The transformation of San Diego’s Comic-Con International is fascinating. What was once a small comic-book convention intended to connect comic creators with their fans has evolved into an annual celebration of geek culture that validates and rewards those who have dived deeper into the pop-culture pool than most.
What Morgan Spurlock has done with “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” is essentially to re-validate Comic-Con, only with the big picture in mind. He and the film’s many producers have crafted a love letter to this convention, one clearly born from their inner-geek’s own longing to capture what the Con has become.
As such, it’s hard to say how much an “outsider” to geek culture would even care about what happens at Comic-Con and consequently this film. It does take a certain predisposition to care about the subjects of the movie, namely to accept their obsessions with comics/gaming/movies and in some cases their dreams and aspirations to make the leap from fandom to professionalism. Anyone who can relate even the slightest bit to that notion, however, will enjoy the film.
The best choice Spurlock and co-writers Jeremy Chilnick and Joss Whedon (yes, that Joss Whedon) make for this documentary is to come at the Con from every possible angle. They have found a diverse group of subjects that as a whole manage to embody every type or person or personality who passionately seeks out Comic-Con each year.
The chosen subjects consist of two aspiring comic book artists hoping to get valuable feedback and perhaps even a job offer from the major names in the business; a young woman hoping her costumes featuring Mass Effect video game characters will grab some attention; a long-time comic book collector and vendor contending with the shriveling devotion to comics at the convention created specifically for them; a young man who hopes to propose to his girlfriend whom he met at Comic-Con the year before.
Some of these subjects aren’t even likable people, but there’s something that even someone who’s only part geek will connect with in each of them. They are dreamers, and they all embrace the kid inside without any trepidation, and anyone who does that or yearns to do that more often will be caught up in these stories.
Peppered into these narratives are testimonials from various celebrities or annual Comic-Con personalities. While they lend an authoritative voice to the documentary, their words and thoughts feel remarkably more hollow in comparison to the people whose stories are being told. Even if they are genuine, they feel like a forced means of guiding the documentary from chapter to chapter.
And then there’s the fact that it’s not exactly poignant. The end note is that Comic-Con is a place where everyone can let their geek flag fly, a point that becomes evident minutes into the movie. The only challenging question that the documentary raises is whether Comic-Con has “sold out,” yet that’s not the emphasis of the film.
Documentaries are supposed to push boundaries and ask tough questions, but “Comic-Con: Episode IV” was created similar to how a middle school student chooses a research topic — because the subject is something he loves, not because he has some provocative thesis he’s dying to test.
Setting aside those pre-teen motivations for making the film in the first place, “Comic-Con: Episode IV” is exceptionally well made for what it is — a celebration of geek culture and the dreamer’s mentality.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Written by Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon and Jeremy Chilnick