as "Batman Begins," "Fantastic Four" (search) and "Constantine," who tried to show their reverence for the comic book characters they are bringing to the screen.
"There are 80,000 people who are going to pass through here, and there are only 35,000 at the Democratic convention. What does that tell you?" said Lance Henriksen, star of the upcoming "Alien vs. Predator" (search) film.
Thus Michael Chiklis (search), Emmy-winning star of "The Shield," showed up to talk about his new role next summer as The Thing — the mutated, orange rock-man from "Fantastic Four" — and outed himself as a fellow comic book geek.
"When I was 18, I said, 'If they ever make a 'Fantastic Four' movie I'm going to play Ben Grimm (The Thing's human name.) ... So now I've called my brother and said, 'What'd I say! What'd I say!'" Chiklis told The Associated Press before a presentation in front of 6,500 convention attendees. "I had a big affinity for (The Thing) — a kinship for the lovable lug with a temper."
Unlike people who favor comedies, dramas, mysteries, thrillers or romance, the sci-fi and fantasy fans take an almost possessive stance on their entertainment and relentlessly hound transgressions in chat rooms and Web sites in the months leading up to a movie's release.
Such aficionados turned green with anger over the computer-animation for "The Hulk," and mercilessly whipped Halle Berry's (search) leather dominatrix costume in "Catwoman" — two films that never recovered from the early online drubbings.
But when fans approve, they show up in droves again and again, and tell their friends. Those repeated ticket sales are a necessity if such hugely expensive movies as "Spider-Man 2" or "X2: X-Men United" (search) are to turn a profit.
"Constantine," which stars Keanu Reeves (search) as the title character, a vigilante who comes back from the dead to fight evil, had a number of hurdles to overcome at Comic-Con.
Director Francis Lawrence said the movie title was changed from the original "Hellblazer" because it was too close to "Hellraiser," the horror series about the demon Pinhead.
The look of "Constantine" is also different: Once blond and British, Constantine is now the dark-haired American Reeves. Lawrence said he felt confident the "Hellblazer" comics lovers could be persuaded to accept the changes.
"I think a lot of fans think we're out to make this big 'Van Helsing,' splashy, effects-laden movie, and it's not true at all. It's a character piece," the director told the AP, referencing a recent fantasy film derided for its silliness.
Other movies that fit into the fantasy genre — but are not necessarily comic book adaptations — also showed up at Comic-Con to win approval.
But fans don't just want respect for the characters; they also want respect for themselves.
When Sarah Michelle Gellar (search) arrived Saturday to promote her upcoming horror thriller "The Grudge," the first question she got was: Why, during seven years of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," had she never visited Comic-Con before?
Gellar anticipated that reaction and read a top-10 list of joke excuses. The audience laughed only sporadically — they wanted a real answer.
They eventually warmed to her, but first she had to give them some tough love back.
When one woman asked Gellar whether she ever turned to her characters for the inspiration to solve real problems, the actress quipped: "You know they're not real, right?"
That finally earned her an unrestrained laugh from the crowd.
Meanwhile, the makers of the third "Star Wars" prequel revealed the movie's new title: "Revenge of the Sith." But before the title presentation, "Star Wars" producer Rick McCallum had to endure some ugly barbs during a Q&A session.
One woman asked him to please minimize the romance elements in "Episode III" and another asked that he kill Jar-Jar Binks, the silly alien character "who ruined the whole series," according to another fan.
The questioner's attack drew cheers from the audience, drowning out McCallum's reply that they shouldn't worry about Jar-Jar.
Such a hard-core fan base must be taken seriously, says "Alien vs. Predator's" Henriksen.
"They are critical," he said. "Say this movie comes out and doesn't hit every note, that will be letting them down and they're going to get really mad."