By JOSH ROTTENBERG
Los Angeles Times
SAN DIEGO -- If Hollywood seemed a tad quieter than normal this past weekend, there was a good reason: Like moths to a porch light -- or Batman to the Bat Signal -- film and television creators, executives and stars were drawn en masse to downtown San Diego in an effort to drum up excitement for their upcoming wares at the annual Comic-Con International pop-culture expo.
The unveiling of the first footage from the highly anticipated superhero mash-up "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and an extended early glimpse at "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" may have sent the biggest reverberations through the four-day film, television, video-game and comic-book fest. But there was plenty of other news to stir the excitement of the 130,000 or so convention-goers who descended upon the San Diego Convention Center, many decked out in costume, to watch exclusive trailers and first-look footage and engage with stars and filmmakers during panel sessions.
Kicking off the convention with a surprise, director Christopher Nolan and actor Matthew McConaughey made their first Comic-Con appearances on Thursday to offer an extended look at Paramount's upcoming sci-fi epic "Interstellar," which opens Nov. 7.
"We thought it would be fun to come down and see what the fuss was all about," Nolan told the crowd. "It's an incredible event. There's nothing like it anywhere in the world."
They weren't the only A-listers visiting the convention for the first time: Benedict Cumberbatch of "Sherlock" fame was on hand to promote DreamWorks Animation's "The Penguins of Madagascar" and the final installment in the "Hobbit" trilogy. Meanwhile, "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe, who turned 25 last week, was treated to a round of "Happy Birthday" from the 6,500 fans gathered in the convention's cavernous Hall H, where he talked up his upcoming horror drama "Horns."
Though Warner Bros.' "Batman v Superman" just started shooting and isn't due in theaters until May 2016, director Zack Snyder showed a brief teaser from the film and brought stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot -- who play Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, respectively -- onto the stage in Hall H. None of the actors said a word, but given the uproarious applause they received from the crowd and the amount of press they generated with their mere presence, it seems they didn't need to. Reinforcing the importance of imagery, Snyder also tweeted the first photo of Gadot in costume as Wonder Woman, which instantly went viral.
Warner Bros. stoked the furnace of buzz for director George Miller's long-awaited reboot of his "Mad Max" franchise as well. Early footage from the post-apocalyptic "Mad Max: Fury Road" earned widespread raves after it was screened Saturday morning in Hall H. Later that day, Miller, who was also making his first appearance at Comic-Con, reflected on the kinship he felt with the fans gathered there.
"I feel very at home," Miller said. "When I was growing up, I was the kind of kid who'd always find the other kids in class who could draw well and we'd draw cartoons and swap comics and read them in class under the desks. So I see these kids here and I think, 'That was me.'"
Demonstrating his own fan cred, Comedy Central host and self-professed J.R.R. Tolkien nerd Stephen Colbert moderated the Hall H panel for December's final installment in the "Hobbit" trilogy, subtitled "The Battle of the Five Armies" -- in costume, no less. Cast members from the "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" films, including Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, and Elijah Wood, joined Peter Jackson on stage in what amounted to a final Comic-Con victory lap for Jackson's phenomenally successful Middle-earth epics.
Out of all of the presentations in Hall H, though, Marvel Studios' panel may have made the biggest splash -- and the most noise. Nearly all of the major cast members from next summer's superhero sequel "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" -- including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo and Liam Hemsworth -- gathered on the stage together to introduce a sizzle reel of footage from the film, which was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation. Marvel capped its panel with the announcement that it will release the sequel to its upcoming superhero space opera "Guardians of the Galaxy" in July 2017, with James Gunn returning to write and direct the film.