J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon are responsible for some of the most obsessed-over and geeked-out-about pop culture creations of the past two decades, so it’s natural they would find an ideal audience at Comic-Con, the home away from home for the obsessive and geeky. Abrams’ long list of credits includes Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe, Mission: Impossible 3, and Star Trek. Whedon’s credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Not surprisingly given those resumes, when the two took the stage at Comic-Con for EW’s Visionaries panel, hosted by our own Jeff “Doc” Jensen, the crowd welcomed them with raucous and adoring applause. For the hour that followed, these two master storytellers gave the audience some insight into their upcoming projects, their creative processes, their influences, and their perspectives on the seismic shifts that are rocking the entertainment landscape. Some highlights:
Following months of speculation, Whedon confirmed that he is, indeed, directing Marvel’s superhero-team-up movie, The Avengers. (See video of the announcement below.) But he said it’s still too early to get into details about the film, which will unite such beloved Marvel heroes as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk. ”I’m still writing an outline,” Whedon said. “But the thing that made me excited to do it was just how completely counterintuitive it is. It makes no sense. These people shouldn’t be in the same room, let alone on the same team.” He paused. “And that, to me, is the very definition of family,” he added wryly.
The always-busy Abrams, who is launching a new spy series called Undercovers and finishing the romantic comedy Morning Glory, starring Harrison Ford, talked about his thrill at collaborating with Steven Spielberg–who’s long been a kind of creative father figure to him–on a still-mysterious film due next summer called Super 8. “It’s imposible to work with him and not constantly reference the work he’s done,” Abrams said. Though he revealed few specifics about the project, he said, “The movie is very much in the spirit of some of the Amblin films [Spielberg] made years ago.”
The two diverged in their opinions of the current boom in 3-D movies. Whedon was high on it (“Honestly, I totally love it”), while Abrams expressed reservations: “The thing that drives me crazy about 3-D is that when you put on the glasses, everything seems dim,” he says. “I’m not totally on board yet.” But in more general terms, they both expressed the same kind of unabashed fanboy enthusiasm for the pop culture they love that also drives the Comic-Con crowd. Abrams talked of his admiration for the work of comic-book artist Chris Ware and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World director Edgar Wright (“I just saw Scott Pilgrim–it’s awesome”). And Whedon, for his part, geeked out big-time over some of Abrams’ work. “I’ve had actual moments of sheer f—ing panic because I loved Star Trek so much,” Whedon said. “I just keep watching it and going, ‘This is the gold standard for a team movie, for a summer movie, for any movie that has come out in the last several years.’ And it makes me throw up with fear, so I have to stop watching it.”