The San Diego Comic-Con is America’s largest convention for comic books. Formed in 1970 it has, in recent years, expanded to more general pop culture exhibits and events, such as movies, games, TV, books and videogames. It has become a massive annual event attracting more than 100,000 attendees every year and for some, it is Nerd Mecca.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is a documentary by Morgan Spurlock (best known for Super Size Me) that follows a variety of individuals as they attend the convention, each with their own hopes and goals for the event.
Skip Harvey is a bartender who dreams of being a comic book artist. His parents are Star Trek geeks and he has grown up around comics and their culture. This year, he is taking his portfolio with him in hopes of catching the eye of one of the comic publishers.
In a similar boat is Eric Henson. His background is quite different. He is a soldier and feels like the odd man out with his interest in comics. He has never been to any kind of event remotely like Comic-Con and is not sure what to expect. He, too, goes armed with his precious portfolio of his artwork.
Holly Conrad is a costume designer who lives in a tiny, backwater town. A Comic-Con regular, she designs outfits for the ‘masquerade’, a judged event for people to dress up like fictional characters. This year, she is taking an ambitious set of costumes from the video game Mass Effect.
Also attending are debt-ridden comic book dealer Chuck Rozanski, toy collector Anthony Calderon and James Darling, who plans to propose to his girlfriend at the convention.
Director Spurlock shares time between these people, but quickly ditches a couple as the convention progresses and their stories play out simply. The main focus becomes on Conrad as she and her troupe practice and prepare for their unveiling on stage, with problems around the complex animatronics and lighting in one costume. For her, this is also something of an audition, a chance to showcase her work with aims of one day working in the motion picture industry.
The tales are interspersed with talking head interviews with various ‘geek’ luminaries such as Stan Lee, Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon. The names keep coming, including everyone from Seth Green to Olivia Wilde.
Each gives their views on Comic-Con and what being a geek or into comic sub-culture is all about and all are uniformally positive about it.
And that is the problem with the documentary.
Comic-Con Episode IV does not go into the event or the culture in any detail. It is just A Good Thing. When Rozanski opines that the convention is no longer about comics, it is given no examination. When Henson states nobody at his work understands him, no further detail is provided.
Spurlock never investigates why people are drawn to the sub-culture, what it means, whether there is a negative aspect of people often clinging to childhood icons. Instead, the documentary plays like a feature-length commercial for Comic-Con.
The result is a documentary that is a pleasant watch, with endearing people you want to see succeed, but one that is very lightweight and superficial.
The extras consist of some deleted scenes and extended interviews. The deleted scenes are generally spurious, although one where Conrad meets professional costume designers from True Blood reveals how passionate and hopeful she really is and would have been nice included in the doco.
The interviews are generally meandering, repetitive material, although do include some subjects cut right out of the movie – such as Ellen Page and geek poster girl Felicia Day.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.