Comic-Con 2019: Inside the massive Amazon Prime activation

An actress portraying a policewoman yells at attendees in line for the Amazon Prime Video installation for the TV show "Carnival Row" in downtown San Diego.
An actress portraying a policewoman yells at attendees in line for the Amazon Prime Video installation for the TV show “Carnival Row” in downtown San Diego.
(Phillip Molnar/The San Diego Union Tribune)

Comic-Con’s biggest activation feels a bit like a trip to an amusement park.

Amazon Prime — striving for dominance in the streaming wars — has taken over a 60,000-square-foot lot across from the convention and turned it into an interactive advertisement for three new TV shows. It is free and does not require a Comic-Con badge. It is also bigger in scale than anything outside the convention, and possibly inside.

Soon to debut on the streaming service and featured as separate installations are “The Boys,” an adaptation of the ultra-violent comic book; “Carnival Row,” a Victorian era immigrant tale featuring magical creatures; and “The Expanse,” a science fiction show canceled by Syfy but picked up by Amazon.

Amazon Prime is just one of the many entertainment companies with TV shows vying for attention outside the Convention Center during Comic-Con. Some of the shows getting a big push are the “Picard” Star Trek show coming to CBS All Access with a large hotel banner, an interactive zombie wasteland for AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and NBC’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” with a detailed recreation of its set next to the San Diego Trolley tracks at Fifth Avenue.

The Amazon location, at the corner of First and Island avenues, takes the place of last year’s “Jack Ryan” exhibit. On Wednesday, the exhibit was open to members of the media but will probably be jammed with lines soon. It is open to the public Thursday to Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The space will also be used for Amazon events throughout the convention, and a 40-foot tower in the center serves as a big billboard showing scenes of various shows on the streaming service.

Wait times could get brutal, because after a wait outside, there are separate lines for all three TV shows that Amazon is promoting. About 15 to 20 people are taken into each installation, meaning everyone in line has to wait for them to complete before going in.

‘The Boys’

At “The Boys” activation, attendees are ushered into an electronics store with a black Cadillac smashed through the entrance. Smoke, or something made to resemble smoke, billows out of engine. Packages of remote controls, headphones and other items are thrown about.

Guided by a rough crew of vigilantes — actors who are taking their job very seriously — they ask participants to aid in their crews’ abduction of a superhero by finding a surveillance tapes of the crime. It culminates with an actor, posing as a Comic-Con attendee, accidentally murdered by one of the vigilantes.

At "The Boys" installation for Comic-Con International, attendees must assist in the cover-up of a superhero abduction.
At “The Boys” installation for Comic-Con International, attendees must assist in the cover-up of a superhero abduction.
(Phillip Molnar/San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘Carnival Row’

Next is a Victorian-era Ellis Island-style exhibit that may be one of the most detailed in Comic-Con history. The noir fantasy series, starring Orlando Bloom, is about mythical creatures that are immigrating to a new city. At the installation, attendees are given the option of a “Creature” or “Human” card, then processed by angry British police officers that jokingly yell at you for getting in the wrong line.

Then, attendees are sent into a makeshift old world market with magical creatures selling fruit, vegetables, bread and other goods while police harass them. A big theme is fairies, pucks and other magic immigrants are not welcome.

After a few minutes, a fairy urges you to come quickly into a back room, revealing a dimly lit speakeasy with a full bar and seating areas. There are magical creatures performing songs and walking around the old furniture. The level of detail is pretty extensive with little peepholes to view videos of fairies getting dressed.

An actress that portrays a magical creature at the Amazon Prime Video installation across from the San Diego Convention Center
(Phillip Molnar/San Diego Union-Tribune)

At one point, a female fairy does a seductive dance to reveal wings under her outfit. Eventually, police barge in with flashlights and kick everyone out.

‘The Expanse’

At “The Expanse” exhibit, participants are put in a makeshift space ship and told they are heading to a newly colonized planet where there are different groups fighting. “The Expanse” show, starting its fourth season soon on Amazon Prime, is an adaptation of the James S.A. Corey book series.

The plot was a bit harder to follow here but it basically involved a conflict between different groups on a beat up, dusty planet. Eventually, it breaks out into a big fight, there is an explosion, and everyone is rushed out.

It's a conflict on an alien world at an installation of "The Expanse" for Comic-Con International.
(Phillip Molnar/San Diego Union-Tribune)