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It is not the first documentary that director Morgan Spurlock has ever made (he is well known for his Super Size Me and others), but it does happen to be the first documentary ever allowed of the San Diego Comic Convention.  From its humble origins in 1970, when promoters were hoping to see 500 people show up, to the massive powerhouse of culture and fandom that it has become today, hosting more than 125,000, this event has transformed into a cultural phenomenon of epic proportions.

In Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, Spurlock does his best to tell the tale of SDCC through the eyes of those who attend it.  By following the experiences of a select few who are each there for their own reasons, he manages to capture the essence of the convention and the different meanings it takes on for different people.  This is accompanied by a general look at the convention and snippets of interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry, including the likes of Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith and Stan Lee.

More after the jump.

The “main characters” consists of a toy collector, two aspiring illustrators, a make-up artist and her team, a comic dealer and a couple revisiting the event where they met a year previous.  Through the eyes of these attendees, audiences get a candid look into the world of the convention – the dealers, artists, visitors, costumes, dreamers and performers, all amidst the hectic atmosphere created by a city’s worth of people crammed into one convention center.

The movie goes through four days at the convention, as well as the stories of the key players before and after the event.  Spurlock’s cameras capture the sideshows that fill the streets, creating a carnival-like atmosphere, and the army of costumed geeks that parade through San Diego and fill the convention hall.  There is even a special warning about the unique stink that the SDCC seems to generate.

Interviews address some of the famous names’ feelings about the convention and how it has changed over the years.  Each person spoken to has something to say about what the convention means to them personally, their first experiences there and when they first met those they call their heroes.

Spurlock does a great job of exploring the emotional weight that the convention carries for many.  The toy collector is on a mission to get a limited edition 18-inch Galactus toy to add to his collection.  The two illustrators spend their time moving amongst comics’ leading companies, having their work evaluated and hoping for their chance to break into the industry.  The make-up artist is there to display months of hard work in a two-minute performance at The Masquerade.  The comic dealer battles with lowered sales and the choice he must make of whether to sell the prize of his collection.  The male half of the couple struggles to steal away from his girlfriend so he can acquire a wedding ring to propose to her at the Kevin Smith panel.  Each conflict faced conveys the tension they feel, the elation that comes with success and the grief and anger that accompanies failure.

The movie also looks at the dwindling presence of comic books in a convention that was originally founded upon them.  Spurlock shows how other industries, such as movies, game, television shows and merchandise have taken over the convention.  He also addresses the subject of how money has changed the industry in other ways, such as media producers using the SDCC as a place for test marketing, or the fact that George Lucas bought and paid for exclusive access to the loading docks, so everyone else has to work around him and make due.

Though money and mediums other than comics appear to be taking over the convention, Spurlock focuses the majority of his film on the comics.  He explores the meaning that they hold for people and the emotional attachment that fans get to the stories, art and those who create them.

Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is an expertly crafted adventure into a much-misunderstood world and Spurlock’s expertise shines through in his ability to bring the audience along for the ride.  Anyone with an interest in geek culture needs to give this movie at least one viewing.

Here’s the trailer, so you can get a little taste:

Or you can visit the official website for more information.

Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is currently available to watch in theaters across the country as well as from the convenience of your home via On Demand.

Category: Comics, Featured, Film, reviews

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