NECA // 2011 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // August 3rd, 2012
"It's like a metaphorical suicide mission for my future." -- Holly, aspiring costume designer
This July, I sat in on a Doctor Who panel in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con. True, I watched a screen, not the live people, and couldn't get the whole picture of the scene, which I took to include a lot of fezes and bow ties (I'd seen quite a few coming in, just not all at once). Thus, the experience was a little like radio, creating pictures in my mind more than anything else. Still, I was there -- for DVD Verdict, but also for the mere experience of being in Hall H.
It's also a place where you could walk into a lobby and see Mrs. Emma Peel just standing there. That's stunning, in multiple senses of the word. You might not be impressed if you didn't watch The Avengers, but a silent Gatchaman villain, a Legend of Zelda heroine, or a sea of fezes and bow ties might have had the same effect for you.
San Diego Comic-Con is a phenomenon so big that, according to Kevin Smith, even his mother has heard of it. It's one I had to experience after six or seven years of thinking about it. The documentary Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope (directed by Morgan Spurlock, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), concentrates on celebrities and rising talent, but does also show some of the costumes, crowds, and carnies.
San Diego Comic-Con brings something like 140,000 people (a number that I'd guess includes professionals, press, staff, and volunteers) into a relatively small space each July to stand in line and perhaps eventually hear about movies, TV shows, video games, web series, books, science fiction, and even comics.
Among those people in 2010 were two aspiring artists, a promising costume designer, a comic shop owner who was in the midst of a bad year, a collector seeking a Galactus, and a man who plotted to propose to his beloved at the Con. Director Morgan Spurlock had a crew of 160 people shooting A Fan's Hope, capturing all the pageantry.
There are lots of shots of the crowd; the first thing shown at Comic-Con is, naturally, a line. However, Morgan Spurlock doesn't try to capture the charivari atmosphere. Instead, he makes Comic-Con a people story about those who submit art for review, join the Masquerade, scavenge for rare toys or comics, or try to sneak away from a long line to pick up the engagement ring.
Combined with celebrities like Kevin Smith and Paul Dini, who can tell viewers what the Comic-Con was like back in the old days (it dates back to 1970, as black-and-white photos show), the film presents a warm picture of the event. Sure, you'll see clips of panels with stars like Angelina Jolie or Harrison Ford, but Spurlock actually picks up the threads of the Comic-Con's roots, giving the huge event the insider feel that Dini said it had when he started out. As he gives viewers a rooting interest -- and a few stories with happy endings -- Spurlock finds the small event inside the huge one. There's not much actual history, but he gives you a feel of what Comic-Con used to be like.
There are some fancy filmic tricks with slow and fast motion, but Spurlock doesn't overdo them. He also does a good job of profiling the people he follows, with moments such as an artist's goodbye to his family before he heads into the largest crowd he's faced in his life or the first demonstration of an animatronic puppet head.
The extras include interviews aplenty: Kevin Smith talks about the Con's growing size; Ellen Page describes going through the exhibit hall unrecognized in disguise; Felicia Day describes her own "geeking out" experience; and Harry Knowles talks about his father's involvement in a comic shop and conventions, to name a few. There are also deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes peek, and a trailer, plus a DVD cover that features some of the people seen in comic book form.
You do get heavy hitters talking about their Comic-Con and comics experiences, but a lot of fans will long for a commentary with the people -- like Stan Lee and Joss Whedon -- who joined Morgan Spurlock in this production.
When Kevin Smith started going to San Diego Comic-Con in the prehistoric '90s, he bought comic books he couldn't find anywhere else; today you can probably get them online. Still, foot traffic halts to a standstill for a few days each year in San Diego. I'm not sure if that will last forever, but I'm glad I went while the charivari is still in session.
Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope doesn't bring viewers the entire history and scope of San Diego Comic-Con; Morgan Spurlock would need two sequels, at least, for that. Instead, he shows that the event still has a solid core of intense passion for comics, something that you might notice during hours spent in line.
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site