SDCC 2017: DEATH NOTE Definitely Lets Willem Dafoe Have Some Fun

Early impressions of Netflix’s big manga adaptation.

Netflix kicked off their first Hall H presentation today with a full-minute video countdown preparing us for their Death Note panel. After the countdown finished, moderator Terry Crews - I’m sorry, I meant to say moderator TERRY CREWES! - came out to introduce the film’s trailer (which we’ve already seen) and the panel, which included Adam Wingard, Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Lakeith Stanfield, and Masi Oka.

This was one of the quieter panels I’ve seen in Hall H. It felt a bit like no one wanted to talk all that much, which is cute if they’re all just real shy, but maybe not so great if they actually just hate being there.

When asked what made him want to do the project, director Adam Wingard claimed he was excited to “breath new life into a great premise”, continuing his stance that his Death Note probably won’t follow the manga much. We learned from actor Nat Wolff that when he got the part, he created his very own Death Note and found he had a lot more names to put in it than expected. Yours could be one of them.

After a bit, we heard the voice of a prerecorded Willem Dafoe as he interrupted the panel to show a clip from the film, which focused on Light Turner opening the book for the first time and meeting Ryuk, who briefly explains the premise (if Light writes a name in the book that person dies) and then tries to goad Light into using the book to off a nearby bully. It doesn’t take much for him to succeed. Light writes down the bully’s name, then chooses decapitation as the cause of death and then… the clip ended.

What we saw had an interesting tone. Nat Wolff appears to be playing his character as knowingly unlikable, while Dafoe is going full arch with his work at Ryuk. Twitter, in its infinite wisdom, has already told me 100 times that this is in the spirit of the manga. That’s great, but I’m not sure I want to sit through that for two hours. If there’s any hope for this film, I have a feeling it rests on the shoulders of Lakeith Stanfield, who spent the whole panel acting irritated and uncommunicative. My man.

Wingard explained that the movie isn’t meant to be full-on scary and the clip backs that up. In fact, it was more humorous than anything. We didn’t get a good look at Ryuk but from the shadowy images we get of him, maybe that’s for the best. He seems like he might be a bit too cartoonish for me.

It’s hard to say how fans of the manga will take this. It sounds like they made something very similar to what people read, and yet Adam Wingard insists he did his very own thing with it. We’ll have to wait and see when the film comes out August 25.