Morgan Spurlock's documentary takes a trip to Comic-Con with several different types of attendees.|
by Eric Goldman, published on July 10, 2012
Comic-Con can be really hard to explain. If youre a regular attendee, youve no doubt had that experience of telling someone, Its insane! Its so jam-packed! but feeling like you just cant convey the experience of being there, amongst so many people, with so freaking much to see and do.
Enter Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fans Hope. After years of turning down requests for such a project, the folks at San Diego Comic-Con gave permission for a documentary to be filmed during the course of the convention. It certainly couldnt have hurt that it was successful filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) directing, with Comic-Con gods Stan Lee and Joss Whedon (along with Ain't it Cools Harry Knowles) among the executive producers.
The end result is a very likeable, entertaining film that follows several different attendees over the course of one Comic-Con, to capture their experiences. Its a well-chosen group of people who have come to Comic-Con for extremely different reasons: Chuck Rozanski is an old school dealer, there to sell comic books on the convention floor even as comics become less of the draw for many attending. Fans James Darling and Se Young Kang just want to take in as many panels as they can while James also intends to surprise Se Young by proposing to her. Holly Conrad and her friends are entered in a masquerade ball, where they hope to impress with their elaborate Mass Effect costumes. And Skip Harvey and Eric Henson are two of the many aspiring comic book creators who come to SDCC, in the hopes of getting their foot in the door with one of the publishers.
Spurlock does a very good job cutting back and forth between these people, keeping all their stories clear and engaging and including plenty of great fly on the wall moments - from Chuck making a very amusing comparison between comic books and women to James having an incredibly hard time getting away from Se Young long enough to get the engagement ring.
While theres not enough time spent on any one person to go truly in-depth, you spend enough time with them to feel invested. Skip and Eric ultimately have different experiences pitching their work to the comic companies and I truly felt joy for one and sympathy for the other, as they discovered just how their work played with comic book professionals. And its hard not to wonder how James proposal will go, which he plans to do in the middle of Kevin Smiths always-popular panel (Suffice to say, Smith gets in a few lines in the film).
The standout though is Conrad. The costumes she and her friends have designed -- inside a garage, no less -- are truly remarkable. Theyre incredibly detailed and accurate, featuring a Grunt with an animatronic mask enabling it to speak. While she wears her Shepard costume proudly, Holly isnt simply a cosplayer, but a very skilled designer who wishes to make a living doing this in the entertainment industry and the build up to the big Comic-Con masquerade (and seeing the final presentation of the Mass Effect costumes) is one of the best and most enthralling aspects of the film.
There are other aspects of Comic-Con that feel a bit slight. While Chuck is able to express his dissatisfaction with feeling comics are marginalized at Comic-Con, there isnt a greater exploration of this subject. And sometimes, it seems the sunnier side of things gets most of the attention in the doc. Hell, I would have liked to have seen more about the grueling long lines and the frustration of waiting and waiting only to not get in (something weve all experienced at Comic-Con). But perhaps this wasnt quite what a Comic-Con-approved doc could be.
The film is intercut with testimonials from professionals comic book creators like Joe Quesada and Grant Morrison, filmmakers like Whedon and Edgar Wright and actors like Seth Rogen and Olivia Wilde who are attending the convention. They add a fun touch, with some particularly funny and endearing moments at times, such as Rogens anecdote about seeing three pissed off Ninja Turtles waiting for their buddy.
The audio and video quality on the Comic-Con Episode IV DVD is strong for a documentary. The well-shot documentary has a well done transfer and despite the less than ideal circumstances to capture nuance (considering there are thousands of people around), the conversations between the participants is all clear and distinct.
On the extras side, things are a bit lacking. I couldnt help but think that when you have a documentary aimed at the Comic-Con crowd, you should go big on extras. After all, these are the people who love the extras! Maybe they're being held for the suspiciously unreleased Blu-ray?
The Behind-the-Scenes featurette is far too brief. Just as some interesting elements are brought up (including how many camera crews they had running around Comic-Con to capture all the footage they needed), the thing is over. I would love to have learned more about the logistical hurdles they had to leap through in order to get a documentary made in the middle of the organized chaos of Comic-Con. There isnt even a commentary track to allow Spurlock or the on-screen participants to discuss what it was like making the film.
There are a few deleted scenes, which are interesting. A couple of them add more to the story of a toy collector who is only seen for a brief segment of the final film I actually quite liked seeing his talent at customizing figures and how he actually makes a living doing that.
There are also extended interviews with some of the folks seen in the professional interview portions of the film and even some that were actually cut out of the final version. Running a few minutes each, the subjects include Whedon, Quesada, Ellen Page, Felicia Day and many more, some talking specifically about Comic-Con, some more about geek culture and their connection to it in general.
The interviews are definitely a great inclusion, but its still too bad theres nothing a bit more insightful about the process of making the documentary included.
Overall though, Comic-Con Episode IV is an easy recommendation. Its a nice overview of the convention for the loyalists, which also gives you a look at nooks and crannies of the con you probably havent seen. And as my friend pointed out, its also great to finally have a way of showing your parents or other people in your life a bit about just what the hell this crazy event you go to every year is.
Note: Besides buying the DVD on its own, you can also pick up two different collector's editions. The content of the discs are the same, but the selling point here are exclusive figurines. The more widely available version (which was sent to us here at IGN) has figurines of Stan Lee and Harry Knowles, while there will also be a version at Toys "R" Us with figurines of Joss Whedon and Morgan Spurlock.
Movie 7 out of 10 (An entertaining documentary on a true cultural phenomenon.)
Video 8 out of 10 (Well done transfer of a very slick looking documentary.)
Audio 8 out of 10 (Clear and distinct sound, despite the obvious issues recording at Comic-Con would bring.)
Extras 6 out of 10 (The deleted scenes and extended interviews are nice, but something more insightful about the making of the movie would have been appreciated.)
Overall 7 (out of 10, not an average)