'Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope' TIFF Review: Morgan Spurlock's Documentary is a Delight for Fans and Non-Fans Alike

'Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope' TIFF Review: Morgan Spurlock's Documentary is a Delight for Fans and Non-Fans Alike

Sep 13, 2011


I cannot lie. This movie made me very happy. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, Morgan Spurlock’s fluffy and consistently funny (and shockingly not first-person) look at the San Diego Comic-Con, is not just a puff piece advertising this huge event, which doesn’t really need help attracting crowds anyway. It’s a puff piece, no doubt, but it’s also an endearing profile of a phenomenon that non-geeks may think is impossible to understand or relate to.

As it turns out, what goes on at this annual convention of outcasts-turned-incasts (if only temporarily) seems pretty universal. And indicative of the human spirit and our common desire to be comfortably social among likeminded souls. Those of us cinephiles seeing the doc at a film festival perhaps know what that’s like. Others of you may relate through acknowledgement of your own passions and hobbies.

Coming from someone who has never been to SDCC, who fluctuates between wanting to one day experience it and wanting to never be amongst so many people, I’m grateful to the film for the virtual trip. At times it did sell me more on the event and encourage me to finally attend. But it also covers so much of what goes on there, I think, that if I never make it I can be satisfied with the vicarious involvement had here.   

While I find the full title a bit much, the subtitle A Fan’s Hope works appropriately on two simple levels. On the one hand, it seems connected to the comic geeks who want SDCC to return to being primarily about what its name suggests. The numerous complaints against Hollywood’s takeover are there, of course, though the Star Wars reference in the film’s moniker is kind of contradictory and hokey. Is it just to get people’s attention? I think a better title would have been comic-based, like Comic-Con Issue #1: Days of Future Past.

Anyway, on the more significant other hand, the subtitle at least is perfect and refers to the multiple overlapping narratives presented in the film. There are two aspiring artists looking to be discovered, a gang of costume designers hoping to be the hit of the masquerade show, an old-timer collector/dealer wishing for the comic business to pick back up, a toy freak simply trying to get his hands on his most desired action figure before it sells out, and a guy planning to propose to his girlfriend during a Kevin Smith panel. They are all fans with a hope of some kind, and not anything too bizarre when you think about it.

As comic and fantasy geeks they obviously are dreamers, but these dreams pursued at SDCC are more reasonable and attainable than the sort we expect they might have had growing up (and may still have on the side), wishing for super powers and the chance to be a hero (or villain). That is their feel-good appeal to any film viewer,  familiar and inspiring stories of aspiration and determination. Of course, the couple is particularly identifiable to anyone who’s proposed marriage in any setting and circumstance.

One common aspect of these characters’ stories I found surprising is the anxiety. We non-Con-ers are always hearing the same point about these people finding their tribes in San Diego, at the one place and one time of year they feel they belong. But the subjects Spurlock has selected all have an additional fear of failure and embarrassment. One of the artists worries about the worst possible situation, that he’ll be pantsed and his portfolio will be torched. The costume crafter is scared of being laughed off the stage.

Competition is mixed in with community, business clashes with pleasure, but at the end of the three days everyone apparently is on top, at least if we believe these individuals as stand-ins for all (why would we need two artists, though?). It’s a very optimistic film.

I could have done without many of the testimonial bits, from both celeb and non-famous attendees, which look and feel like they belong in an online dating ad (especially the ones involving couples who met at SDCC, obviously). And the comic-panel styled motion graphics shtick is overplayed now. Still, I admit I had a smile on my face through most of the doc (and a tear in my eye during the proposal) and it’s about as mindless and entertaining and wide reaching as nonfiction films get. Even your grandma should like it, even if she finds some of it strange or familiar. I guarantee if you’re human you’ll get it.  

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