I'm not going to make it to Comic-Con this July, though I had a blast last year. It was fascinating to see the studios using the event for marketing purposes, screening new footage, plastering promotional images everywhere, and churning up the buzz. Well, trying to anyway. I came away with the impression that some of the studios sent new movies and shows to Comic-Con that really had no business being there. Much of the marketing was ineffective, ill-considered, and may have even done more harm than good to some movies like "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," which suffered from overblown expectations, in part due to their Comic-Con antics. So it's not surprising that according to a recent New York Times article, several big studios have pulled out completely, including Dreamworks, Disney, and Warners. This means no previews of "Puss in Boots," no fuss for "The Muppets," and no teases for "The Dark Knight Rises." Even Marvel is waffling, despite the upcoming "Avengers" movie currently in production. Is this a bad thing? Not in the slightest.
A comic book convention is a great place to find passionate nerds, and can help to drum up interest in a particular property. However, there's no guarantee that by simply showing up with a shiny presentation that a new film or show is guaranteed a boost in awareness, and if there is an increase in chatter, reactions are not necessarily going to be positive. Over the past few years Comic-Con has been inundated with promotions for everything that might even have a peripheral connection to the comic-book world, ever since comic book properties started becoming big moneymakers at the box office. The marketing genuises completely took it for granted that nerds and trend-setters tend to be smarter and pickier than average, and they do not represent mainstream tastes. They might give the cold shoulder to media that will perform perfectly well with general audiences, and they might rally around niche titles that will fall flat anywhere else. Also, if presentations or new material are less than stellar, there's no hiding it from thousands of Internet-savvy nerdy nit-pickers. So once burned, it makes sense that they've gotten twice shy. Why risk the bad publicity? Or worse, being ignored?
I still think that Comic-Con is a fantastic venue for getting attention, especially for properties with existing fans. Say what you will about the performance of "TRON Legacy" at the box office last winter, but it was a film that I'm glad got made, and we wouldn't have it without Comic-Con proving there were still plenty of us who knew and adored the original. I'd love to see the studios keep testing the waters with in-development material, instead of trying to use the event as a tent pole in big marketing campaigns. Even though last year was my first Comic-Con, I got the sense that the movie promotions didn't have quite the same vibe as the rest of the convention. The Hall H films panels felt especially remote and impersonal compared to the others I attended - lots more hype, but not as much fun. All the attention from the media meant increased pressure on the studios, leading to flashy stunts, celebrity appearances, and other distractions. Sure, it was nice to see Will Ferrell and Tina Fey show up to plug "Megamind," but their panel felt entirely too scripted and didn't take advantage of the audience. And the point of the convention really is the audience.
The studios backing off for a while to regroup is probably for the best, but I'm surprised that so many are choosing not to send any titles at all. Some of it is cost-cutting I suppose, plus remorse from overspending in past years, and fallout from the failure of many films aimed at the Comic-Con demographic recently. Or maybe Disney, Warners, and Dreamworks simply don't have anything interesting to show us right now this year. But it would be an awful shame if this marks the beginning of an exodus of the major studios from Comic-Con, though. Even weaker showings can result in great, spontaneous moments you'll never get anywhere else. Last year the "Green Lantern" preview footage may have left some viewers cold, but the clip of Ryan Reynolds reciting The Oath to a junior "Lantern" fan during the Q&A was one of the highlights of the convention, and won him a lot of goodwill. In interviews, Reynolds claimed he thought the kid was a plant, and the moment had been set up by Warners.
It wasn't. It was just Comic-Con.