On first glance at the poster for Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, people will see Morgan Spurlock’s name attached and may dismiss the documentary on that basis alone. Spurlock is a somewhat polarizing figure — far less polarizing on a scale with Michael Moore — because he addresses controversial societal and political issues, as proven in his previous projects, like the film Super Size Me or the TV show, 30 Days. But for those reading this review with such concerns, I’ll give you a spoiler [not a real spoiler], Spurlock is neither seen nor heard in this film. He must have thought up the title though; it’s just as unwieldy as the Pom Wonderful Presents one.
The cameras in A Fan’s Hope follow around five main individuals, each offering different perspectives, like “The Geek” or “The Designer”. Filming begins well ahead of San Diego Comic-Con 2010 in order to chronicle their anticipation and preparation for the actual event. A sixth individual, “The Collector” appears for a short bit, but more on him later. Interspersed are interviews with fans and celebrities, including Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller, the influential Stan Lee, Seth Green, Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith. Stan Lee is particularly fun to watch because he’s become such an icon in the industry that anytime he receives a compliment, he agrees with it completely without any hint of irony.
For those who don’t know, Comic-Con is an annual convention where fans can participate in panels, learn about new merchandise or even meet their favorite celebrities from popular culture fields like comics, video games and films. It’s a place where a guy dressed up as Batman won’t get pulled over (provided his tags are visible). And, since the original in 1970, where about 500 people attended, Comic-Con has grown to host over 130,000 people over several days. Potential viewers might skip this film because they might not care about geeks, nerds, illustrators, cosplayers and various ilk, but this movie is a character study, showing their growth or their stoicism, with added entertainment. (A Fan’s Hope sounds like it is quite similar to Indie Game: The Movie, based on Faith Korpi’s review, in that both are geek documentaries with multiple narratives.)
Of the main narratives, “The Geek” (Skip Harvey) and “The Soldier” (Eric Henson) are both illustrators hoping that their portfolios will help them finagle work with comic book publishers. Harvey’s eyes express the emotions he doesn’t speak while Henson has an impressive drawing of the Hulk but his story does not manage to stay as engaging. Then there’s a young fan (James Darling) who has been plotting to propose to his girlfriend (Se Young Kang) with the help of Kevin Smith. But in the throes of geek love, Kang becomes quite difficult to escape, creating some minor tension to their story. On the flip side, there is an older man, “The Survivor” (Chuck Rozanski) who’s been dealing comic books for a long time despite the declining sales in the industry. He offers up the rare Marvel Comic Red Raven #1 for sale ($500,000) in order to help keep his business afloat, but as it turns out, he remains unconvinced he should part with it.
“The Collector” may share a few personality traits with Rozanski, but he appears only on Day 1 of Comic-Con, lining up early to obtain a limited edition collectible which will eventually be stored in a vault at home. The level of his geekiness made me a bit uncomfortable because I certainly hope I don’t get that way about anything. It might be worth it for him to hear “get a life”, but I can temper myself by believing that odds are most people or consumers (including myself) have superfan tendencies or brand loyalties which could evolve into obsession.
The most satisfying narrative is that of “The Designer” (Holly Conrad), a costume designer diligently working to bring a cast of characters from the video game Mass Effect 2 to life on the Comic-Con stage. She demonstrates the attributes of fandom just like the rest, but Conrad offers more reflection. It feels like she isn’t attached to Comic-Con specifically, she is using the event is a springboard for her interest in costume work.
I am a fan of Spurlock’s work, but A Fan’s Hope doesn’t really generate much commentary on society, the direction Comic-Con has taken, or the pitfalls of fandom. Its target audience would be those that attend Comic-Con or are interested in popular culture; people who will admire the film’s style, like comic book paneling, Indiana Jones references and Kevin Smith. Specifically, Spurlock’s documentary, though entertaining, is best left for the geeks.