Fresh off its $4.2-billion acquisition of Marvel, Walt Disneyhas a lot riding on this year's trip to the Comic-Con International Convention.
Although the Marvel acquisition brought perennial Comic-Con favorites like Iron Man and Spider-Man into its fold, one of Disney's biggest bets this year is on "Tron: Legacy," which will hit movie theaters in December. Disney is hoping to turn its follow-up to the '80s sci-fi movie into a robust franchise that will continue growing into the future.
Disney has been working hard to build the buzz around Tron with a viral marketing campaign released well ahead of the annual pop-culture convention, but on Thursday fans caught an opportunity to view about eight minutes of 3-D footage from the film.
Fans also will get a chance to see some of the products that are being released with the movie. Of special note are a line of action figures from toymaker Spin Master.
"I think Comic-Con is about touching base with the fans. It's also a massive marketing machine."
Hoping to cater to the hardcore fans that turn out for Comic-Con, privately held Spin Master will be selling two limited edition products at the show. One is a die-cast replica of Sam's Light Cycle movie. This piece will sell for only $5.00, but only 3,000 pieces are available.
A second item geared toward fans of vintage Tron comes with a higher price tag of $40 and an even more limited release of 1,500 pieces. This static figure of Tron will be packed in a box designed to look like the Tron arcade game.
The rest of the Spin Master line won't hit stores until October. These toys include action figures that feature impulse-light protection technology. Just as the original Tron movie pushed the boundaries of computer-generated technology of its time, these action figures put a fresh spin, and a high-tech gloss, on what an action figure can be. The technology allows the figures faces to be illuminated and to move within the helmet just as they do in the film.
Spin Master also has tapped skills in the remote-control category from its Air Hogs division to produce light cycle vehicles that emit light trails, climb walls or even go upside down.
In addition to these toy products, Disney has worked with other partners including Monster, PDP and Razer to design videogames, iPhone and iPad apps and other items including periphals for gaming enthusiasts.
Visitors at Comic-Con also got a chance to see the new "Tron: Evolution" videogame from Disney Interactive Studios, which looks to fill in the gap in the Tron story from the '80s movie through to the Legacy film.
In the new movie, Oscar winner Jeff Bridges will reprise his role as Kevin Flynn. He will actually appear almost as two characters in the film, including a younger version of himself that is achieved through computer-generated effects.
The clip that aired at Comic-Con focused on Kevin Flynn's son Sam entering the world where his father had disappeared decades before.
The Comic-Con event has been growing in size and importance annually.
"I think Comic-Con is about touching base with the fans," Dave Howe, president of the SYFY Network, told CNBC. SyFy, like CNBC, is owned by General Electric's NBC Universal. "It's also a massive marketing machine. I think you can reach out to this incredibly engaged audience that's very wired, that's very kind of 24-7, born-digital generation, and you can start the buzz going about your shows, your franchises, and you can really start early to generate this massive marketing momentum. It's perfect for any TV or movie or videogame brand as you launch."
According to Howe, it's hard to calculate a "ROI", or return on the investment, of going to a show like Comic-Con, but it is immensely helpful in stirring the passions of the fan base.
In addition to Tron, fans will be watching to get some early glimpses of other upcoming movies. Marvel revealed some glimpses of artwork associated with its "First Avenger: Captain America" and "Thor" films.
And Time Warnerwill be teasing its "The Green Latern," a highly anticipated movie set to be released next summer.
The Comic-Con convention continues in San Diego through Sunday.
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