Starting Wednesday, fanboys and fangirls from around the country will descend on the cozy town of San Diego for the annual geek extravaganza officially known as Comic-Con: International (it'll always be San Diego Comic-Con to us). As always, the line-up is jam-packed with movie, television and even the occasional comic-book company promoting their products and properties at panels and presentations. The big news this year though, is that fewer major Hollywood studios are making a stop at SDCC -- Marvel Studios (which introduced the cast of The Avengers there last year) is taking a pass, as is Warner Bros. and Disney. (The Mouse House is instead organizing its own fan gathering, the D23 Expo, which will be held in Anaheim on August 19-21.) Still, movie buffs shouldn't worry too much; there are still plenty of panels and premieres to consume during your four days in San Diego. Here's a look at some of this year's most prominent film-related programming, along with recommendations for how to preserve your most valuable commodity at Comic-Con: time.
Thursday, July 21
The OneRing.net: Hobbit Talk
What: With Peter Jackson deep in the midst of shooting The Hobbit and his studio (Warner) not making the trip to San Diego, this fan-organized panel may be the only way to get your Middle Earth fix at this year's Con.
When and Where: 10AM, Room 7AB
Appropriate Wait Time: 20 minutes. Since Jackson is friendly with the OneRing people, it's possible that he'll provide them with some kind of exclusive photo or piece of news (the panel description also mentions the likelihood of a surprise guest or two... bring on the dude that played the dwarf that stood to the right of Gimli that one time!), but it likely won't be anything earth-shattering.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
What: Harry Potter isn't the only blockbuster franchise that's coming to a conclusion. The first half of the two-part Twilight finale arrives in November and select members of the cast and crew will be on hand to talk it up.
When and Where: 11:15AM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 45 minutes. Your chances of getting in are already slim since the Twi-hards are known for camping out well in advance to catch a glimpse of their favorite glittery vamps. Besides, since the actual last movie -- Breaking Dawn, Part 2 -- isn't going to be out until November 2012, you'll have another chance at next year's Con to gaze at Kristen Stewart's perpetual scowl.
Bill Plympton: Independently Animated
What: Skip the big Sony Pictures Animation presentation and instead listen to the wit and wisdom of fiercely independent animator Bill Plympton, whose fascinating, bizarre and utterly unique work includes The Tune, I Married a Strange Person! and his most recent feature, Idiots and Angels.
When and Where: 2PM, Room 25ABC
Appropriate Wait Time: 15 minutes. If the wait seems longer than that, keep in mind that Plympton makes himself very accessible at his booth on the Con floor so you can grab some one-on-one time with him then.
20th Century Fox
What: Though the studio -- one of the few majors to stage a full Hall H presentation this year -- hasn't announced which films they'll be previewing, expect to hear about upcoming releases like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the Jonah Hill comedy The Sitter as well as potential news about the X-Men, Wolverine and Daredevil franchises.
When and Where: 3:15PM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 1 hour. If there's even the slightest chance of a James Franco appearance in support of Apes, you'll want to be there.
Robert Rodriguez's Quick Draw Productions
What: Despite having bombs like Shorts and Sharkboy and Lava Girl on his resume, Robert Rodriguez enjoys a lifetime pass from the Comic-Con crowd thanks to Sin City and Planet Terror. The log line for this panel promises that he'll "show exclusive material from his latest top-secret project." Not another Machete movie, we hope.
When and Where: 4:45PM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 45 minutes. Rodriguez is an engaging speaker, but he's been on an undeniable cold streak recently. However, if this "top-secret project" turns out to be the long-in-the-works Sin City 2, be prepared to double our suggested wait time.
Star Wars Fan Movie Awards
What: Fan-made movies can be painful to sit through, but the Star Wars franchise has a solid track record of imaginative fan-generated shorts. Check out 2011's crop at this annual screening and awards ceremony, now celebrating its 10th year.
When and Where: 8:30PM, Ballroom 20
Appropriate Wait Time: 10 minutes. Honestly, you'll be able to watch most of these online soon enough, but as with most things Star Wars, they're best enjoyed with a crowd.
Friday, July 22
Epix Pictures: The Captains -- William Shatner
What: Want to see the original (and still the greatest -- sorry Chris Pine) Captain Kirk discuss his new doc in which he interviews all of his fellow Starfleet captains? Sure you do! Especially since he'll be joined by Captain Sisko, who could give him a run for his money in the bad-ass department.
When and Where: 10:15AM, Room 6BCF
Appropriate Wait Time: 1 hour. The Captains will be available on the EPIX Channel starting July 22, but an hour in a room with the Shat-man himself is not something that happens every day.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
What: The European comic sleuth is revived for a lavish 3D motion-capture adventure, helmed by none other than Steven Spielberg, who will be making his first trip ever to Comic-Con to tell us why his movie will be less creepy than every other mo-cap movie ever made.
When and Where: 11AM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 2 hours. Like his pal George Lucas, Spielberg has become something of a controversial geek icon in his old age, but c'mon -- this is still the guy that made Jaws. And E.T.. And Raiders of the Lost Ark. In other words, he's a guy worth making the effort to see in the flesh.
Relativity Media: Raven and Haywire
What: John Cusack plays a crime-fighting Edgar Allen Poe (!) in period murder mystery Raven, while Haywire features MMA star Gina Carano kicking ass and taking names as a covert ops specialist while Steven Soderbergh (!!) films the action from behind the camera.
When and Where: 12:15PM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 30 minutes. Both movies sound dicey, but, as with Spielberg, there's something exciting about the idea of being in the room when Soderbergh makes his Con debut.
Legendary Pictures: Pre-production Preview
What: The production company that has had a hand in such movies as 300 and The Dark Knight shares some information about their upcoming slate, including Mass Effect and Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim.
When and Where: 12:45PM, Room 6BCF
Appropriate Wait Time: 90 minutes. The line-up of guests set to appear at this panel is pretty epic: Del Toro (always a fantastic presence), Jeff Bridges, Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba and Alex Proyas. For some reason this isn't in Hall H, so expect the room to be jammed and the line outside the room (and down the hall, and around the corner) frustratingly long.
Screen Gems: Underworld 4 and Attack the Block
What: Kate Beckinsale is back for another Underworld movie...blah, blah, blah. The real star here is Attack the Block, a terrific alien invasion movie from Next Big Thing Joe Cornish and produced by Edgar Wright.
When and Where: 1:30PM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 1 hour. If it were just Underworld, we'd tell you to skip the panel altogether (much like we're suggesting you avoid the Fright Night panel later in the day) but trust us -- Block is worth waiting in line for.
What: With The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Zack Snyder's Superman movie all sitting Comic-Con out, the big ticket event will be Sony's presentation for The Amazing Spider-Man, the Spidey reboot starring Andrew Garfield as the web-slinger and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. But before you get to that one, you'll have to sit through panels for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (meh), 30 Minutes or Less (yay!) and Total Recall (huh?).
When and Where: 4PM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 3 hours. That may seem excessive, but one day you'll tell your grandchildren that you were one of the first people to see the new guy playing Spider-Man.
Batman: Year One
What: The classic Frank Miller comic becomes DC's latest animated feature, with a vocal cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie and Eliza Dushku, all of whom will be present for a post-screening Q&A
When and Where: 8PM, Ballroom 20
Appropriate Wait Time:15 minutes. The movie will be on DVD in October and an encore screening (minus the Q&A) is scheduled for later that night.
Saturday, July 23
Relativity Media: Immortals
What: Experience another clash of the titans with this Greek mythology-themed action movie, directed by The Cell's Tarsem Singh and starring Luke Evans and Frieda Pinto.
When and Where: 1PM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 10 minutes. The film's trailer is already out there and it's hard to imagine that the panel will offer that much additional insight. Use this time to visit with Donald Glover, Gillian Jacobs and the rest of the Greendale gang at the Community happening instead.
Dark Horse: Joss Whedon
What: This panel with the Buffy creator is supposed to be devoted to his line of Dark Horse comics, but you know that there will be a ton of questions about his current project, a little movie called The Avengers.
When and Where: 3PM, Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront
Appropriate Wait Time: 1 hour. Whedon is one of the best talkers in the business so even if he clams up about all things Avenger-related, you'll still have a great time.
Universal: Snow White and the Huntsmen
What: Kristen Stewart's first post-Twilight project is this re-imagined version of the classic fairy tale. Because that worked so well with Red Riding Hood.
When and Where: 3:30PM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 15 minutes. If nothing else, it might be fun to see Stewart share a stage with Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth. But not that fun.
An Early Evening with Kevin Smith
What: The writer/director/professional pothead returns for his yearly raucous Q&A, where he regales the audience with lengthy, crazy stories about his experiences in the business of show and takes aim at his critics. Expect to hear lots of chatter about his latest movie, Red State, and why Southwest Airlines sucks.
When and Where: 5:45PM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 90 minutes. If you've never experienced a Smith Q&A, it's worth queuing up for. Just be prepared for lots of salty language from Smith... and his fans.
Sunday, July 24
What: Co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan close out the Con's movie offerings by previewing Glee's upcoming 3D concert movie, due out August 12, as well as teasing the third season of the show. Here's hoping they brought ice packs, because they're going to be taking some lumps from Gleeks that are still annoyed about Season 2 and/or the departures of Rachel, Finn and Kurt after next year.
When and Where: 10AM, Hall H
Appropriate Wait Time: 5 minutes. Coming off a season that can generously be described as problematic, this Glee movie had better be the best 3D concert film ever made. Not that there's a lot of competition for that title...
See what else is worth checking out at San Diego Comic Con this year.
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