Review: Morgan Spurlock's 'Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope' Is Fantastic

Note: This review was first published on September 11th 2011, and the film was screened during the Toronto International Film Festival. Spurlock's film is now available on demand, so we're republishing the review. I've since seen the movie a second time and gladly recommend it to any pop culture geek I know.

When I first heard that Morgan Spurlock would be directing a documentary about San Diego Comic-Con International, I was worried that it would be a puff piece — a glorified direct to video infomercial. The fact that Spurlock chose to premiere the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival instead of in San Diego speaks towards its merits as a real film and not a Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice! prime-time tv special.

Don't let the title fool you, Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope is a fantastic snapshot of what the world's greatest comic convention has become. While I don't like the title, it makes sense: this is not a movie about the history of Comic-Con. Yes, the film does start off with a brief history to catch us up to speed (much in the same way that Star Wars: A New Hope sets the stage with the opening crawl), but the film is set in a moment in time – the 2010 convention.

The doc is not just filled with talking heads, geek celebrities preaching the wonders of the con, but is primarily focused on the stories of various different fans attending the con.

Spurlock had 15-30 cameras going at once during, each day of the Con, capturing the stories of a female cosplay costume designer hoping to win the masquerade, a sci-fi bartender and a US soldier who both aspire to become a comic book artists, the owner of Mile High Comics — one of the last surviving comic book dealers with a big booth at the con, a toy collector looking to score some of the comic con exclusives, a boyfriend who is planning to surprise his girlfriend with a marriage proposal during Kevin Smith's big Hall H panel, and even comic book legend Stan Lee — who is worshipped like a God at the convention.

I've attended Comic-Con for a handful of years, where I have split my time between Hall H panels, the showfloor and backstage interviews. So for me, this documentary let me see many facets of the Con that I wouldn't normally see. From the artists trying to get their portfolios reviewed in hopes for getting a job with Marvel or DC comics, to the harsh realities of being a comic book dealer in an age where comics are becoming a smaller and smaller part of the convention the medium had once spawned, to the amazing artistry behind the awesome cosplay costumes.

The film perfectly captures the Con's feeling of beloning, a place where geeks can gather and geek out in unison. In a different director's hands, we would get something much more simplistic. Take for instance  Mile High Comics owner Chuck Rozanski, who is being forced to sell his rare Marvel comic Red Raven #1 which he has owned since his childhood. The comic, which is now worth $500,000, must be sold at the con in order to keep his business afloat.

I'm really glad they didn't gloss over the downward transition of comic books at the convention. It would have been easy to focus on the spectacle of big booths and fantastic costumes, but Spurlock's film chooses to focus more on the human stories at the event.

The film is edited with illustrated comic book panel transitions and features a heroic superhero almost Superman-like score, both of which never cross the line of too cheesy. While some critics have attacked Spurlock forcing himself in the spotlight of his previous films (I disagree), the filmmaker doesn't appear in a frame of the film, nor does he provide voice over narration. Inter-cut with the storylines are on camera interviews with comic book artists and writers, filmmakers (someone joked during the Q&A that Kevin Smith might single handedly will be responsible for the film's R-rating), actors/actresses, and journalists.

As much as I loved the film, I wish this were just one chapter of many. I would be very interested in "the prequels", learning the history of the convention and seeing footage through the years of growth and change. I also think that many big aspects of the con are glossed over. We don't see much about the panels (big and small), the experience of waiting in line for Hall H (which has become a big part of the con experience), the celebrity alley autographs, the art and artists in artist alley, the real hunt of a toy, comic or art collectors, the press trying to cover the madness, and much more.  I doubt we'll see a sequel, but there are many more stories worth exploring each and every year at the Con.

Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope is a fantastic look at fandom, a compelling introduction to anyone who has never been to Comic-Con, and a beautiful portrait for everyone who travels to San Diego each and every year. The stories transcend geekdom, as the experiences of chasing a dream or making a heartfelt connection are universal.