July 25, 2009 at 05:01 AM EDT

Before Peter Jackson even brought out the director and star of District 9, the ostensible subject of his Comic-Con debut, he wisely chose to answer the question on everyone’s mind before anyone got a chance to ask it: No, he does not know who is going to play the title character in The Hobbit, and he probably won’t for another two months yet until a budget for the project is finalized. Jackson had, in fact, also shared this news last night at a reception following a District 9, and he had nothing new to report to the 6,000-strong fans packed into Hall H.

Then Jackson brought out District 9‘s star Sharlto Copley and introduced the film’s writer-director thusly: “If anybody was born to make movies, it’s Neill Blomkamp.” The seven-minute extended trailer for the film played like gangbusters to the crowd, who also drank up Jackson’s lengthy story about how the film was born from the ashes of the aborted feature film based on Microsoft’s blockbuster videogame Halo that Jackson was producing with Blomkamp to direct. Asked if they would ever revisit Halo should District 9 prove a hit, Jackson demurred with what was essentially a polite I’d love to, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Jackson did allow, however, that he was so inspired by watching Blomkamp do so much with so little — the film’s budget was just $30 million, and it looks like it cost at least twice that — that he very well may “find a little low-budge horror movie” to direct while Guillermo Del Toro is off making The Hobbit.

Jackson was indeed the main attraction at the Sony Pictures event, but before he arrived, the cast and co-writer-director of the January apocalyptic thriller Legion provided a fair amount of comic relief for the first half of the hour-long panel. In fact, it felt at times as if their constant banter was meant to draw attention away from the film’s heavy (and, perhaps for some, controversial) Biblical storyline: A fallen angel (Paul Bettany) comes to Earth to defend a pregnant woman (Friday Night Lights‘ Adrianne Palicki) from a marauding army of God’s angels apparently bent on humanity’s destruction. Or, as co-writer-director Scott Stewart put it: “Angels with machine-guns.” Much of the panel was dominated by co-star Tyrese Gibson, who playfully gibed Bettany about his amply displayed physique. “The most exciting thing for me was a chance to see Paul Bettany’s muscles,” Gibson said. “I think all of Albuquerque ran out of baby oil. I think Johnson & Johnson was one of the sponsors of the film.” The panel ended with Stewart debuting the poster for his next film, an adaptation of the graphic novel Priest, also starring Bettany. Deadpanned Stewart, “No religious themes here at all.”

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