Like the Disney panel on Thursday and the Marvel panel coming up on Saturday, the Comic-Con 2012 Sony panel is one of the long-awaited events at this year's San Diego convention. Three sets of movies accompanied by their cast and crew came together for this gathering of industry insiders and extremist fans in Hall H.

The 'Total Recall' portion brought out stars Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston, and director Len Wiseman. Representing 'Looper' were 'Dark Knight Rises'' Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and director Rian Johnson. And bringing up the rear, the 'Elysium' panelists consisted of Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Neill Blomkamp and Simon Kinberg.

The longest panel at Comic-Con during Day Two was for Sony's upcoming slate of science-fiction pictures. Two looked amazing, one represents all that's horrible in our culture. Eh, as Meat Loaf said, "two out of three ain't bad."


Comic-Con 2012 Sony Panel - 'Total Recall'

Whereas the previous panel for 'Resident Evil: Retribution' reminded us that Paul W.S. Anderson is a populist filmmaker with style, Len Wiseman showed us the true face of a hack.

His remake of the Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece of dystopian satire, 'Total Recall,' is an orgy of whiz-bang banality. Beat for beat it looks exactly the same as the film you remember. The nightmares, the crowded city, the wife in tight sleepwear, the trip to Rekall, the fight with said wife, the faulty camouflaging head, and the three breasted prostitute are all here like Team Wiseman was taking dictation.  "If I'm not me, then who the hell am I?" is in there, as is a shot where arms are severed by hanging on to an elevator.

I don't hold movies so sacrosanct that they can't be remade, but if you take a tremendous entertainment like 'Total Recall' and want to take it for a spin, you have to bring something to it. Groovy-looking computer displays aren't enough.

After the reel, the cast came out: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston. I love all of these performers. None of this is their fault. Some Q & A highlights:

  • When asked how he trained for the film, Farrell said he ate lots of chicken. He also added that he didn't feel he had to tailor his role to Arnold Schwarzenegger's original - this version is much more serious and has no one-liners. He's enjoyed his recent run of independent films (and gave a shoutout to 'In Bruges' and 'Ondine,') but he was wooed by production design images Wiseman showed him.
  • The obvious gag was what was it that Wiseman showed Beckinsale all those years ago. (Beckinsale and Wiseman are husband and wife.)
  • Beckinsale took mock offense that she was cast as an "evil wife."
  • Bryan Cranston said he considered his Miles Cohagen to be benevolent, it's just that people are too stupid to listen to his ideas so they must be crushed so he can lead them to utopia. He then remarked that the character is often called a douchebag, and wondered how the deaf interpreter at the front of Hall H would sign that.  After a pause he joked, "ah, now I know."


Comic-Con 2012 Sony Panel - 'Looper'

It says a lot that the first person to mention the name Philip K. Dick was 'Looper' director Rian Johnson.

The director, whose previous work includes the high school drama 'Brick' and the imaginative fable 'The Brothers Bloom' puts a major stake in the ground with this one, showcasing what could be the best smart sci-fi flick since 'Inception.'

'Looper,' which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt and has a bit of a complex concept: In the future, time travel is possible, but illegal. Crime families have found a unique use for it, however. If they want to bump somebody off, but ensure there's no evidence around, they can kidnap someone, zap them to the past, have someone waiting there with a shotgun to kill 'em and dump the body in a time where it isn't known to exist. JGL is one of these men and he's called a Looper. (Don't know why he's the one called a Looper since he's not looping - she should just be called a standing still-er, but maybe I don't know all the angles.)

The twist comes when one day a target pops up and - uh oh - it's himself, but older. A chase begins.

The little package we saw has a tremendous amount of cool imagery. JGL does his killing with a huge gun in a corn field, and his victims appear out of time on a large sheet. (Keep tidy, even when killing.)

The moment when he and Bruce Willis lock eyes is startling, and a later scene at a diner has some of the best "I'm seeing myself" moments I've seen in a film. Willis doesn't like looking Levitt in the eyes - too disturbing - and Levitt says Willis' face looks backwards. (If you are used to seeing yourself in a mirror, this makes sense.)

There looks to be plenty of action and unique camera moves (like looping! literally!), plus a girl in thong underwear, Jeff Daniels "from the future" and lines like "thinking about time travel will fry your brain."  Also: Emily Blunt is telekinetic? I definitely want to know more about this movie.

During the Q & A, Levitt mentioned that this was the first script he ever got where the main character was written for him (he's even named Joe!) and that he dubbed Bruce Willis' movies onto his iPod so he could listen to his voice.  He didn't want to be a Bruce Willis mimic, but he wanted to get his essence down.  Director Rian Johnson talked a bit about the subtle special effects that went into making the two actors look more alike.

Emily Blunt was quick to say that 'Looper' is the best movie she's ever been in, and JGL said it was certainly the most challenging. Johnson said that, despite the bigger toys and better snacks on set, a larger movie isn't that much different from a smaller one. "It's the same storytelling language with a camera and actors." He also discussed his writing process (quote: writing kinda sucks) and how once the actors get on board there is a form of re-writing even if you don't change any of the dialogue - it's more about how you get these actors to say these words. Levitt also added that it's important to make a movie, even a bigger budget one, that wants to do something new, and isn't interested solely in making money.


Comic-Con 2012 Sony Panel - 'Elysium'

After that very successful panel, a former champion of Comic-Con, Neill Blomkamp, took the stage. After an initial warning (the VFX aren't finished) he gave us a solid ten minutes of what we wanted to see - the first look at this mysterious film.

It's the future. There's a gorgeous space station called Elysium with no crime and no disease.  It's one of those giant spinning-wheel dealies but it is so vast that within it are its own terraformed cities. It's kinda how I always envisioned Arthur C. Clarke's Rama. But that's for the 1%. On a poisoned, dirty Earth is the rest of mankind, toiling in a radioactive wasteland.

Among them, Matt Damon, bald and looking a lot like Chief Tyrol from 'Battlestar Galactica.' His world is one of brutal bureaucracy, getting his arms snapped for walking out of line.

There's an accident at work and he is exposed to radiation, thrown a few pills but told, basically, he'll be dead in five days. There's a cure, of course, but it is "up there."

He knows a guy named Spider who may be able to get him to Elysium. "Will it hurt?" he asks. Spider just laughs.

After some gross cranial surgery images, we see what he's become - a cyborg. A messy, ugly, and probably realistic-looking cyborg.

The idea is that he can kidnap an Elysian citizen (William Fichtner) and somehow work his way "El Norte." The phrase "download his brain" was used.

That's when the Blomkamp from 'District 9' really kicked in. There are crazy shootouts (including a body exploding like a squashed tomato) a robot getting its head ripped off and Sharlto Copley as some kind of mad, babbling samurai. On the station, calling the shots, is Jodie Foster.

This is big action and smart sci-fi working together to create something explosive. The fighting grabbed me on a visceral level and I'm really anxious to learn more about the world of the film.

During the Q & A  Blomkamp talked about how they shot in the slums of Mexico City, near the world's second largest sewage dump. To hear him tell it, there were massive sand storms of dried feces flying around for days. The crew got to wear respirator masks, but not the actors. Hey, maybe these guys DO earn their massive salaries.

It'll be a while til 'Elysium' comes out, but based on what we saw at Comic-Con it has shot to the very top of the list of things I'm excited about.

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