Word of mouth: Filmmakers face the Comic-Con crowd

LOS ANGELES — Just as some movies are impervious to bad reviews, there are films that debut at Comic-Con International in San Diego whose fates simply cannot be doomed. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” won’t likely suffer if Warner Bros. does nothing more than hold up one of star Daniel Radcliffe’s dirty socks before thousands of the movie’s fans.

Any number of other films — particularly those flying just below the pop culture radar — face a more perilous test at the annual gathering of comic book, fantasy and sci-fi fans running through Sunday. Take a movie that isn’t that good, and the Comic-Con throng can bury it alive: Examine the carcass of last year’s “Sorority Row.” But if the movie rocks Hall H, the vast room where most big film presentations are held, you potentially have the next “300,” ”Zombieland” or “District 9.”

Squeezed between star-laden presentations on Saturday for the big-budget spectacles “Green Lantern” and “Thor,” filmmaker Matt Reeves will showcase several minutes of clips from “Let Me In,” the writer-director’s adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s adolescent angst/vampire novel “Let the Right One In” (which was previously made into a 2008 Swedish-language feature).

“It is an unveiling. It will all be footage that no one has ever seen,” said Reeves, whose last film was 2008’s alien invasion thriller “Cloverfield.” Reeves faces a tricky challenge as some are familiar (perhaps too much so) with the source material, while many others know nothing about the book or the earlier film. “Let Me In” lands in theaters on Oct. 1.

So in just a few Comic-Con minutes, Reeves must prove to the hardcore “Let the Right One In” fans that he’s been faithful to the underlying story — “The ideal reaction would be, ‘I’m willing to give that a shot, even though I loved the original,'” he said — while simultaneously trying to attract new followers to a story he believes is both original and personal. “What I would hope is that as people leave Hall H, they would say, ‘That looks really different and looks like an amazing story,'” Reeves said.

While most movie producers head to the San Diego Convention Center to jump-start positive buzz, the occasional few use Comic-Con as a fanboy’s version of the Sundance Film Festival, where movies made outside the studio system look for domestic distributors.

Among the more unusual Comic-Con movie presentations is Friday afternoon’s preview for “Super,” an independently financed movie about an ordinary guy (Rainn Wilson) who becomes the Crimson Bolt to save his wife (Liv Tyler) from a drug dealer. The film not only isn’t based on a comic book but arrives at the fan fest without a theatrical distributor, just as “Kick-Ass” did in 2009.

Producer Ted Hope, normally a Sundance regular with movies such as “Adventureland,” ”American Splendor” and “Friends With Money,” says he’s a bit surprised to be visiting Comic-Con, but notes that writer-director James Gunn (“Slither,” ”Dawn of the Dead”) “is kind of a phenomenon” in the convention crowd, and that the Crimson Bolt is a hero unlike many have seen.

“The film pulls no punches. He’s wielding a heavy lead wrench that causes a lot of damage,” Hope said. “This is an indie film. We cost a fraction of what ‘Kick-Ass’ cost, but we deliver in other ways.”

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

A year ago, director Scott Stewart visited San Diego with clips from “Legion,” an apocalyptic thriller that went on to open during the height of “Avatar’s” record-breaking box-office run and still did respectable business. Stewart is hopeful his new movie, the vampire thriller “Priest” with Paul Bettany, will enjoy a similar Comic-Con bounce following its Friday preview. He’ll need it, as “Priest” premieres next summer in the thick of “Thor,” ”Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “X-Men: First Class.”

One advantage Stewart may have: “Priest” is based on a much-loved graphic novel by Min-Woo Hyung. “It’s an entirely different and distinct work,” Stewart said. “We do create something of a new mythology in somewhat of a different setting.”

Patrick Lussier, the writer-director of “Drive Angry 3D,” wants Friday’s Comic-Con audience to think of his movie as a fresh look (it’s not based on previously published material) at vigilante justice. “We want to show as much murder and mayhem as possible,” Lussier said of his movie, due out Feb. 11. “But the biggest thing we wanted to convey was the original tone of the film — to show the attitude that drives the film. The hero is one of the biggest killers in the film — and you completely root for him.”

The Associated Press