SAN DIEGO — You've come to expect snakes on a plane by now, but snakes in men's-bathroom urinals? And tiny green plastic ones at that?
Yes, it's Comic-Con season again, and that means a flood of celebrities, sneak previews and crafty marketing techniques. This year, Samuel L. Jackson, Nicolas Cage, Tobey Maguire and dozens of other celebrities took up residence with 100,000 fans at the city's Convention Center, transforming into geek Johnny Appleseeds while planting the buzz that might eventually blossom into massive opening weekends.
Record-breaking crowds swarmed the main floor like clone troopers invading Geonosis, navigating such corporate tie-ins as the "Snakes on a Plane" walk-in serpent while bombarded with flash, freebies and famous people. As Hollywood knelt before them and kissed their Green Lantern rings, one thing became abundantly clear: The geeks have inherited the Earth.
"I think it's funny, this new thing of how nerds are cool," laughed "Accepted" star Jonah Hill on Friday while standing in front of 1,500 costumed keg cruisers at a massive party celebrating the upcoming frat comedy. "When I was in high school, being a nerd was definitely not cool."
"Now you'll probably see Peter Sarsgaard here buying comics because it's cool and hip," he grimaced. "Or Adrien Brody and the lead singer of Bloc Party."
As far as actual news goes, the biggest buzz surrounded several familiar names. On Saturday, the stars from "Spider-Man 3" showed up unannounced, joining director Sam Raimi to publicly confirm the presence of super-villains Venom, Sandman and "something between" Green Goblin and Hobgoblin in the person of James Franco; their presence contributed to the first time in 37 years that Comic-Con had to stop selling tickets for fear of overcrowding. The day before, "Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer announced that he would have the Man of Steel flying back into theaters in 2009 for a "Wrath of Khan"-like sequel.
Also on Friday, director Michael Bay got the Con crowd smiling by placing a cell phone call to Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime in the classic cartoon show — together, they confirmed that he'd be returning in the same capacity for next year's live-action film. While Jim Henson's daughter Lisa hyped 2008's "Dark Crystal" sequel, the feeling of '80s déjà vu was further enhanced by the unveiling of dark, all-CGI "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" characters who'll say "Cowabunga!" to a rebirth in March.
Now that the box office has been ruled for a decade by geek-friendly blockbusters filled with Fetts, Frodos and Superfriends, the fallout has manifested itself in stars eager to get classy in San Diego while asserting their geek credentials — some more believably than others.
"There are a lot of people my age who get cast in these movies and say, 'I've never even seen 'Star Wars' and now I'm in it!' But I was a huge fan of the ['Spider-Man'] comic book, right as my character was coming into existence," insisted Topher Grace, soon to be menacing Peter Parker as the evil Venom. "I was walking around the floor of Comic-Con, and I would be here of my own volition."
"We create cool around them, because of what they do and how they do it," explained Samuel L. Jackson, neither confirming nor denying that the urinal serpent was a "Snakes on a Plane" promotional ploy. When asked about the geeks packing the floor at his press conference, Jackson admitted that his own geekiness does have its limits: "I would never dress as those guys," he laughed.
Insisting that his perfect Comic-Con costume would be a pimp outfit, another of Hollywood's coolest figures similarly embraced his inner dweeb. "When I was a kid I loved comic books," grinned Snoop Dogg, "and when I come to situations like this it takes me back to being a little kid where I could be fun and just do all the things I never get to do anymore, because I'm so manly right now." He offered a few rap lines to promote his upcoming flick "Hood of Horror": "Snoopy D, O, double G/ And I can bump a freak, keep it so tight, fresh and so unique/ I'm the coolest of the cool, but I'm down with the geeks."
"There's definitely a geek faction in Hollywood for sure," added Tobey Maguire, whose presence at a sold-out panel yielded the priceless moment of a fanboy asking when he can expect a "Seabiscuit" sequel. "I'm definitely part geek. I'm one of them."
"There's so much in [comic book movies]. They're for everybody," Nicolas Cage, star of the forthcoming "Ghost Rider," said of the frenzy surrounding such exhibits as his upcoming film's Hell Cycle. "You can get swept up in the heroics of superheroes, or the magical abilities of someone like Ghost Rider. It's applicable for children and adults, it's not gratuitously violent — it's almost the perfect medium for film and for making a lot of people happy."
Cage, who was once famously close to playing Superman and said he wants to play other comic characters in future films, has often boasted of his extensive comics collection. "The freaks and geeks of the comic-book realm are now running the show, and they're making the movies, and I'm one of them," he grinned. "It's great; I'm excited."
"Nicolas Cage is a Coppola — he was into money and Italian food when he was 10!" grinned "The Daily Show" star Rob Corddry, who was skeptical of the star's geek cred. "He was into being Hollywood royalty when he was 10 ... it's kinda like when the model says that she was really awkward."
Excited to hear that so many stars were turning into superheroes, Corddry expressed his own desire to be in the soon-to-shoot "Fantastic Four" sequel. "I would love to play the Silver Surfer, Norrin Radd — I mean, look at me!" the "Blackballed" star grinned mischievously, pointing to his bald head. "It would be slapstick, with lots of pratfalls and spit-takes. 'Oh, Galactus!' It would be very physical comedy. I think the fans love that, when it's not true to the original comic at all."
"This thing was a comic-book convention," he grinned, peering out from behind the table where he was signing autographs. "Now they're going to rename it Let's Make Money and Get Laid Con.
Indeed, even Hollywood's most desirable actresses proudly admitted that they'd like to get with a geek. "The geek has become the new Brad Pitt," observed Amber Tamblyn, in San Diego to drop the bombshell that her "Grudge 2" is so violent it might earn an R-rating. "We've had a MySpace revolution."
"To be called a geek so much lately has been fascinating," admitted Rosario Dawson, who launched her new comic "Occult Crimes Taskforce" and bragged that her boyfriend was as big a geek as anyone in the hall. "It's always been something I've wanted to be."
"My friends are pretty geeky, I'm pretty geeky ... they're the guys at school that are really actually smart and listen to cool music, and they have more time to cultivate. They're not just into [any one thing]," cooed Kirsten Dunst, thinking of the grown men in Spidey suits wandering the hall nearby. "Geeks are cool. I've always had a thing for dorks."
Walking the floors of the biggest Comic-Con in four decades, in a place where even an escape to the bathroom might result in an effort at corporate marketing, the "Spider-Man 3" actress summed up all the hype by rubbing her fingers together and singing a few select words from a classic song: "Money, money, money, money!"
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