My Take by Jim Carl

The inaugural edition of the ComiQuest Film Festival is now over and it was a phenomenal success.  Surprisingly, this was a challenging festival to program.  Would an audience show up to see these movies considering all the panels, exhibits, and vendors already at Comicon?  And what about the scope of the films themselves?  Do we limit ourselves only to movies based on comic books?  What about movies based on graphic novels?  Or based on video games (Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter)?  Or movies that became video games such as TRON?  And does every selection necessarily have to involve a superhero or be an action flick?  (As evidence, I point to the 10th highest-grossing motion picture of 1982: Annie.)  What about movies and TV series that became popular comic books such as Star Trek?  And where do crowd-pleasers like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The Neverending Story fit into the picture, if at all?  What makes it even harder is that the fans are sometimes heavily divided for/against the adaptations of their favorite comics.  Just as many people thanked me for programming Superman II as did criticize me for not showing The Richard Donner Cut, I’m only saying. 

As in every festival, there are flops, hits, and out-of-left field stunners.  This fest was no different.  Going in, I had my bets heavily-placed on certain titles to be winners and others to be strugglers.   Read below and you’ll learn how things panned out.  You might be surprised.

Lastly, I cannot take credit for the tremendous success of this festival.  Equal credit is due to Tommy Lee Edwards, Alan Gill, and Eric Hoover, who persuaded me (sometimes against my initial judgment) to include a few movies that would have otherwise never seen the light of day. 

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

DICK TRACY
This was the least-attended movie of the festival, and still it was not a disaster.  You know something’s awry when a film about a motorcycle-flying hero wearing a pink headband outperforms the powerhouses that are supposed to be Warren Beatty and Madonna.  Here’s a movie based on Chester Gould’s long-running strip that hasn’t gained much of a cult following since its release in 1990.  I gave it a chance here, based solely on the suspicion that it might draw some new converts.  It didn’t, and that’s that.  It paid for itself, but not much else.  I should have expected as much.

THE CROW
This one barely squeaks into this category by the breadth of a crow-feather.  Considering its reputation and that it was filmed in Wilmington, this really should have drawn a much larger audience.  Instead, it seemed to justify my 20-year rule, meaning that (most) movies need to be at least 20 years old before a generation will want to pay to see them on the big screen again.  On the other hand, this was one of the few R-rated films among an already very family-friendly line-up and it could be argued that a lot of people who might have otherwise wanted to see it simply couldn’t because their kids were with them.  I expected bigger numbers, but the end results weren’t bad, just slightly disappointing.  I’m sticking it here because the advance Internet chatter lead me to believe for so much more.

THE BREAK-EVENS

DANGER: DIABOLIK
I’ll be honest, I had never heard of this movie before the guys at Ultimate Comics mentioned it.  I was skeptical about booking it, but they were confident that there were indeed fans out there who wanted to see it.   Plus, I told myself, director Mario Bava brought a certain “coolness” factor to the line-up.  Turns out, we were both half-right.  While not an outright smash, it was also not a flop.  Fans who recognized the brand were thrilled to see its inclusion, and the uninitiated who gave it a chance seemed to love it.  I’ll call this one a draw.  And besides, the comic art from this movie looked amazing on our programs. 

HARDWARE
Originally, we were gonna screen 1987’s Hellraiser instead of this movie.  But after tracking down the film rights and learning that it involved $1500 for a single screening, we switcheroored and gave this 1990 horror flick a shot.  Turns out, it was a smart move.  SFX Master, Bob Keen, attended the screening and brought his disarmingly charming sense of style as well as several cool movie props.  Like Mystery Men, here’s a film that otherwise wouldn’t have made the line-up if the artist hadn’t been in attendance, but unlike that movie, we were at least able to screen the unrated director’s cut which gave the screening something unique to promote.   Neither a smash nor a disaster, the inclusion of this film gave the fest the darker edge it needed in contrast to all the family-friendly fare.

MEGAFORCE
Alan Gill, one of the founders of Comicon, absolutely adores this movie.  When we first met to discuss the possibility of even hosting this festival, he petitioned for the inclusion of this movie, one of the biggest box office bombs of 1982.  I remember laughing at his suggestion, but it was one of those crazy-but-fun films that probably would have found itself in a Retro line-up sooner or later, so adding it here seemed a logical solution.  Here’s an example of a completely-forgotten misfire that modern audiences mostly mock for its utter cheesiness.  One of the reasons of hosting a film festival at all is to give some smaller, lesser-known films like this one a chance to be rediscovered.  In the case of Megaforce, it drew about what I expected.  Those who had never heard of it, mostly stayed away.  Those who had only ever seen it on HBO or on VHS indeed arrived, and had one hell of a good time.  I have no regrets about booking this film.  It’s the type of fun, rip-roaring adventure flick that should be screening at ComiQuest.

THE HITS

MYSTERY MEN
Hands down, I would have probably not booked this movie if Bob Burden, the creator of Mystery Men, hadn’t been in attendance.  Not only didn’t it fit within my 20-year rule, it was a notoriously expensive box office flop that hasn’t gained much of a cult movie reputation.  There were many others movies that deserved this slot, but because Mr. Burden would be in attendance, I took a gamble that the audience would come to see him.  Almost 100 people showed up to hear him give a very entertaining intro, but I have serious doubts those same people would have paid $8 apiece to see the film alone.  This is one of those hard calls.  I don’t necessarily regret its inclusion, but I do wish it was a more-beloved movie. Listening to his intro, I suspect Mr. Burden feels the same way.

SUPERMAN II
There’s no way in hell that any festival based on comic book-related movies can avoid the Caped Crusader or the Man in Red Tights.  For this year’s edition, we selected Superman II because it’s generally considered by fans to be the best of the original Superman movies and also because General Zod is a pretty cool villain.  Why not Superman: The Movie, you ask?  No particular reason, except perhaps its damn running length.  At more than 2.5 hours, it’s tough to program amongst a schedule comprised mostly of 90-minute movies. The attendance neither disappointed nor amazed me.  It was the big, juicy no-brainer hit that it was programmed to be, nothing more or less.  Next year, yes, we’ll probably screen the first Superman.  So quit asking me that. 

BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY
This drew the exact same-sized audience as Superman II, which is the most amazing thing I can write about it.  When it screened at Escapism several years ago, fans arrived in droves.  It’s not a film that’s commonly screened nor even considered when compared against all the other superhero movies out there.  And yet, audiences always love it.  I think it’s those opening credits.  Fans have pulled me aside and talked about their love for those credits and that theme song.  Is it possible that so many people attended this screening to simply watch its first 10 minutes?  Weirder things have happened.  I booked Buck Rogers expecting a hit and the audience did not disappoint.  It was exactly what I had hoped for.   Next year, this same timeslot will probably go to 1980’s Flash Gordon or 1978’s Battlestar Galactica, and the same audience will probably be in attendance.  It’s one of those movies.

THE BLOCKBUSTERS

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Holy Panicking Populace, Batman! Here’s the gigantic audience attraction I thought The Crow was gonna be.  I was too old to catch TMNT fever in 1990 when this film was released.  Yes, I knew going-in that it was the highest-grossing independent film of all-time upon its release.  Yes, I knew that the franchise is still running strong all these years later.  Yes, I knew it was shot in North Carolina, just like The Crow.  What I didn’t know was that audiences were clamoring to see this particular 1990 version on the big screen again.  I had such little faith in this movie that I buried it in weak time slots, and yet the fans still sought it out.   Apart from the Batman movies, this was the 3rd highest-attended film of the festival and, going-in, I never would have guessed it.  I would not have been more stunned if the Turtles had suddenly dropped from the cinema ceiling and slapped me in the face, which is what a lot of fans probably wanted to do when its first screening sold-out on Saturday afternoon.  I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

BATMAN: THE MOVIE
The absolute funniest moment I experienced at ComiQuest happened in the lobby after a screening of this movie as I overheard a mother explain to her son that the origins of the phrase, “Holy Shit!” did not begin with this film.  (I so wished I could have posted that story on FB, but The Powers That Be would have probably banned me, and thus the story now appears on this blog.)  Based on the advance Internet chatter, I knew this was gonna be a huge hit.  I was not disappointed.  The numbers were amazing.  People loved it.  I don’t know what more to write except this is the type of movie that programs and sells itself without my support whatsoever.  It was the 2nd highest-attended film of the fest.  I thought it was gonna be #1.  But no, that honor goes to… 

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM
The attendance figures for this movie blindsided me when I saw them on Monday morning.  I was simply too busy elsewhere during the festival each time this film screened to notice the audience.  I had no idea there were so many people at each of the screenings.  Without a doubt, here is the stunner of ComiQuest.  And it almost didn’t make the line-up at all.  It was the very last film programmed, and the one that kept getting pushed aside as other films were considered and dropped.  I had heard rumors that people loved this movie.  (Full disclosure: I have still not seen it.)  And throughout the Fall, I nodded knowingly (as if I knew a secret) whenever someone noticed the one-sheet hanging in our lobby and asked if we’d soon be playing it.  But did I expect it to be the highest-attended movie of ComiQuest?  Hell, no.  I even ran the box office reports a second time, convinced that there surely had been a mistake.  Here was the biggest film of the fest, and I didn’t even know it had happened til it was all over.  Talk about missing the action.  It’s as if Superman had flown into the building during ComiQuest, and I spent the whole time in my office, oblivious.  Live and learn.

How about you?  Any surprises here?

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