If nothing else, Sony's moderator was positively regal today.
In what I would consider a harbinger of things to come, this is the first time I've moderated a panel for a major studio in any room other than Hall H here at Comic-Con. Right now, TV just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and certain shows won't fit anywhere but Hall H. As a result, we were set for the Indigo Ballroom, where we had two films to discuss, and a very special guest to drive the event.
After all, when you've got Jack Black onstage, what else do you need?
We started with a message from the set of “Pixels,” the action-comedy that Chris Columbus is currently directing in Toronto. The film tells the story of what happens when aliens accidentally intercept broadcasts from Earth showing footage of some of the classic video games from the '80s and they believe they're seeing a declaration of war. They create their own versions of Centipede, Pac-Man, Frogger, Space Invaders, and more, and they send them to Earth to invade. When the President (Kevin James) realizes what's happening, he reaches out to his childhood best friend who was an arcade champion, played by Adam Sandler. Two other arcade masters (Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage, who looks absolutely awesome in the photos I've seen so far) are also wrangled for the fight, and Michelle Monaghan plays a weapons specialist who is asked to design weapons that can help them in the fight.
The video piece we played was Chris Columbus from the set, talking about how they're going to use cutting-edge special effects to bring the video game icons to life, and they cut to a very funny bit with Josh Gad battling a tennis ball on a stick. Columbus apologized and explained that they don't have anything finished yet, which makes sense. The film's out on May 15th of next year, and they're still early in the process. Columbus explained that anyone who attends the “Pixels” arcade here at Comic-Con will be able to play certain qualifying games, and someone will end up winning a walk-on role in the film. They're also giving away a Playstation 4, so if you're here in San Diego, I highly recommend going by the arcade to have some fun with some classic games and potentially win some fun stuff.
Then we shifted our attention to “Goosebumps,” the second film of the day, starting with a video featuring R.L. Stine himself. Stine seems to have a good sense of humor about himself, and he talked about the search to find someone to play him in the movie. His son suggested Morgan Freeman, and his wife told him he's too old to play himself. In the end, Stine said they got his first choice for the role, which was my cue to bring out Jack Black.
I did an interview with Jack on-camera before the panel, and talking to him about this movie, he's got a very strong motivation to get the film right. Two of them, actually, ages six and eight. I get it. My own kids are just starting to really dig into the “Goosebumps” series, and they love them. They're just scary enough that they feel like they're reading something crazy, but they're not so scary that they're unable to finish the books. Black talked about how they've worked to find the right tone for the film, and how the R.L. Stine he's playing is nothing like the real author, who is evidently very sweet and funny.
In the “Goosebumps” movie, Black plays Stine, and his work has actual magic powers. Each manuscript he writes creates an actual creature, and it's only by locking the manuscripts away that Stine is able to keep control of them. When a new kid (Dylan Minnette) moves in next door to Stine, the kid unwittingly sets off a chain of events that unleash a ton of the creatures on Stine's hometown.
Director Rob Letterman also joined us onstage to discuss the film, and he talked about how this approach to the movie allowed them to draw creatures from a number of the books instead of just doing a straight adaptation of one of them. It's a very “Jumanji” approach to the world of “Goosebumps,” and it certainly seems like they're having fun with it.
One of the most iconic of Stine's characters is Slappy, a living ventriloquist dummy who is the main villain in this film. Towards the end of the panel, Jack Black brought Slappy out to demonstrate how his training had paid off in a flawless ventriloquism routine. Unfortunately, Slappy decided not to play along and he pulled himself loose from Black, speaking on his own, eventually calling out 16 different creatures including Murder The Clown, the Bog Monster, the Haunted Mask, and more. They dragged Black offstage, ending the panel, and while I'm sure I'll be blamed for allowing it to happen, it did seem to bring the event to a fitting end.
Both “Pixels” and “Goosebumps” arrive in theaters Summer 2015.