As any self-respecting fan of this site should be aware, Morgan Spurlock has directed a documentary about the San Diego Comic-Con, and Harry, Stan Lee, and Joss Whedon are producers. You may take it as a foregone conclusion that any review on this site will be a positive one, but you shouldn’t. Harry and I are good friends (so in that sense I’m biased), but he’s always given me absolute editorial freedom. He’s always put up anything I’ve written, unchanged, even when I violently disagree with him. And as he said in his own review, I don’t put up with bullshit from anyone. My real job is a professional scientist -- I care far more about discovering and reporting the truth (even if it is a subjective one in the case of film), and integrity, than stroking the ego of friends.
Having said all that, I truly love COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE. Morgan Spurlock is a great documentarian, and I was delighted that he has used his great powers with great responsibility in crafting a heartfelt love letter to fandom. The film follows five main stories:
- Holly Conrad is a costume designer who has assembled a team to produce costumes for characters from the MASS EFFECT video game series. They’ve even created an animatronic head, and they hope their skill and enthusiasm will result in a big win at the Comic-con masquerade.
- Chuck Rozanski owns Mile High Comics and has been attending the Con for decades. His business isn’t doing so well, and he’s hoping to sell a very rare comic for $500,000 to pay some of his bills.
- James Darling is an energetic young fan attending the con with his girlfriend Se Young Kang. She doesn’t know it, but he’s hoping to propose to her during the Kevin Smith panel.
- Skip Harvey works as a bartender, but yearns to be a comic book artist. He’s put together a portfolio and hopes to show it off to as many in the industry as he can find in hopes of catching a big break.
- Eric Henson is another aspiring comic book artist and member of the US Air Force. He’s a small-town family man, and is amazed by the crowds and size of the Con and San Diego.
Interwoven between these stories that unfold as Comic-Con nears and transpires, we follow smaller stories: collectors after the hottest toys, Stan Lee interacting with fans, and the history and changing face of the Con. Interspersed are commentaries on the Con by famous geeks and attendees like Kevin Smith, Eli Roth, Frank Miller, Guillermo del Toro, and Joss Whedon to name a few.
The surprise here is that Kevin Smith, who I had long written off, practically steals the show. He’s got a genuine love for the fans and the Comic-Con experience, and he’s got some damn funny monologues about the whole enterprise. Maybe he should hire Morgan Spurlock as an editor for all his films.
For years, filmmakers have been asking for permission to make a documentary about Comic-Con but the powers that be always said no. Perhaps they felt that nobody could do it justice. Maybe they felt that movie people would focus only on the extremes and mock the fans. At any rate, in this case any such fears were unfounded. Morgan Spurlock has sampled a representative cross-section of fandom, and has treated them with respect. He’s also worked hard to cover as many aspects of the Con-going experience as he could do justice to. This was no small feat. To make the film work, he had 15 crews, each with one or two cameras following their subjects around over the course of the Con and sometimes before. Every night they would come together and watch some of the footage captured during the day’s filming. The result was an exhausting shoot, but the frenzy of filmmaking paid off. This isn’t the kind of doc where they missed the key moment and have to explain it in voiceover. They captured nearly everything, and the narratives and drama are all the better for it.
The title, COMIC-CON EPISODE 4: A FAN’S HOPE is a little clunky. We all get the reference, but at first glance it seems a bit too cute. But after seeing the film, I get it. This is a film about hopes and dreams. Many of the celebrities interviewed have had their lives changed either by comics or conventions. Those whose stories we are following hoping desperately for a life-changing experience at this tornado of fan exuberance.
Harry mentioned that one of his roles was to help choose the people whose stories the doc would follow. He, and everyone else involved, did a great job. They cover a great cross-section, from the young to the old, from cosplayers to artists, and from fans, to the business side of things, even to geek love. They personify so many of the dimensions of what makes this event so special. And most importantly, everyone that we follow is a compelling character.
I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that there are some happy endings and some that don’t turn out exactly as expected. I was at the world premiere, and there were audience cheers in some places, and tears of joy in others. I was expecting something interesting from Morgan Spurlock, but I didn’t expect to be so emotionally wrapped up in the stories of strangers. I had high expectations, and they were exceeded. Very damn impressive for a documentary about Comic-Con.
So an accomplished Hollywood director has made a documentary about my people. That’s pretty awesome. But than that, he’s made a reverent, engaging, and heartfelt movie about them. That’s fucking fantastic.
Here’s the part where I’m biased. I know Harry has been working as a producer for some time now on projects that have yet to make it to the screen. But here, for the first time, everything came together, and the product is a hit. He pulled it off, and you can see the result of his work on screen. I’m so glad he got to attend the premiere even though I was there to see it. Nice work, Harry, I’m proud of you.