Toronto Review: Spurlock's 'Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope' Doc
by Alex Billington
September 11, 2011
I'm a die-hard Comic-Con devotee. Its the convention I've been attending the longest and I unconditionally love it. Premiering at the Toronto Film Fest is Morgan Spurlock's second full documentary of 2011, about the San Diego Comic-Con (aka Comic-Con International), the annual comics/movies/games/pop culture convention in Southern California that attracts upwards of 200,000 people every July. It's a nerd mecca that brings in devoted fans from all over the world. Spurlock's doc was shot at the Con in 2010 and follows five particular people attending, one an exhibitor, one a costume designer, others various comic artists/geeks.
It takes quite a bit for me to really love a documentary - it must be an intricate exploration that is not only entertaining, but fascinating, especially when it comes to covering subject matter I'm immensely familiar with. Unfortunately, on its surface, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope (full title for the doc) seems to be made for those who've never been to Comic-Con and don't really know what it's like. It's framed around worthy stories of various attendees, but it also seems like Spurlock and producers Thomas Tull, Joss Whedon and AICN's Harry Knowles, were mostly trying to correct all the mainstream misconceptions about the Con and its attendees, and show people what it's really like to be there (if they've never been). Considering I went for my sixth time a few months ago, there wasn't as much of a depth as I was hoping for.
That said, it's certainly very well done and well shot, especially the footage from the Con. Not only does it feature talking-head interviews with an endless cornucopia of geeks big and small, from comic book writers like Frank Miller and Marc Guggenheim, to filmmakers like Kenneth Branagh, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, but it also follows five particular people and their own experiences at the 2010 Con. One is an exhibitor from a comic book shop in Colorado struggling to make his sales quota on the showfloor; one is costume designer (seen above) competing in the masquerade with an elaborate series of Mass Effect outfits; two of them are comic book geeks with a desire to be artists, who take their portfolios to the Con in hopes of breaking into the business they love; the other is an all-around geek planning to propose to his girlfriend at the Con.
I'm glad they chose to follow these particular attendees as it did show me a side of Comic-Con that I've never seen (I've never been to the masquerade), but it felt a bit contrived in its setup. Like textbook storytelling (see the plot diagram), each one has its opening intro, arrival to Comic-Con (first rising action), downfall at the end of the second act, then the triumphant third act, everyone applauds, credits roll. A little too standard for me. My favorite story was about an Air Force soldier who took his artwork to the Con, not knowing what to expect his first time there, only to discover that he's actually very talented, receiving a job offer on the spot. That was one of the stories that I applauded for, as it gave me hope and happiness for someone who went to the Con with an objective (rather than just to be immersed in geek culture).
Don't get me wrong, I love that this documentary is showing the real side of Comic-Con and not just making fun of it, but there's no extra depth to it for those that are familiar with that world. It starts out with some great archival footage of the original 1970 "San Diego Comic Book Convention", but I wanted to see more of that history, more of an idea of its origin, how it evolved into what it is today, how it's growing every year, how it affects Hollywood and pop culture on a whole, in addition to the experiences of these five particular attendees. It also brought up an interesting message (fueled mostly by the comic book seller) about how the Con is less and less about comics every year, but that's an entirely separate topic for discussion another day.
Overall, I enjoyed Morgan Spurlock's Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, but if you're already familiar with Comic-Con and know the ins-and-outs, details, and tricks for wading through the crowds, there's not much you'll get out of it. However, I will recommend this doc for anyone who has never been or wants a better idea of the diversity and the various kinds of people/geeks/nerds/fans who make a yearly pilgrimage to San Diego every July to attend the world's greatest comic book convention.
Alex's Toronto Rating: 7 out of 10