THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN'S HOPE"
When San Diego's Comic-Con was first held in 1970, it was a small event in which comic book fans could learn more about their passion and meet those responsible for producing it. Only about 500 people attended. Today, it's an annual entertainment mecca that draws upwards of 140,000 attendees. The scope of Comic-Con has gone beyond comic books to include movies, TV shows, videogames – basically, anything that potentially has a fervent fanbase. Director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) has set out to show the culture and climate of the event in his new documentary Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope. If you get the joke in the title, this is definitely a movie for you.
Spurlock's cameras follow several people who all come to Comic-Con for different reasons. Holly Conrad has made intricately-detailed costumes based on the videogame Mass Effect, which she wants to show off in the Con's masquerade ball. Skip Harvey and Eric Henson are aspiring comic book artists who arrive with portfolios in hand, ready for the chance to have their work judged by representatives from various comics publishers. Chuck Rozanski is a veteran dealer, hoping to sell the super-rare comic book he owns; should he find the right buyer, he stands to earn $500,000. Finally, there's James Darling, a young man who met his girlfriend at Comic-Con the previous year, and now wants to propose to her there. (Wait until you see what happens!) Interspersed with these individuals' stories are interviews with the many famous folks who have attended the Con, as guests, or as fans, or as both. They include Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, Seth Green, Olivia Wilde and, of course, the great Stan Lee. They offer their perspectives on the importance of Comic-Con.
Comic-Con Episode IV is a different kind of documentary for Morgan Spurlock. In all his previous films, he was front and center, acting as an on-screen guide. Whether he was warning us about the dangers of eating too much fast food, trying to find Osama bin Laden, or examining the role of product placement in motion pictures, he always provided commentary and humor. This time, he remains behind the camera, avoiding even basic narration. Spurlock simply lets the Con participants speak for themselves. I think he was right to take such an approach, as it yields a more pure portrait of what the event means to those who participate in it. What Spurlock discovers is that Comic-Con is all about love and acceptance. It is a place where people can come to celebrate whatever pop culture work they have intense passion for. It's also a place where everyone has that same devotion, and so no one judges anyone else. Many of the interview subjects talk about the joy of not feeling judged there, even if they've made themselves up to look like weird anime characters or videogame heroes. That's kind of a beautiful thing, and the movie really conveys it in a palpable way.
I suppose the criticism some might level against the film is that it's not particularly deep. Personally, I don't think it needs to be. It is simply an up-close look at the San Diego Comic-Con and the people who are drawn to it. The movie lets us see the motivations of a few especially compelling attendees, gives a sense of the crazy whirlwind atmosphere, and provides some understanding of why it has grown from an esoteric gathering into a significant launching pad for new works of entertainment. That's all it needs to do, and it does these things quite well. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope also acknowledges the joy of extreme fandom. People who love a comic book, a movie, a TV show, or a videogame are the ultimate appreciators; they don't just enjoy something, they celebrate it. Comic-Con is a place to celebrate together, usually with the very people whose work is being celebrated.
Insightful and often very funny, this is a thoroughly enjoyable documentary that, above all, nails one basic truth: the once-marginalized “geek culture” has now become the mainstream, and Comic-Con is a big part of the reason why.
Note: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is playing in select theaters, and is also available on demand, via iTunes, Amazon Instant Videos, Dish Network, and other VOD platforms.
( 1/2 out of four)
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is rated PG-13 for some sex and drug references, language and brief horror images. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.
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