Review: COMIC-CON Documentary Rests on Cliche, Skirts Issues
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
It's hard to tell for whom and for what reason the prolific documentarian Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) made Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. Filmed in and around the four days of the 2010 Comic-Con International: San Diego and in limited theatrical release or available via On Demand, Spurlock reveals only that pop culture is popular and that the people who enjoy it are in fact people. The film is basically split into two halves that have been chopped up and mixed together, the first is an exploration of the “Comic-Con is getting popular!” narrative, which seems about a decade or more late, and the second is a vastly more compelling series of stories about individuals who've each come to the convention for their own reasons.
In the former, Spurlock has lined up a veritable legion of pop culture notables from Eli Roth (Hostel) to Stan Lee to Harry Knowles to stand in front of a white background and tell stories about how awesome Comic-Con is. Stories of how the people there might be a bit geeky but they are "our people" (though the first crack about them still living in Mom’s basement comes within the first four minutes) and that they themselves were once, and in some cases can still be, just star struck fans worshiping at Mecca. Cut around these stars are regular people who share their own line or two about the event, as if to make the stars look normal, but naturally they don't get as much face time as one of the film's Executive Producers, Joss Whedon, does.
In the half of the film that is more show then tell, Spurlock's camera follows five con-goers as they prepare to make the trip out to the west coast and what they are each bringing with them. Of them, Charles Rozanski of Mile High Comics in Denver, an 'old timer' to beat all 'old timers' tells the story of how Comic-Con has changed better than a hundred film directors or TV stars as he frets about the future of his business and contemplates selling a comic so rare (Timely Comics Red Raven #1 from 1940) that almost no one has ever heard of it.
Interspersed with his story are the equally interesting experiences of a pair of aspiring comic artists, Eric Henson of the United States Air Force and legacy comic geek Skip Harvey of Missouri, who brave the potentially dream crushing trauma of having their portfolios reviewed by professionals live on the show floor. Amateur costume designer Holly Conrad is there to get discovered via the annual Masquerade costume display/content with what she hopes will be impressive Mass Effect 2 display if she can work out the kinks and finally James Darling wants to propose to his girlfriend Se Young Kang in dramatic fashion, but the pair's inseparability complicates matters.
Despite the fact that you'll be rooting for all the film's subjects, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is far from being an essential piece of media exploring the idea of how 'normal' hard-core fans really are. Neither does it really do more than brush by the story of how the explosion in the convention's popularity might drive Comic-Con International completely from its comic book roots is any kind of tragedy. Despite the fact that this largely by-the-numbers documentary didn't really need to be made, no blame for wasted time or money should ever be laid at Morgan Spurlock's feet for it. He, subconsciously or not, did exactly what his subjects and any attendee of the convention wants to do: to walk the show floor, talk to his real-world heroes and turn his love into his profession.