by Carrie Specht
The latest by documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) is about the comic book fans that gather yearly at Comic-Con, the world’s largest comic book convention in San Diego, Ca. You may have heard of it and you may think you know all about it, but unless you’re one of the truly devoted you have no idea what this convention is about. Spurlock gained unparalleled access in order to celebrate a uniquely American art form and the devotees who live vicariously through it.
I went to Comic-Con a few years back. Actually, it was the year before director, Morgan Spurlock’s first visit in 2009. I had press credentials and at the time was mostly interested in the convention from the aspect of films, and how the studios were using the comic book haven as a launching pad for the huge summer action films that were like genre based. Therefore, I spent most of my time in Hall H, a gigantic space shuttle size hanger where the really big events such as film sneak peeks are held. I also took some time to peruse the exhibition hall where they have the stalls for vendors selling their wares and studios promoting their product. Overall I was not impressed with Comic-Con. However, after seeing Spurlock’s film I realized I hadn’t really seen Comic-Con at all. Not the real Comic-Con. If only I had seen A Fan’s Hope before I went. It would have been a whole different experience, one that would have led me to a whole new level of appreciation and had me coming back year after year.
Produced by comic book royalty, Stan Lee and fantasy director, Joss Whedon, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope explores the amazing cultural phenomenon begun over 40 years ago in the basement of a modest mid-city hotel that has grown into an event attended by more than 140,000 fans. In order to capture the true spirit of the people and the place Spurlock wisely uses the traditional tools of the documentary format – talking heads and the roving camera. Everyone including Stan Lee, Guillermo del Toro, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Matt Groening, Seth Rogen, Eli Roth and the hottest illustrators of the day have their fan-boy moment starring down the barrel of the camera lens talking about how they turned their passions into professions, and what role Comic-Con played in their own journeys. These moments are as inspiring as they are revealing, and no doubt there will be at least one person you see whose presence in the documentary will amaze you.
These entertaining interviews are interspersed throughout the film between the stories of five attendees Spurlock has chosen to follow as they gear up for, and then experience, the ultimate geek Mecca. Two are aspiring illustrators of varying talent who hope to impress publishers and be discovered. There’s also an old pro dealer looking for a big sale to save his business, while a young man masterminds an elaborate proposal of marriage. But the most interesting and enjoyable storyline by far is the one about a young and very talented costume and creature designer (Holly) who hopes her creations will win first prize at the annual masquerade. The film actually starts out at her garage studio where she is working on her elaborate entries for the most important contest of her life. The other four subjects are all very interesting, but every time the film cuts back to Holly there’s a giddy anticipation at discovering the latest update in her journey. Through Holly and her friends, we really get a sense of what Comic-Con is for the hard-core devotees.
Of course, there’s also a lot of coverage of the various panels, parades, costumed attendees, and crowds. Man, are there crowds. But the one thing that really stands out no matter how boisterous or frenzied the scene becomes is a constant and overwhelming since of camaraderie where ever the camera takes you. Spurlock has done an exceptional job in conveying the embracing feeling of acceptance here. There is a tangible sense that these people, in all their forms of geeky-ness, have found a home among like minds. That feeling of belonging must be one of the reasons Comic-Con has become one of the largest fan gatherings in the U.S. And no doubt one of the reasons Spurlock felt compelled to document its uniqueness for outsiders to witness, and come to understand. This is his battle cry: Geeks of the world unite – at Comic-Con in San Diego! After you see this film don’t be surprised if your inner Geek longs to join them. I know mine does.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope opens Thursday, April 5th in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Santa Monica 4-Plex), as well as in Seattle and San Francisco. For those who don’t live in these cities you can catch the film on VOD April 6th. And the following week you can see the film on the big screen in New York City at the Village East Cinema, as well as in Philadelphia and Boston. No word yet on a wide opening, so the Midwest can take advantage of the VOD or just wait until it gets to DVD.