Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
In a lot of ways documentary is the responsible older sibling of film making. It’s not that documentaries can’t be designed to entertain — of course they can — but they also shoulder the responsibility of educating, or enlightening, their audience [Like any form of creative media there are exceptions to this rule, but for the sake of this opening paragraph lets just accept that I’ve drawn this line in the sand and move on]. In recent years however Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?) has managed to show us that, in the right hands, documentaries can be just as banal and redundant — and entertaining — as anything else Hollywood can and does throw at us.
COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE sells itself as a ‘behind the scenes’ look at San Diego Comic-con. And that’s pretty much what it delivers. It’s not an examination, it doesn’t dig too hard to explain why so many nerds spend so much of their time and money charting a course for Comic-con. It doesn’t spend a whole of time examining why it — which started as a way for up-and-coming artist to present their work for critique to industry professionals — has become one of the largest pop-culture gatherings in the world. The film barely brushes up against the fact that the comic book aspect of Comic-con has become arguably the smallest part of the convention. Movies and video games dominate the show now, but neither of those aspects were covered in any great detail.
Dispersed with Apple style ‘switch’ campaign video interviews with a whole array of influential and recognisable names from the world of comics and movies, the documentary follows six different attendees to the convention. Mile High Comics Inc owner Chuck Rozanski regularly attends the con, but this year Chuck struggles with his decision to take — and sell — some of his rarest comics along in an attempt to help his business stay afloat. James Darling and Se Young Kang, who met at Comic-con the previous year and have been dating ever since, attend again this year. Little does Se know, that James is planning to ‘pop the question’ right in front of Kevin Smith and hundreds of Smith’s fans during a Q&A. Holly Conrad and a group of friends build — and performa a skit wearing — elaborate costumes based on the game Mass Effect in the hopes of having their talents for costume design and construction recognised. Like Holly, Skip Harvey and Eric Henson attend the convention in the hope of being discovered, but for them their interest lay in the field of comic book illustration.
The film is directed by Spurlock, and produced by him along with names like Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, and Harry Knowles, so it’s intension isn’t to lampoon fans of the very culture that these men create (and curate) however the film lacks any really effort to explain why the culture of fandom is so important to these people. Why is Chuck so attached to these bits of paper? Why are James and Se so drawn to this world. Why are creators like Holly, Skip, and Eric driven to put their work and themselves out there for examination? Some of these answers are pondered upon in the interviews by the likes of Whedon, Smith, Lee, Eli Roth, Todd McFarlane, Robert Kirkman, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, Seth Green, Kenneth Branagh, Matt Fraction, Grant Morrison, Guillermo del Toro, Edgar Wright, and Matt Groening. But we don’t really get a sense of what drives the individual attendees that the film follows, as such we lack any real investment in their goals. And, particularly in the case of James and Se, we’re left feeling more like we’ve pressed our faces up against the glass at the geek aquarium for a few minutes, rather than learned anything about the movie’s subject matter.
None of this is to say that the film isn’t entertaining. It most certainly is. However as a self confessed geek/nerd/whatever I found myself thinking that the opportunity presented to the makers of COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE were squandered by simply skimming the surface of the geek culture that it had an opportunity to explore in fascinating detail.
Having said that, the list of names above only barely covers the who’s who of comic book culture interviewed for the film. The DVD consists of extended interviews with many of the contributors, including many who didn’t actually make it into the final cut of the film. Listening to these people, the creators of much of the content that those flocking to Comic-con consume, talk passionately about the event and the industry that they love is well worth the time of any geek.
The real disappointment of this film is that anyone not already part of this culture is probably going to walk away with no real insight into what makes us so passionate about the stuff we’re passionate about.