Review: Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope

Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope Movie PosterFor the last couple of years, one of the things I have wanted to do is attend Comic-Con (San Diego Comic-Con International) and I thought this year would be the year that I would make this goal a reality. However, a couple of months ago I was invited to an important event happening during the same weekend, so once again this year no Comic-Con for me. But then I learned of a new Morgan Spurlock documentary coming out called "Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope" that would be about Comic-Con. So I thought maybe watching this movie would be best thing I could do to "experience" Comic-Con this year. I like Spurlock's other work such as "Super Size Me" and the short lived TV series "30 Days", and after watching the official trailer and the behind the scenes video for "Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope" I knew I had to see this movie.

Unfortunately, "Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope" is only playing in select cities and none of them are near me. But fortunately, the movie can be watched using Video On Demand providers such as your cable TV company, iTunes, Blockbuster On Demand or Amazon Instant Video for $6.99. I'm glad more movies are being released this way. It gives you a chance to see movies that either don't have the money to distribute all over the country or not big enough of a draw for a theater to show. A big plus for watching movies this way is you are able to watch the movie multiple times within the rental period (usually 24 hours). It also helps if you have a decent home theater setup. This beats high movie theater tickets prices, overpriced concession stands, and rude movie goers any day! I used my PS3 and rented the HD version from the Playstation Store. Very good quality and loaded up pretty quick. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on what you watch the movie on and your Internet connection.

Morgan Spurlock with Stormtrooper"Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope" was filmed during Comic-Con 2010 and is the first time the Board of Directors have allowed a filmmaker to do a movie about Comic-Con in any sort of official capacity. But I guess this time due to Morgan Spurlock's reputation, but more likely because of the people he knows, the Board of Directors green-lighted this movie. And after seeing "Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope", I think they made the right decision because I really enjoyed the movie prompting me to watch it multiple times before the rental period was over. That being said, I had a difficult time reviewing this movie because it covers so many topics and people in such a short time, around 87 minutes. So please bear with me as this review is quite lengthy.

"Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope" begins by briefly touching on the modest beginnings of Comic-Con, which started as San Diego Golden State Comic-Con back in 1970 by founder Shel Dorf. Then you get Jon Schnepp (Producer for the animated TV series Metalocalypse), doing what seems to be a bad impression of Conan O'Brien's nerd stereotype, giving a tongue-in-cheek description of Comic-Con. I think this is done for the people who have never been to Comic-Con (like myself) to hint that Comic-Con is a lot more than Schnepp's one-dimensional description and that by the end of this movie you will have a much better understanding of why Comic-Con is such a huge event. From this point, you are introduced to the first four subjects as they prepare for Comic-Con: The Geek, The Soldier, The Designer and The Survivor. Then for each day of Comic-Con the movie takes turns peering into lives of each of these subjects as they go through their Comic-Con experience. Two more subjects are also introduced after the movie starts Day 1 of Comic-Con: The Collector and The Lovers. In between the scenes following each of the subjects, there are interviews or anecdotes from fans of all types (famous, cosplayers, and everything in between), or scenes of panels, or other happenings that went on during Comic-Con. To be honest, I'm really dumbing down how the movie is structured and making it sound like it's a mess. But this structure really works well while watching the movie and kept me engaged throughout the movie. I didn't even really notice the jumping around until I had to sit down and write this review. It's a testament to the great editing done on the movie.

Now giving each subject a generic title might seem to stereotype the actual person/people behind them but I think the titles are a good thing. It makes it easier to identify with the person/people and helps transition between the aspects of Comic-Con they are trying cover in the movie.

The GeekThe Geek (Skip Harvey) and The Soldier (Eric Henson) are used to show one of the roots of Comic-Con, which is to bring professionals and people trying to get into the comic book industry together. Comic-Con is still the best place for aspiring artists to show their work and have it critiqued. I liked how the movie contrasts The Geek and The Solider to show two sides of an artist's experience at Comic-Con. One side is the best possible experience where an artist's work is praised by professionals and given the chance to work in the industry. The other is disappointment and realization that it's hard to break into comic books. I found myself feeling genuinely concerned for the outcome for both The Geek and The Soldier while watching the movie because I know quite a few artists myself, and not just comic book or sequential artists, and I have a deep affection for people trying to "make it" in their art form of choice. Not only that, who doesn't like a story about the underdog trying to prevail? Obviously, I won't say which subject has which experience but in the end both The Geek and The Soldier are definitely better for their respective experience.

The DesignerThe Designer (Holly Conrad) focuses on the cosplay part of Comic-Con and follows The Designer as she prepares for the Masquerade, which the movie shows is much more than a simple costume contest. The Masquerade is more of a performance contest where the best entries are ones where the costumer embody their character and not just the realism of the costume itself. The Designer is a major fan of the Mass Effect video games and chose to create costumes of characters from the Mass Effect world for the Masquerade. I found the parts of the movie with The Designer some of the coolest parts of the movie especially when you see the Krogan costume complete with animatronics for the head since it is a non-humanoid character.  One of the best parts of the movie comes when the movie shows the actual Masquerade. The Designer and her crew basically steal the show with a movie quality performance. It must have been so awesome to have seen it live!

The Survivor (Chuck Rozanski) gives us another of the roots of Comic-Con, a place to celebrate comic books. However, this is from a comic book dealer's point of view but I really liked how the movie covers it this way. The Survivor is the owner of Mile High Comics and has been going to Comic-Con, at the time of the movie, for 38 straight years. In fact, I have bought comic books from Mile High Comics when I couldn't find what I was looking for at my local shops. The Survivor highlights one of the issues with Comic-Con becoming so mainstream; the lost of focus on why Comic-Con originally started, comic books. The Survivor is just trying to get Mile High Comics through another year and has even resorted to putting up a very valuable and personally prized comic book up for sale, Red Raven #1, to pay the bills. I really sympathized with The Survivor's story because comic book shops were one of the places I used to hang out when I was younger. I even made friends with one owner and we'd have some great discussions over a wide range of topics. I feel like comic book shops are a dying breed and their owners, especially for the smaller shops, are brave souls who just want to give people a place where they can share their love of comic books and other collectibles. So I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome of The Survivor's tale and I think you will too.

The CollectorThe Collector subject covers the passion of toy collecting, which manufacturers tap into by having Comic-Con exclusive releases. The Collector story was quite brief and you really don't get the time to get to know the subject. The movie just does a quick nod to toy collecting and I felt it almost makes toy collectors seem inferior to comic book collectors. But I can understand why the toy collecting topic was done this way because the topic of toy collecting at Comic-Con could probably be a movie itself. That being said, the movie should have probably not even cover toy collecting at Comic-Con or at the very least not focus on a single person as The Collector because it marginalizes the whole thing.

The last subject that is introduced is The Lovers (James Darling & Se Young Kang) and this subject should have been left out. Basically The Lovers subject covers finding love at Comic-Con by giving us a story about a couple that met at a previous Comic-Con and now the boyfriend wants to propose at this Comic-Con. Not that I have anything against love stories, I don't think the movie had to really cover this subject. Let alone focus on an actual couple. It's a nice story and all, but the movie could have just used the brief scenes with other couples you already see and maybe just throw in a scene where the couple of the Lovers subject share their story. I don't think the movie had to show the cliches of the clingy girlfriend and the boyfriend trying to do the perfect proposal by doing it publicly during a Kevin Smith panel. In fact, the only saving grace and probably the only reason The Lovers subject stayed in the movie is because Kevin Smith makes watching the conclusion of The Lovers story entertaining.

Kevin SmithSpeaking of Kevin Smith, he is one of the highlights of the fan interview scenes. I even think he has the most interview scenes. But it's justified, Kevin Smith is charismatic and he can be a funny guy. Other big names that have interview or anecdote scenes that stuck out for me are Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Guillermo del Toro, and Eli Roth. But there are so many big names with great interviews or anecdotes in this movie that I feel bad to only mention a few of them. Some of the scenes with normal and cosplay fans are really good too. Overall, I felt the movie had just the right mix of fans. Also, I would be neglect to not mention there are TMNT related parts in the movie. Corey Feldman (voice of Donatello in the first and third TMNT movies) has an interview scene and Seth Rogen shares a TMNT experience that you catch the beginning of in the official trailer.

"Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope" does a great job of celebrating Comic-Con as well as showing to people who "don't get it" the reason why so many people love going to Comic-Con. And that reason is, as one of the fans simply puts, "coming home". Humans are social beings by nature and we want (need?) to find others that share our love for the same things, especially when those things are considered "geeky", "nerdy", "uncool" or "for children". "Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope" shows you there is a place for those things and they won't be labeled as such.

Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope Title ShotThere is no way a movie can truly capture Comic-Con. It is too big and too diverse. But I feel that "Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope" does as good of a job as one movie can. I came away from watching the movie with a much better understanding of what goes on at Comic-Con. But I also got the distinct impression that it's near impossible to describe Comic-Con without actually going, which makes me even more eager to go next year! So I'll see ya there in 2013!

Thanks for reading and keep it green!  

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