SAN DIEGO — After five days of chaos, the 38th annual Comic-Con wrapped up on Sunday, following 120,000 visitors, hundreds of programming hours, and more Hollywood stars than an Oscar ceremony.
"This is my first one — it's incredible," gushed Gwyneth Paltrow, who helped unveil footage from "Iron Man" to the rabid crowd. "It's amazing to see all these people, and everybody's so enthusiastic. It's exciting."
"Excitement" doesn't even begin to describe the buzz at the San Diego Convention Center as fans celebrated what the event billed "the popular arts." Dozens of rooms simultaneously hosted events exploring the minutiae of Harry Potter, "Star Wars," "Heroes" and many more; massive displays featured a life-size Jabba the Hutt, a 40-foot-long Black Pearl, and cars ranging from the original Batmobile to Speed Racer's Mach 5 to the killer's souped up ride in next month's "Death Sentence." Lou Ferrigno charged $20 for a Polaroid while a man nearby dressed as Jesus (with a curved glo-stick for a halo) offered the same for free; another man held up a sign touting the hundreds of high-fives he had dispensed.
Meanwhile, the movie news came fast and furious. Among the highlights:
» Marvel executives and "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau revealed plans to begin teaming heroes in future flicks (see "Comic-Con: 'Hulk' Smashes At Marvel Panel, Plus 'Iron Man' Cameos To Spawn 'Marvel Heroes' Flick").
» "300" director Zack Snyder revealed the poster and cast for his highly anticipated "Watchmen" movie (see "Comic-Con: 'Watchmen' Poster Revealed!").
» Steven Spielberg revealed live via satellite that Karen Allen would return in the forthcoming fourth "Indiana Jones" as the whip-wielder's greatest love, Marion Ravenwood (see "Comic-Con: Karen Allen To Appear In 'Indiana Jones IV' ").
» Director Paul W.S. Anderson served up his newest "Death Race" stars, Tyrese and Joan Allen (see " Comic-Con: Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen Hit The Road For 'Death Race 3000' ").
» Sam Raimi let it slip that he recently met with Marvel producer Avi Arad to lay the groundwork for a "Spider-Man 4" script.
» The villainous Zachary Quinto was announced as Mr. Spock in the upcoming "Star Trek" re-launch flick (see "'Star Trek' Earmarks A 'Hero' To Play New Spock In J.J. Abrams Flick").
Speaking of Quinto's "Heroes", the NBC show was arguably the biggest success of Comic-Con, with a fire-regulations-pushing crowd in its booth each day and 10,000 fans showing up for a panel that had to turn most of them away. Movies like "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" engaged in a guerilla-marketing battle, while the biggest party in the history of the Con was held at Petco Park to celebrate this week's "300" DVD release. Competing with all that noise were comic titles like "Bob the Angry Flower," "Too Much Coffee Man," "Crying Macho Man" and "Pete the P.O.'d Postal Worker."
"It's a good time," grinned Snyder, after greeting some 6,500 "Watchmen" fans already eager for a 2009 release. "And next year, hopefully, we'll have a little trailer."
Over the course of the highly unpredictable Con, random sights included Ed Burns and Shannyn Sossamon handing out free iPhones to promote their thriller "One Missed Call," Judd Apatow and Sam Raimi meeting for the first time at a red carpet, and a woman clad only in a makeshift dress fashioned from the free "Smallville" tote bags that were being handed out at a booth. An unexpected Con star was born when 18-year-old Lacey Henderson attended on Thursday, a genuine amputee who promoted the "Grindhouse" DVD by walking around with a machine gun attached to her stump, à la Rose McGowan's Cherry Darling character.
All the while, the stars gushed about the event and the overwhelming response from fans.
"Aw, man, it's great," Milo Ventimiglia said. "Comic-Con launched 'Heroes' [in 2006] when we had 2,000 people that watched an unedited version of the pilot, and they were the ones that were online talking about it, generating the buzz. ... Now, to come back and see the numbers triple — 6,000 people in the ['Heroes'] panel, and then the booth. I tried to do a fly-by; I walked past it, just because I was fascinated but had never been on the floor at Comic-Con ... somebody was like, 'Peter Petrelli!' One person turns around, 10 people turn around, 20, 30, 40, 100. You're screaming for your dear life, just trying to get back to your hotel!"
Everyone's favorite iconoclast, Henry Rollins, had a different but equally enthusiastic take. "There are, like, 80 guys here dressed as Darth Vader, and I think that is very cool," said the actor/musician/ TV host, who was at the Con to promote his role in "Wrong Turn 2." "I come from the punk-rock world, where you are always running from people who say, 'What's up with those pants?' ... or some idiot who wants to beat me up because my hair is sticking up. ... Now, a guy is dressed up like Luke Skywalker, and no one is going, 'What's up with that?' Everyone is like, 'Man, that is awesome! Did you make that yourself?' That should happen more often ... I think that they should have this thing twice a year."
Jonah Hill also found the event to be a breath of fresh air. "I'm actually super-psyched," grinned the "Superbad" star. "['Knocked Up' actor] Seth [Rogen] and I were walking in the bathroom to go pee, and they were like, 'The bathroom's right there.' And we're like, 'Oh, there's just a public bathroom? Because, not like us, but what if a big celebrity had to go pee?' And I'm like, 'No way, this is where Iron Man takes a sh--?' And we were laughing. And then we walk in, and Robert Downey is washing his hands! Like, he had just peed in there!"
It all wrapped up Saturday evening with a massive party sponsored by the Sci Fi Channel and Entertainment Weekly magazine. The A-list crowd included Favreau, Edward Norton, J.J. Abrams and Sarah Silverman, mingling in strange combinations with Jenna Jameson, Jonah Hill, Stan Lee and "Saw" mastermind James Wan.
Late Sunday afternoon, the last remaining geeks were dragged out of the convention center kicking and screaming, with shopping bags in one hand and light sabers in the other. Here's hoping that the last Wolverine impersonator out the door remembered to turn off the lights.
[This story was originally published at 11:32 a.m. ET on 07.30.2007]