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

Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope - Toronto Film Festival - P 2011

Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope - Toronto Film Festival - P 2011

Morgan Spurlock’s emotionally satisfying doc about the annual geek Mecca in San Diego will make a true believer out of anyone.

Documentarian extraordinaire Morgan Spurlock has a fresh take on the annual Comic-Con gathering in San Diego.

You could point a camera just about anywhere at Comic-Con and record something weird, amazing, funny, stupid or all of the above. After all, this annual convention in San Diego, originally aimed at comic book fans but now spilling over into all areas of pop culture, prides itself on its wackiness. Morgan Spurlock, with a major assist from such fellow geeks as Stan Lee, Harry Knowles, Joss Whedon and co-writer Jeremy Chilnick, has done much better than that in Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope. While taking in all the eye-catching aspects of this carnival of freaks, geeks and nerds, he manages to record the living, breathing heart of the pop culture world. He has focused his cameras on people on a mission. Maybe not a life or death mission but pretty close, which makes this doc a real collectible for movie fans even if they hate comic-book movies.

Attending the 2010 convention were seven die-hards, each with a major goal in mind. Well, make that six as the seventh has no idea what’s in store. Two are illustrators determined to break into the tough comic book racket. Labeled the Artist and the Soldier, these are bartender Skip Harvey and soldier Eric Henson. Each brings his portfolio and almost dreads what the talent scouts and experts will say about their painstaking efforts.

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The Designer is Holly Conrad, a passionate creator of costumes and creature designs who is anxious to win a prize. Chuck Rozanski owns Mile High Comics in Denver. His large-volume store is in financial trouble so the Survivor needs to make more than a few sales to keep in business. Unfortunately, more and more Comic-Con attracts attendees who love to dress up as zombies but never read comics.

The Collector is given short-shift as he is desperate to buy a few exclusive action figures for his toy collection, and he accomplishes this during the first hour. The most extended nervous anxiety though falls on James Darling, half of the twosome Spurlock labels the Lovers. He secretly plans to ask girlfriend Se Young Kang to marry him at a Kevin Smith symposium at the very convention where the two first met. Only Se Young refuses to leave his side, thus making it difficult to obtain a Lord of the Rings engagement ring.

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Spurlock plays out these stories over a swift 88-minute running time that also features a brace of interviews with the likes of Whedon, Knowles, Smith, Matt Groening, Seth Rogen, Frank Miller and Eli Roth as well as roaming shots of a make-up artist who can make attendees look dead or wonder girls who look as if they forgot most of their clothes.

Spurlock builds plenty of drama into each storyline. The film has much to say about pop culture and its money-making potential, but the hard focus remains on the hopes and dreams of these individuals and how Comic-Con plays a role in those aspirations.

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Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope --  the title is a sly nod to the sequel, remake and reboot world of superhero and fantasy movies -- finds Spurlock evolving away from one trademark of his feature films. Beginning with Super Size Me and continuing with Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden and POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock has amusingly interjected his own personality into doc storylines. With this film the attention shifts to others. Yet Spurlock’s vivid style remains.

The movie has all the flash and superb editing you expect from a Spurlock doc: Comic book-like drawings lead from one episode to another while formal, staged interviews with savvy talking heads punch home key points about what has made Comic-Con so successful. (A geek enters the halls, Whedon remarks, and suddenly realizes he has encountered “my tribe.”)

Each storyline holds together beautifully despite the intrusions and distractions within and outside the vast convention center. Spurlock makes certain that his audience “owns” these characters, that it’s emotionally drawn to each story and has a stake in these crazy ambitions. Okay, maybe he got lucky with such dramatic and emotional outcomes in every case. But then, as someone once said, luck is the residue of design.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Warrior Poets
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Producers: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Thomas Tull, Matthew Galkin
Executive producers: Harry Jay Knowles, Stan Lee, Joss Whedon
Director of photography: Daniel Marracino
Editors: Tim Smith, Tova Goodman
Sales: CAA
No rating, 88 minutes