When I first heard that documentary provocateur Morgan Spurlock was making a documentary about the San Diego Comic-Con, my reaction was mixed to say the least. Here’s a guy whose films have turned a critical eye on such topics as fast food, the War on Terror, and product placement in movies, so I was curious to see how he would present the country’s biggest celebration of nerd culture. Would he present it in a positive way, or would he spend ninety minutes or so poking fun at full-grown men and women who dress up like superheroes and geek out over plastic toys and celebrity panels? After watching Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, I can proudly say that Spurlock chose the former approach. Instead of focusing on the glitz and glamour that has come about during Hollywood’s recent takeover of the Con, he focuses primarily on the everyday people who make the trek to San Diego and in the process manages to craft a very touching and immensely watchable film.
Perhaps to cement his cred in the eyes of his target audience, Spurlock co-produced the documentary with nerd icons Joss Whedon, Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News, and the legendary Stan Lee, all three of whom make brief appearances in the film sharing their love of this yearly mega-event. Other nerd-friendly celebrities such as Eli Roth, Kevin Smith, Seth Rogen appear occasionally, as do comic creators like Frank Miller and Grant Morrison, but the movie wisely only uses them as background characters informing the viewer of Comic-Con’s overall appeal. The majority of the film follows a handful of individuals who have arrived at Comic-Con to achieve a distinct and personal goal. These people include the special effects and makeup designer who plans to show her skills off at the famous costume contest known as The Masquerade with her awesome Mass Effect cosplay, the two comic artists looking to land a break with a major comic company, the owner of a large comic book retailer looking to sell an extremely rare book to a lucky con-goer, and there is the adorable nerd couple celebrating their one-year anniversary at the same Con where they first met and where one of them plans to propose to the other at a Kevin Smith panel. All of these stories are presented in a manner that appeals to both hardcore nerds and general audiences in that it presents their motivation and follows them as they attempt to achieve their goals.
While some have argued that this movie is nothing more than an eighty-five minute commercial for the San Diego Comic-Con, A Fan’s Hope manages to convey a much deeper message than just how awesome the Con is. The overall theme of the film stresses how the love of pop culture can potentially lead to big things if one has the drive to channel their passions into something worthwhile, either by creating art themselves or connecting with another person via their shared nerdiness. The film works best when it focuses on these five subjects, but it falters a bit when it tries to branch out into smaller stories, such as a very brief segment about a toy collector that really doesn’t generate much drama and should have been left on the cutting room floor. Also, Spurlock’s method of transitioning from scene to scene by turning the filmed image into a comic panel and then panning to another panel that turns into the next scene is a rather tired cliche found in most comic-themed movies nowadays. However, these minor complaints do not detract much from the overall quality of the film’s content.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is currently in wide release in select theaters and is available to rent via several VOD outlets such as Amazon.com and ITunes. It is highly recommended for all comic fans and especially for anyone who one day hopes to make a living doing something creative within that particular scene. While it is mostly geared to those already in the know, it also serves as an effective introduction into this world for anyone who has never been to a Con. With this movie, Morgan Spurlock has effectively captured the true essence of Comic-Con, which some may argue has been diluted in recent years due to Hollywood using the Con to hype their upcoming genre films and blockbusters. If this film is to be believed, however, Comic-Con will continue to thrive long after the movie studios have abandoned it, which is good news to all nerds the world over. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope gets 4 out of 5 Slave Leia Harems.