Lest I lead you to believe Spurlock’s doc is a bunch of hand wringing over the commercialization of the convention, it’s not. Mixed in talking head-style interviews with geek celebrities from Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith to Robert Kirkman and Marc Guggenheim — as well as some giggle-inducing footage of cos players of all ages — there are also several narrative lines that run throughout the film. We meet Skip and Eric, both aspiring illustrators and Comic-Con virgins, who are hoping to find comic book publishers interested in their work. There’s Holly, a designer who’s planning to debut her Mass Effect-inspired costumes in the annual masquerade; Chuck, a struggling comic book dealer who is reluctantly hoping to unload his $500,000 copy of Red Raven #1; and James and Se Young, a young couple who met at last year’s convention and are about to take their relationship to the next level. While they’ve all come to Comic-Con for different reasons, their stories are connected by the fact that they’re hoping for something life altering to happen in San Diego — whether that’s landing a big deal or a future wife.
In the press materials for the film Spurlock explains that for more than two decades, filmmakers have been trying to make a documentary about Comic-Con, only to be denied access. He was lucky enough to have Stan Lee, as well as Whedon, Thomas Tull, and Harry Knowles in his corner. In the end, it’s the passion of these guys (who Spurlock refers to as his geek “Dream Team”), as well as his documentary subjects, that shines through here. Yes, there might be a battle for territory raging at Comic-Con, but it’s also still the kind of place where a nerdy guy can propose to his equally nerdy girlfriend in front of an enormous crowd at a Kevin Smith panel — with a Lord of the Rings-inspired engagement ring to boot — and instead of being judged for it, gets a standing ovation. And that’s what Spurlock chooses to focus on. Crazy crowds and marketing tie-ins be damned, this is still a place where geek dreams can come true.
Watching A Fan’s Hope, for this viewer at least, raised some interesting questions about the future of the comic book industry, without really attempting to answer any of them — a shame given the investigative chops he displayed in Super Size Me. That would have made for a very different, and certainly less celebratory film, and one with an even more limited audience. What you get instead is a charming homage to a geek subculture that’s quickly becoming less rarefied and more mainstream with every passing year. While I think that’s a great thing for pop culture, I’m not sure what it means for the next generation of geeks.
Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope opens in limited release and is available On Demand beginning tomorrow. Watch the trailer below.
Main image credit: Diagram of Geek Culture by Julianna Brion