Since 1970, Comic-Con in San Diego has grown from an small and obscure comic book event, to a major multi-media extravaganza attracting thousands. As various creative celebrities discuss what attracts them to this shindig and how it has grown and changed, we follow various people who have come from all over. Whether it be a veteran comic book vendor trying to make a profit in an event that is now marginalizing his medium, aspiring artists wanting to break into it, an ambitious costumer or a romantic geek with a special surprise for his girlfriend, they all experience a special time of year where the fantastic imagination is celebrated. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
More a love letter to the fans than it is a documentary
Besides being a not so subtle nod to Star Wars, Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope is a documentary told through the viewpoints of eight individuals as they descend into the madness that is the San Diego Comic Con. All of them have a purpose to be there, and all have a goal in mind, whether it is to sell a rare comic, win a masquerade or get signed on as an artist for a comic book company.
Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary was one of the late entries on my list of films to see at this year's past Toronto International Film Festival, and one I have continued wrestling with over how I felt about it. Packed with dozens of hilarious interview clips with real and internet celebrities, along with actual footage from the floor, Spurlock valiantly tries to capture what it is like entering and navigating through the four day convention that becomes bigger with each passing year. He gets access to some behind the scenes material, and offers a fan's eye view of some of the panels and events that had occurred at the 2010 event.
But what holds the film back from being anything but a fun and amusing diversion for the geek and convention crowd, is the fact that it is a film lovingly made almost explicitly just for them. While the interviews are entertaining and downright hilarious, they do not provide any real insight or explanation for what fan culture is or why so many people go to Comic-Con year after year. Even the stories contained within the film do not answer why these people do what they do, simply that they go to obscene lengths to make sure they can pull off their goals. I assume Spurlock's main goal was to tell multiple stories (more on that in a moment), but I cannot help but feel it hinders the film. It seems content at simply existing, as a memento for everyone who experiences this kind of subculture.
Then that brings up another point what is the ultimate goal here? I go to at least one major fan convention per year, so I have experienced the rush of seeing and meeting geek idols, witnessing the detail of some of the costumes, and talking shop with people just like the ones profiled here. But what about people venturing in with no real grasp on geek culture? What are they supposed to take from this? Are they even supposed to venture into this film? It seems a bit elitist in that respect, because there is nothing really to grasp if you do not already have some preconceived knowledge on the topic. In his previous films, Spurlock has tackled tough topics and asked some tough questions. While some segments and films work better than others (the less said about the borderline ridiculous Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, the better), he still made a real attempt at getting the answers. Here, he just seems content without asking the bigger questions, and as a result, the film feels like a much weaker effort.
While I do fault Spurlock's lack of analysis here, I must praise the fact that outside of name credits, he does not appear in the film at all. He offers no narration whatsoever and does not appear on-screen at any time. He lets the people being profiled tell their stories, and lets the interviews help guide the film through its less-than-90-minute run time. It is a bit flabbergasting at first, considering how prolific and personal he has made his other documentary films, but I think it helps reflect his maturity both as a documentarian and filmmaker, and as a storyteller. It allows the film to become a more intimate film, and helps reinforce the notion that it is a film made as a kind of memento for the geeks. It is made up of their stories and quips, and Spurlock never interferes or redirects the film to follow him and his thoughts. It makes the film that much more different in that respect, and I think is the key reason why it works at all.
Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope was an interesting idea on paper, but I think in practice it comes off as more flawed than it should. While it is entertaining to watch the ups and downs of the people profiled within the film, I cannot help but feel underwhelmed by the general lack of analysis on Spurlock's part. There have been documentaries before on specific fan cultures, but no real works centred around the mother of all conventions. There was plenty of material he could have mined and a wealth of individuals who could have given keen insight on the idea of fan and convention subculture. But in the end, it feels like a whole lot of ideas, and not a lot of actual follow through. As a love letter to the people that come out to San Diego once a year, it succeeds. But as a documentary on fan culture, it fails.
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