You've heard of Cannes and the Sundance Film Festival. But if you're into the sci-fi/superhero genre and movies like "Spider-Man" or "The Matrix," there's another annual event that's even more important -- Comic-Con (search), a gathering of comic-book aficionados that happens every July in San Diego.
Hollywood is certainly getting chummy with Comic-Con: Last year, Keanu Reeves, Jude Law and Sarah Michelle Gellar went to San Diego to meet the geeks.
And George Lucas chose Comic-Con 2004 as the place to unveil the title of his new "Star Wars" movie, "Revenge of the Sith."
That's because the Comic-Con geeks are suddenly sought-after tastemakers.
In what must be sweet justice for many a formerly alienated adolescent boy, this year's biggest movies are all about comics, cult characters, sci-fi and fantasy.
It's inspiring to read about these in January, when studios are releasing decidedly low-expectation fare such as this Friday's "Elektra." (According to chud.com editor Nick Nunziata, the best we can hope from that one is "a movie to make fun of.")
It will get even better in 2005. Here's a preview of the best of what's in store.
"Constantine" (Feb. 18)
This dark fantasy thriller about the bad-tempered supernatural detective Constantine (Reeves) has been controversial. Many fans who know Constantine from the "Hellblazer" comics were worried that Hollywood would defang the character, whom Nunziata calls "a real chain-smoking, hard-drinking git."
But first-time director Francis Lawrence took 25 minutes of footage to Comic-Con last year -- "right into the lion's den," he says -- and many fanboys were surprised at how scary it looked.
"I liked the scene where Constantine is performing an exorcism on a little girl," one wrote on aintitcool.com. "The demon inside of her literally tries to rip out of her body through her neck."
Join the discussion: www.insanerantings.com/hell
"Sin City" (April 1)
Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen
If one artist is a god to the geeks, it's Frank Miller, who revitalized Batman in the 1980s with his "Dark Knight" comics.
Miller was always popular in Hollywood too, influencing the look of Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" and writing screenplays for "Robocop" movies. But despite many offers, the New Yorker never sold the movie rights to his classic graphic novel of the urban underworld, "Sin City." (search)
"I didn't want Hollywood to have my baby," Miller tells the Post. "I knew they'd try to turn it into another 'Die Hard.'"
But renegade director Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi") changed Miller's mind by bringing him on board as a co-director.
The "Sin City" trailer is already online, and fanboys are in a frenzy over the noirish look of the film, which was mostly shot against a greenscreen, with dark, comic-book-style backgrounds added later.
Join the discussion: www.superherohype.com/sincity
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (May 6)
Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell
"Please God -- make this movie genius," Ain't It Cool News editor Harry Knowles recently wrote on his Web site, and millions around the world surely shouted "Amen!"
"Hitchhiker's Guide," a wacky, good-natured sci-fi book written by Britain's Douglas Adams in the 1970s, inspires almost religious devotion from some.
"Hitchhiker" fans feel protective about it, too, but hopes are running high for the movie, especially after the lead went not to a Hollywood star but to the understated Brit comedian Martin Freeman (best known as lovable Tim from BBC's "The Office").
"I feel a strong personal responsibility to Douglas," producer Robbie Stamp says of Adams, who died in 2001. But that didn't stop filmmakers from adding material that wasn't in the book, including a new character that Adams was working on before he died -- Humma Kavula, "a crazed missionary who believes we were all sneezed into existence," Stamp says. "He awaits the coming of the great white handkerchief."
Join the discussion: www.douglasadams.se
"Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith" (May 19)
Ewan MacGregor, Hayden Christensen
Ah, "Star Wars." There's no topic that can get an online film buff more riled up. But at this point, after raging against Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks and last year's reworked original-trilogy DVDs, fans are tired of complaining that George Lucas is letting them down. "It's like the last rounds of a boxing match," Nunziata says. "We're so exhausted."
After all, what self-respecting film geek is going to skip "Sith"? This is the big climax, when Anakin Skywalker turns on Obi-Wan Kenobi and becomes Darth Vader. You can't miss that.
Also, Lucasfilm has seemed more open to complaints recently, fans say.
"We can't take ourselves too seriously," admits Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm's head of fan relations, who went to Comic-Con last July and got a huge cheer when he introduced a new videogame, "Star Wars: Battlefront," that allows you to kill Ewoks.
And what about Jar Jar? Will he be in the "Star Wars III"?
"Let's just say this," Sansweet laughs. "Don't blink."
Join the discussion: www.theforce.net
"Fantastic Four" (July 1)
Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans
Poor Michael Chiklis. The Emmy-winning TV actor plays the Thing in this new feature from Marvel Comics (the "Spider-Man" people), and that meant wearing a 60-pound costume every day of the six-month "Fan 4" shoot, which just wrapped in Vancouver.
"We called it my 'body condom,'" Chiklis tells The Post. "It was a torture chamber. The costume was glued inside my nose and my mouth. Saying it was hot would be like saying the sun is hot."
"We felt really bad for him," Alba adds. "My costume was easy. I was invisible."
The Invisible Woman, to be exact. She and the Thing are part of a sort-of Super Friends-style league, along with the Human Torch (Chris Evans).
Fans are already talking about scenes with the Torch (who's always on fire), running through a city, pursued by a heat-seeking missile. But Nunziata is just looking forward to seeing Alba in her costume. "I hope she's not too invisible," he says.
Join the discussion: www.ffplaza.com