One of the last places you’d imagine an Oliver Stone film like “Snowden” being screened would be at Comic-Con in San Diego, but having film geek god Joseph Gordon-Levitt made it more possible. Then to have Edward Snowden suddenly pop in made you feel like you were at Sundance or the Telluride Film Festival.
These types of films, at least the kind with Oscars on their minds, rarely bother with Comic-Con International, the circuslike pop culture festival that got underway here on Thursday. This isn’t exactly a “Snowden” movie type crowd — unless you want to discuss the latest “Sharknado,” Klingon lifestyles or the deeper meaning of “My Little Pony.”
Yet into Comic-Con Oliver Stone made his presence very well known.
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Mr. Stone, an 11-time Academy Award nominee and three-time winner, came on opening day to promote “Snowden,” a drama about Edward J. Snowden’s decision to leak classified National Security Agency documents. Open Road, the studio behind “Spotlight,” the reigning best picture winner, is expected to roll out “Snowden” at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. It will arrive in theaters on Sept. 16.
This campaign stop seemed partly intended to reignite Mr. Snowden’s cultural profile and frame the film as having universal and continuing stakes. During an hourlong presentation, which included the unveiling of a new trailer and the dispersal of some odd swag, Mr. Stone told attendees that his film was “a larger-than-life story of what is happening right now under our noses, and it affects the majority of you, this audience.”
Whether that message resonated with the crowd was not clear, and some entertainment journalists seemed nonplused.
"So much of our culture is based on tweet-length ideas," Joseph Gordon-Levitt complains to crowd of people tweeting his quotes
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) July 21, 2016
The “Snowden” presentation really got rocking only when the subject randomly turned to Pokémon Go, the smartphone virtual reality game that has become a phenomenon.
Mr. Stone, who, it must be said, has been on a critical and commercial cold streak since “World Trade Center” in 2006, blasted that app as “surveillance capitalism” and said it was another step toward “a robot society” and “totalitarianism.”
Later in the day, Open Road held a “secret” tastemaker screening of the film, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the cerebral title role, and Shailene Woodley as his artsy girlfriend. In a paradoxical (or thematic?) move, given the film’s topic, guards were deployed to patrol the aisles to make sure no cellphone cameras were rolling, and reviews were banned. But this much seems sayable: The audience was gripped, in particular by Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s eerie resemblance to Mr. Snowden in appearance and intonation.
The talky 134-minute movie, which features a kindly Melissa Leo as the documentarian Laura Poitras, and a pugnacious Zachary Quinto as the journalist Glenn Greenwald, ends with a trick: Mr. Snowden, who lives in exile in Moscow, plays himself.
After the credits rolled, Mr. Snowden appeared live on the big screen (via satellite) to answer a few questions and give his seal of approval. “It was something that made me really nervous, but I think he made it work,” he said of Mr. Stone’s dramatization in general and of his appearance in particular.
A questioner wanted to know why Mr. Stone thought it was important to end the film with the real Mr. Snowden. “Because it was,” Mr. Stone answered.
Realizing his abruptness, he added: “It was a gamble. I think poor Ed suffered greatly that day. He’s minimizing the damage to his psyche. We did nine takes, I believe, at least, from several angles. It was a painful day.”
Mr. Stone then started talking about having done something similar with Donald J. Trump for “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010).
“I love the man in a weird way, but after every take, he jumped up and said, ‘Wasn’t that great?’” Mr. Stone recounted. “The confidence of that man is unbelievable. I did, like, nine takes with him, too.” (The scene was ultimately cut.)
Mr. Snowden’s deadpan reply: “I would like to avoid that association.”