Comic Con ’13 Day 2: Helix, Ender’s Game, Falling Skies, The 100

Things you only see at Comic Con
1. A table of elves lunching at The Old Spaghetti Factory
2. R2D2 making catcalls
3. Marvin the Martian at the ATM
4. Trolley signs in Dothraki
5. Predator just hanging out in the corner of an exhibit booth

Marvin needs cash too

If you enjoy having big questions woven into your entertainment there are two things – one on TV one in the theater – for you to watch for this year. And I mean questions of existence, meaning, faith and ethics, not just “How’d they do that?” More on those in a minute.

A busy Friday included panels for SyFy’s Defiance, TNT’s Falling Skies, Riddick, strange science videos, new book releases from Penguin, and a preview of the CW’s new fall show The 100.

The 100
This new teen drama from The CW has the same feel as The Secret Circle. 100 years after humanity fled an irradiated Earth, a group of 100 delinquent teen prisoners is sent back to Earth to see if it’s habitable. Early on we learn of the politics that lead to the decision as well as the dangers facing the teens on their first trip to Earth.

If it can build smart, full characters this one should be popular with the younger set of Hunger Games fans.

FALLING SKIES

Noah Wyle as Tom Mason in TNT’s Falling Skies – Photo courtesy TNT

I love this show, which stands out in a TV landscape littered with post-apocalyptic shows these days.

Geek god Wil Wheaton hosted this panel with cast and crew, delighting fans with his patented Wheaton charm. At the end of the Q&A he said “Last question. All of you in line make your sad face and get out.” I’m starting to understand why Sheldon Cooper hates the guy.

Falling Skies cast and writers shared their appreciation for their solid fan base, paying heed to the difference between fans of a show and the kind of communities that some shows are blessed with. It took a while for this show to grow its fan base and you can sense their gratitude for those who have spread the word.

They showed a clip from this upcoming Sunday’s episode that makes this one a MUST SEE. If you follow the show, just know that the entire room erupted into extended cheers and applause. You’ll know the moment when you see it.

ENDER’S GAME

Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggen – Photo courtesy Summit Entertainment

Someone asked recently what one book I’d give to everybody as required reading. My answer was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Written in 1985 it’s been through years of false starts in Hollywood largely due to Card’s tight grip on the material. And he’s holding on to it for good reason. Card knows what he has in this important work and how easy it would be to screw it up in our current culture of filmmaking. As a battle story, any director with a set could turn this into a war movie, which would rob the material of its intent and the audience of the story they deserve.

Set on future Earth, Ender’s Game is the story of bright children taken from their homes to train to defend the world. The story is rich and satisfying, by turns moving between global, interpersonal and family politics.

Just a few of the themes include choice and consequences, the greater good, and how the ends justify the means. As a reader it left me content yet bothered, happy with the payoff of a good story while wanting more concrete answers from my own heart about mankind.

Orson Scott Card is well known as an outspoken conservative Mormon and his faith beliefs underpin the all his work. (The LGBT community is actively protesting the film.) Not through preachy moral lessons but in the way he asks big questions. He doesn’t always answer them, but presents smart options and opinions as thought through by the characters.

Summit Entertainment hit the jackpot when they landed this film in a completely different way than with Twilight. They scored an all star cast including Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley,and Asa Butterfield (Hugo) as Ender.

From the footage I’ve seen I have high hopes for the quality of the film and am crossing my fingers that they’ve left the material intact. Look for Ender’s Game in theaters November 1st. And please, please read the book first.

HELIX

If you’re looking for TV that means something, Helix is a new SyFy show entering production this week, set to premier early in 2014. Produced by Ronald D. Moore, the story takes us to the Arctic Circle where a virus has locked down the staff of a remote biologic research facility.

The story was written by former development banker Cameron Porsandeh, who has scored a dream producing team of Steven Madea (LOST) and Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica) for his first show.

Porsandeh grew up in an ultra conservative home with a Jehovah Witness mother and Iranian father. He didn’t come to pop culture until later in life when LOST and BSG became two of his favorite shows.

He knows he’s living any writer’s dream and says that while he loved the work he did with the World Bank, he believes there are many ways to contribute, storytelling being one he wants to try. He describes the show as a story that starts with infectious disease as the first layer of the onion. So much more is happening on the research station that goes deeper and deeper.

Ron Moore is arguably the best writer/producer working today with themes of life, meaning, faith and humanity. His work is meant for mature audiences, not only because it usually contains some provocative moments but because it asks the viewer to invest thought and wrestle with uncomfortable questions. These aren’t Sunday School stories. He never goes overt with his own beliefs but crafts stories with mass appeal across a variety of value systems.

And for all these reasons he – even more than Joss Whedon, Carlton Cuse or JJ Abrams – is the writer/producer whose projects I wait for impatiently. It’s worth the time and effort for a show that makes you think about your own big questions.

Helix has locked in Billy Campbell for the lead and will be announcing more casting news soon.

DEFIANCE

If you’re not watching SyFy’s Defiance, consider giving it a look. Another show set in post apocalyptic America it has a completely unique look and feel from Falling Skies or Revolution. In this next season the show will continue delving into the origin stories of the eight alien races and the dance of their communal existence.

Comic-Con Saturday: Christians in Comics? Who Knew? Plus, Nerd Prom

by Karen Veazey

You may wonder what possesses someone to attend something like Comic Con. To use valuable vacation time, travel across country, maybe camp out overnight, just to sit for a few minutes and listen to people talk about entertainment. The answer is stories. A good story is at the center of every beloved piece of literature, every film or show, every comic and even many games.

Why Writers Matter

After the excitement of yesterdays star studded panels, today it was nice to relax with the storytellers. Be listening for the name Orson Scott Card over the coming year, as the film adaptation of his acclaimed and beloved sci-fi novel Ender’s Game (watch the trailer here) finally comes to theaters. Card was just one of seven amazing panelists in a session on the future of comics and sci fi writing. Or that was the intended topic; these incredibly smart men and women touched on everything from particle physics to dark matter, including some sharply traded opinions on the Arab Spring and the evolution of human behavior. (A favorite quote – regarding dark matter, which makes up a huge percentage of the universe yet we don’t know what it is – “Dark matter is failed TV pilots.”) Moderator Greg Bear nicely rounded the discussion back around to the point that no scientific progress can replicate the human capacity to feel joy.

While actors get the press coverage, it is these passionate, informed minds who create the foundation of our best entertainment. Aside from reality TV, much of the current wave of pop culture comes from stories written decades to centuries ago. Green Lantern, The Avengers, Grimm, vampires and zombies, Clash of the Titans, The Hobbit – even Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming blockbuster Pacific Rim is rooted in the era of HG Wells giant robots and Japanese giant monsters. Brin noted that the winds do seem to be shifting, with fewer studios presenting at Comic Con and fans greeting screenwriters with the same fervor and admiration given to celebrities. Still, theres a long way to go before gifted novelists will get their due. Even with these heavyweights on the panel it was held in a room seating maybe three hundred people. I was encouraged that it was, at least, full.

Christian Comic Arts Society

The only thing that can draw a smaller crowd than writers at Comic Con is Christians. The crowd for The Christian Comic Arts Society’s panel on Christian themes in comics was sparse, yet the room held that kind of friendly camaraderie you feel when walking into church. Its no secret that the world of comics can be dark. While there are wonderful themes to discuss and learn from, violence is nearly a given in these stories of villains and heroes, and portrayals of women are notoriously sexy. After three days of sensory bombardment it felt like fresh air to walk into a room of people who love pop culture yet share a brighter, more uplifting perspective. So why do I go to Comic Con if it can be dark? Because I think Christians are supposed to be in the midst of the entertainment industry just as we are to be scientists and educators and construction workers and retail clerks. God puts His people everywhere, and there we are to do our best.

Because the panel was titled “Christian Themes in Comics” I expected to hear how their faith inspired the panelists work. Instead the conversation veered toward the search for spiritual significance in mainstream entertainment, including themes of heroism, sacrifice and internal conflicts of choice and morality. Believe it or not, zombies came up as an example of turning the superhero model upside down. Rather than the hero defending society form the monster the hero is now defending himself from society, who has become the monster. Panelist Leo Partible gave some fascinating comments on the inspiration and hope he finds when mainstream secular artists produce spiritual work – Robert Plant’s “Great Spirit” was one example – saying, “For God to inspire these hard living people to sing this song they normally wouldn’t want to inspires me. It tells me there is a God.” The session ended on the topic of the constant tension between Christians who want all entertainment made by Christians to be squeaky clean and evangelical, and those who want to portray the harsher reality of life. Lifeway Christian stores just pulled the DVD of The Blind Side from its shelves after protests against its realistic portrayal of urban life, including swearing. Yet if the Bible were adapted to film it would be rated R (at least) for its murder, incest, slavery, polygamy and of course, crucifixion. As panelist Sergio Cariello (The Action Bible) commented, “I don’t think God ever said ‘Should I put that in there?’”

As a side note, if you love faith and you love entertainment you owe it to yourself to check out the Act One Program, a top-tier organization that’s been training Christians to make great art for more than a decade.

Hall H and Ballroom 20 Playback

After that mentally and spiritually fulfilling afternoon we settled in for some lighter fare. Comic Con made a great decision last year to play back videos of the Hall H and Ballroom 20 panels at night. We went to the playback hoping to see The Hobbit but instead saw Guillermo del Toro and the cast of next summer’s monsters vs robots spectacle Pacific Rim, and a surprise appearance from Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis to stump their upcoming The Campaign. The audience, so many of them punchy from camping out all night were the best part of the session with goofy questions and odd behavior. Nerd titles well earned.

Thing that didn’t make it into the Hall playback but which were buzzing all around Comic Con included 10 minutes of footage from The Hobbit, and announcements about the upcoming movies for Thor, Captain America and Superman.

Party on, nerds!

Entertainment during Masquerade

I popped in to watch the Masquerade, Comic Con’s huge costume party. Costumes are judged and prizes awarded and with all the costumes at the Con I expected it would be an hours-long bizarre fashion parade. I was surprised to see only eighty entrants, with Best in Show going to the gang with Project Runway; Star Wars Edition. After judging the DJ cranked up and glow sticks came out as the largest nerd party in the world commenced. Just like high school, a small contingent hit the dance floor while most stood around kind of be-bopping in place.

Masquerade

More tomorrow on the gaming opportunities at Comic Con and hopefully, I’ll finally make it down to the Expo hall!

More Information:

Previous reports from Comic-Con:

Day One: A Nerd’s Eye View of Comic-Con

Day Two: Joss Whedon tears up over ‘Firefly’

Handy Twitter, um, Handles:

@Rebecca_Cusey

@kmyvz – Karen Veazey

@SergioCariello Sergio Cariello

@ChristianComics – Christian Comic Arts Society

@ActOneProgram - Act One Program