There are few words in the English language I hate to utter more than "I was wrong" (okay, maybe "I Love You," but at least I don't mind lying about that). But I have to admit I was, in fact, wrong a few months ago in the CINESCAPE print edition of my column "Mark My Words." Shocking? Amazing? Downright inconceivable, eh? Mark Altman admits he's wrong news at 11. No, it's not like I suddenly had an epiphany that Attack of the Clones is a good movie or, for that matter, George Bush has more smarts than the Scarecrow of Oz. No, it's simply that I contended that sci-fi conventions were as doomed as doomed could be. That they were dwelling in a malaise of mediocrity and had become glorified baseball card shows with overpriced stars trotted out for expensive autographs and apocryphal storytelling in the interest of making future eBay sales. I bemoaned the fact that conventions weren't like those of my youth, with packed 24-hour movie rooms (film rooms, not video rooms, mind you) and intellectual discourse about the genre ensuing at a packed bar into the wee hours of the night.
Well, in case you didn't get the message, I was wrong. Why this sudden reversal? It happened in a very unlikely place: Minnesota. Now, I know what you're thinking. These are the guys who elected Jesse Ventura governor, how could anything good come out of Minnesota? Well that's what I was thinking when Convergence 2002 invited me and my posse, affectionately dubbed the Four Horsemen by the con organizers, to attend this year's convention. Along with "Not Coming Soon's" Daren Dochterman, visual effects guru Mojo and Free Enterprise director and DVD producer extraordinaire Robert Meyer Burnett (a.k.a. The Mouth That Roared), I jetted off to Minneapolis this last July 4 weekend. We joked that they should have a banner that read "Welcome Fan" since based on our recent convention experiences we expected nothing less. But, boy, were we ever proved wrong. We arrived to find a convention with almost 2,000 fans ready to talk and party all weekend. It was a delightful surprise. The film room, Theater Rex, looked more like a campus coffeehouse with its fully stocked refreshment stand and was filled with tattered sofas and original movie one-sheets on the walls. The film programming was eclectic, to say the least, ranging from The Fellowship of the Ring to the late John Frankenheimer's Seconds.
All weekend long the guests (namely us) were encouraged to mingle with the fans and, much to my shock and surprise, even the traditionally moribund fan sketches during the con's costume contest were clever at the least and, occasionally, downright riotous. In one sketch, members of local comedy troupe Soylent Theatre a self-proclaimed "theater group made of people" performed an uproarious parody of the end of Attack of the Clones in which Count Dooku confronts Yoda. If Convergence is indicative of what's going on with the fan-run conventions happening around the country, then perhaps the reports of the sci-fi convention's imminent demise were greatly exaggerated.
And, if that wasn't enough, then there's San Diego, the mother of all comic book conventions. Not unlike a sci-fi Showest, Comic-Con annually attracts over 70,000 fans (many who, unfortunately, still haven't discovered the virtues of deodorant) to what can best be described as a four-day Woodstock for sci-fi lovers. Every year I join with some of my peers to put on a few panels for the sheer joy of extolling (and, at times, eviscerating) the genre we love. And this year was no exception; after spending the weekend debating, drinking, shopping and carousing, we wrapped up the four-day funfest with a panel called "Starship Smackdown," a concept so inane that we had devised it as a satire on geeky convention panels. The idea was to pit legendary spaceships in battle against each other. Ever wonder who would win in a battle the Galactica or the Salvage One? Carl Sagan's Starship of the Imagination or the Jupiter 2? However, by the end of our 90 minutes, we were so wrapped up in a heated exchange that when Kirk's Enterprise defeated an Imperial Star Destroyer, one of our panelists, Dan Vebber, stormed off in a huff, decrying that the "fix was in."
Me, I had a moment of epiphany. I realized that this was what I remembered conventions being all about. People who were passionate about the genre they loved having a good time and, God knows, the thousand people that were there that day were having a good time (unless, of course, you think an Imperial Star Destroyer could defeat Captain Kirk's Enterprise). Maybe conventions weren't dead after all, just frozen in carbonite in a perfect state of hibernation waiting to be dethawed. If so, Convergence and Comic-Con are leading the way. And if you don't believe it, join us next year at San Diego for "Robot Rumble" and we'll see if we can make you a believer too.
MARK A. ALTMAN is a writer/producer in Hollywood and available for conventions, bat mitzvahs and bachelorette parties. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.