Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope Review: A Portal to Geek Mecca
San Diego International Comic-Con: An event that is met with more reverence than almost anything else in modern pop culture. Merely uttering those words in a room full of geeks will launch a wave of emotion that can only be described as intense. Some will conjure up memories of walking the conventional hall floor themselves while others will only dream about maybe one day seeing it live and in color. It is like Mecca. It is the ultimate goal and dream destination…that is if Mecca had stormtroopers and girls dressed up as their favorite slutty anime character.
To say that “The Con” is a big event would be an understatement the size of the event itself. The last few years alone saw attendance at over 130,000 fans. That’s like a small city of nerds literally taking over San Diego for a week. They fill the hotels, restaurants, bars, and streets from early in the morning until the wee hours of the morning and bring the city an estimated $160 million in revenue each year. That’s huge. In fact, its huge to a point that no article or analysis could possibly capture it all but that’s exactly what famed documentarian Morgan Spurlock has attempted to do with Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, a new documentary that chronicles the journey of a variety of different fans and their experience at the convention.
Shot at the 2010 convention, Spurlock’s cameras introduce us to a virtual smorgasbord of Americans who all descend upon San Diego for different reasons. Two young men go to show their drawing portfolios in hopes of launching a career in comics, one woman goes to show off her costume-making skills, an older comic book salesman goes to sell some of his prized possessions, and a young couple who kindled their relationship at the previous year’s convention return this year as the guy plans to propose marriage during a Kevin Smith Q&A session.
In each of these instances the person is attending the convention with a goal or dream in mind and through four days of panel discussions, long lines, and celebrity run-ins we get to see a few of them succeed and a few others go home disappointed but inspired to keep trying. I was personally most fascinated by the businessman who responds to the current economic crisis by considering selling his gem – Issue #1 of “Red Raven” – for a whopping $500,000. This man had previously held hope of holding onto this book and others for another 30 years or so but he feels forced to make a big sale in order to make his trip to the convention worth his while and pay off a few debts.
This particular storyline also hints at something even more intriguing – the fact that this convention – which was established to celebrate the art form of comic books – now treats that art form as almost a side note in favor of video games, toys, and previewing upcoming blockbuster films and TV series. Sadly, the film only briefly touches upon this subject in favor of more uplifting content but its an interesting thing to ponder as the convention continues to grow each year.
I had my own personal experience at Comic-Con for the first time last year and can easily sum up the experience as a mixture of maddening and magical. Navigating the huge crowds with the world’s biggest tote bag on your back only to find yourself at the back of a line that lasts for hours makes you question your sanity for even wanting to attend said event, but then you’ll get a brief moment to interact with someone whose work you’ve admired for years and it suddenly all becomes worth it. For me it was getting to hear Francis Ford Coppola talk about the future of cinema and interviewing the new Superman, Henry Cavill, who made me feel more starstruck than I’ve ever felt in my life. I was exhausted at the time and on the verge of fleeing the scene but those moments will stick with me forever.
Spurlock does a great job at capturing these big, happy moments but somewhat glosses over the more troubling aspects of the weekend, which makes this more of a commercial for the convention than a true, unbiased examination of it, but the way he tells the personal stories make these shortcomings easily forgotten. The stories and a great collection of soundbites from the likes of Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen and many others make this just as entertaining as any other film I’ve seen yet this year.
In many ways this is Spurlock’s best documentary yet in large part because he is not in it. He got his career off with a bang in Super Size Me as a man putting himself through a grand experiment but his subsequent films, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold suffered by putting himself front and center for no apparent reason or additional insight. In this outing he wisely stays behind the camera and lets the human drama speak for itself. It works like a dream and proves once again that he has great storytelling chops that have a lot to offer a documentary film audience.
Comic-Con Episode IV may not be the tough piece of journalism that some people go to documentaries for, but it is a welcome lauding of a yearly event where even the most bizarre mother’s basement-dweller can stand proud among thousands of others who share in the feeling of REALLY loving something be it Batman, Dragon Ball Z, Star Wars, or Donald Duck. Everyone is a big fan of something and that’s probably why Comic-Con continues to grow and expand to a more mainstream audience. And if celebrating that is wrong, I don’t want to be right. See you at The Con!
Images courtesy of Wrekin Hill Entertainment.