Directed By: Morgan Spurlock
Written By: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon
Starring: Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary that covers the pop culture phenomenon that is San Diego Comic-Con. Personally I have been the New York Comic-Con and a bunch of smaller events, but I’ve never had the pleasure of going to the Mecca of geekdom that is San Diego Comic-Con. It is an event that has evolved greatly over the last decade. The show that was once segregated to the geek culture elite has now become part of the populist lexicon. In this documentary Morgan Spurlock along with writer Joss Whedon examine what this Con means to the geek culture. Spurlock has indicated this film was meant to be a love letter to Comic-Con as well as a resource for those unfamiliar to use to better understand this world. While the love of Comic-Con can be seen in every moment it is never able to go beyond that idea. If you are unfamiliar with this world I don’t see you walking out with a better grasp of who these people are. I applaud Morgan Spurlock for celebrating geeks on such a large scale I just wish the end product wasn’t so hollow.
The film covers Comic-Con in a number of different ways. It’s a mixture of celebrity talking heads woven into a number of different stories about people who will be going to the Con. The stories include a toy collector looking to score a Con exclusive toy, a comic book salesman looking to sell one of the rarest books worth $500,000, a young man who is planning on proposing to his girlfriend in the legendary Hall H, and perhaps the most intriguing story a young women who spent a year creating costumes based on the popular videogame Mass Effect. The film also covers some potential artists who are looking to use Comic-Con to break into thecomic book industry. Their story helped show that Comic-Con is far more than just a place for people to dress in crazy costumes. People actually go there to live out their dreams and fantasies of becoming a part of Comic Book lore. To watch these men see their dreams be realized and crushed at the same time made for great real life drama. Another example of how people take Comic-Con and use it to make an actual career was the “Builder”. This women from Colorado who made some amazing Mass Effect Cosplay costumes. I have seen plenty of fan created costumes over the years. Some have been rather impressive while others have been a literal horror. These were rather incredible. The artistry in the design and the high tech animatronics looked like they could have been done by a major movie studio. In fact I was so intrigued I wish the film spent more time on how these costumes were made. Sure it was a great achievement to look at I just wanted to know how they achieve it. In general that’s what was holding this movie back. It felt more like a presentation rather than an examination. Being familiar with this world I was inherently invested, but without the familiarity I don’t see this having an appeal. It’s not that those opportunities didn’t present themselves. In most cases it just touched on the story and quickly moved onto the next topic. The Collector for example was by far the weakest story of the bunch. What he is attempting to collect isn’t all the interesting or unique and the film doesn’t seem interested in making his quest seem at all that important. We know what he is looking for we just never find out why. The why is not touched on with any of the stories really. I understand this wasn’t meant to be an examination into the geek psyche, but delving into the why would have made the overall arc a lot stronger. Watching this made me think of the documentary Chasing Ghosts that examined the arcade culture. While that documentary had its issues it was better at giving its stories more life by looking into what drove these teenagers to treat the arcade like some sort of new aged religion. So I feel it is possible to celebrate something and at the same time provide some sort of analysis to what makes it so important.
One of the best examples of where the movie could have done more was the story of the Mile High Comics Owner who was looking to use Comic-Con to bolster his business. Most people now realize that Comic-Con is barely about actual comics anymore. Some say it’s still the core of the show but most deny that claim. This story showed how the new evolution of Comic-Con has had some negative repercussions to those in the comic book industry. We got a taste of it, but not the entire meal. I feel there’s a large segment of the geek population this isn’t happy with the new direction Comic-Con is going. Saying geek population and not happy is a bit redundant as we geeks can be a tad bit moody at times, but there are legitimate points to be made about how this new Con isn’t great for everyone. While many people in the documentary acknowledge the change the majority of them felt fine with it. Debating this topic would have made the nucleus a whole lot stronger causing the hollowness to be filled in with something of substance.
Perhaps the reason there wasn’t much debate was the fact the vast majority of the people interviewed have benefited greatlyfrom this new Comic-Con. What I did appreciate about the celebrity interviews was the fact that their thoughts and overall sentiment towards Comic-Con felt real. They weren’t Hollywood celebrities who just discovered Comic-Con because of some movie they were in. Instead they were people who were once that kid dressed up as their favorite superhero walking the Con floor in search of the exclusive Jim Lee X-Men cover. That in the end is exactly what this was. It was people talking about things they love. In a world full of cynicism and negativity it’s hard not to appreciate a movie completely dedicated to celebrating something. Society may look at this world and scoff thinking these are people who are just unwilling to grow up. Those who are a part of this world know there is something about embarrassing the fantastical and unworldly that is endless appealing. What Morgan Spurlock did with this documentary was treat the world of Comic-Con with a level of seriousness and relevance that is typically reserved for the most stoic of topics. This isn’t Spurlock trying to exploit Comic-Con as some sort of new age carnival show it’s him showing that there is a method to all of this madness. Celebrations are great to be a part of but not that much fun to watch. If this isn’t a world that interests you beforehand I don’t see you getting much out of it. It would be like sitting at a restaurant watching someone across the room getting song Happy Birthday by the wait staff. Sure the song is catchy and the sparkling cake is fun to look at, but you really are just waiting for it to end. You can’t get invested into something you know nothing about. Just seeing someone’s reaction doesn’t tell you the whole story. While you can appreciate their joy on a human level you can’t get invested into it on a personal level. On the other hand if you consider yourself a part of this world you will certainly have a natural connection to it. It’ll be like watching an old home movie. Sure you are basely watching something you have already seen before, but simply taking a trip down memory can bring its own version of joy.