Where Iron Man and Beowulf Roam

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Mike Blake / Reuters

Richard Zak, from New Jersey, arrives at Comic-Con International in San Diego, California.

The first sign I was in the right place was the lightsaber hanging out of the station wagon on the I-5 Freeway. The second was the girl walking down the street in the "Legolas is my house elf" T-shirt. If you understand what that T-shirt means, you should probably be here too, with the more than 120,000 of us indulging our inner geeks at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. The nation's largest comic-book convention has in recent years turned into a kind of fanboys' Cannes, a place for studios to hype their upcoming genre films to the fantasy-, sci-fi- and cartoon-inclined, amid exhibits and panels on such diverse subjects as "Spirituality in Comics" and "Klingon Lifestyle Presentation." It's just my first day here, but I've already learned a lot:

—Someone has been digitally enhancing Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie. That someone is Robert Zemeckis, who is directing Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary's adapation of the English language's oldest monster tale, Beowulf, using motion capture and 3-D technology. Now high school students will be able to skip reading the Old English poem and instead watch a movie in which Jolie, playing the mother of the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover), slithers around nude covered in gold-flecked water. We'll even be able to watch it in three different formats involving the letter D. I'm a little confused about the differences between the Ds — 3D, Real-D, IMAX-D — but Avary describes them thusly: "The Blow Your Mind Version," "The Intensely Blow Your Mind Version" and the "Your Head Has Exploded Version." However, those wanting to see Anthony Hopkins' actual facial features are advised to watch The Remains of the Day instead.

—Nothing will keep the shrapnel of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man from entering our hardened hearts. Director Jon Favreau showed CGI-free footage of Downey as Tony Stark, a bad boy billionaire who builds a techno suit. Downey's weathered face and Stark's crude tin suit seem to promise a new kind of comic book movie, one with that lived-in feel. Oh, and Fav, the Oprah of directors for his fluctuating weight, is skinny again.

—Shia LaBeouf is finally shaving. Or at least he had some kind of skinny mustache when he and Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford visited via a video feed from the Indiana Jones 4 set. It was strangely comforting to see Ford hold a whip again, but not much was revealed about the film besides the return of Raiders of the Lost Ark's Karen Allen. The gang did have that "I'm so rich I fly to work" glow.

—Need to clear a path of fanboys? Hold up Jessica Alba like a Spartan shield. She's shiny! And stops mortal men in their tracks. Or at least that's what happened when she and Dane Cook took the stage to talk up Good Luck Chuck. Apparently he spends an entire movie trying not to bed her. Remarkably, this is not a sci-fi entry, but a romantic comedy.

—Russell Crowe has been teaching men how to spit. And barbecue. It's all part of the pre-production cowboy camp he conducted for his co-stars in 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold's Western starring the manly Aussie alongside Christian Bale and Alan Tudyk. I was confused at first why panelist Peter Fonda, who's also in the film, was getting love from Comic-Conners who looked like even their parents were born post-Easy Rider. Turns out it's for that other motorcycle movie, Ghost Rider.

Star Trek is bringing sexy back. And by that I mean a smoldering hot young Vulcan. Heroes star Zachary Quinto, who does bear an eerie resemblance to Leonard Nimoy, was announced as a young Spock in the next Star Trek movie. Nimoy is back, too, as older Spock. Young Captain Kirk, however, is still uncast. Resumes are now being accepted at the Starfleet Academy.