For fans of Morgan Spurlock's documentaries, there's something missing in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope": Mr. Spurlock, who usually is a presence in his films ("Super Size Me"; "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"), is nowhere to be seen. The filmmaker, though, had 125,000 or so people to represent, so he focused on a handful of attendees, following them from home to Comic-Con International and back again, to get an iota of an idea of how fans experience the world's biggest geek fest.
To give focus to his doc about the sprawling annual event that overruns San Diego, Mr. Spurlock begins with the convention's humble beginnings more than 40 years ago, then zeroes in on 2010 and a few specific "types" who are headed to that year's Comic-Con:
2 stars = Mediocre
- Featuring: Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee.
- Rating: PG-13 for some sex and drug references, language and brief horror images.
Two aspiring illustrators, Skip from Columbia, Mo., and Eric, from Minot, N.D.; Holly, a California costume designer hoping to be noticed by pros at the annual Masquerade Ball; Chuck, owner of Denver's enormous Mile High Comics, looking for a big sale to pay off debts; and James and Se Young, who met at Comic-Con a year earlier, with James now planning a dramatic proposal. Only the last two are there just as fans; the others have career interest in attending.
It's a documentarian's hope that when you enter a story at the start, you will have chosen well. Some personal stories inevitably turn out more compelling than others, but each offers a slice of the Comic-Con experience.
There are side visits with folks who come to cosplay (short for costume play), a toy collector and the guy herding more than a dozen slave Leias for waiting cameras, plus Joss Whedon, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, Seth Green and other celebs from movies, TV and comic books giving their spin on what it means to come to San Diego and worship their heroes.
Testimonials were shot with people such as Kevin Smith, a fan's fan if ever there was one, talking in front of a bright white background, such a contrast to the throngs of humanity and the Exhibition Hall madness. For all the experiences Mr. Spurlock packs into his documentary, I could have used a little more of what it feels like for Mr. Smith and other celebs to come to a place where once they were fans and now they are worshipped by folks in Batman and Wonder Woman costumes who come for a chance to get close to the people whose work they have adored from afar. It must be exhilarating and scary at the same time.
The documentary has interesting celebrity pedigree, with producers including Mr. Whedon, Stan Lee and Thomas Tull, president and CEO of Legendary Pictures and a partner in the Steelers ownership group.
Despite some protestations that "Comic"-Con is less and less about comic books, the film shows that there would seem to be plenty for fans of every genre, as the convention has grown into a massive mash-up of interests. If you consider yourself a geek about a particular subject, you can probably find a fellowship of your brand of geekdom there.
As someone who has been to Comic-Con the past five years, that sense of community is what I liked best in the documentary, as attendees explain that they come to get away from everyday drudgery and be themselves with like-minded people.
"Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope" is at the Hollywood Theater, Dormont, at 9:15 tonight and 7 p.m. Saturday.