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Movie review: 'Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope' is full of heart

Morgan Spurlock takes a sweetly empathetic look at San Diego's annual Comic-Con and the true believers who flock to it. It's full of heart, and just plain fun.

April 05, 2012|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

As documentaries like "Super Size Me" and "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"demonstrate, Morgan Spurlock is not one to avoid the spotlight. In "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope," however, the director does just that, with warm and surprising results.

Puckishly named after George Lucas' retitling of the first"Star Wars" film as "Episode IV: A New Hope," "A Fan's Hope" is a look at the annual San Diego convention that is sweetly empathetic where previous Spurlock works have been brash and confrontational. Plus, it's a lot of fun.

With the director present only as a name in the credits, "A Fan's Hope" is as good as its word in introducing a collection of determined conventiongoers who have come to San Diego in 2010 to pursue their different but connected dreams. They come with the charming innocence of true believers, and this film respects that pureness of heart.

Spurlock starts the film with still photos and radio interviews about 1970's first Comic-Con, which founder Shel Dorf describes as a chance for fans to meet with comic book professionals. He hopes, he says, that as many as 500 people will attend.

Cut to Comic-Con 2010, which attracts 125,000 attendees, many of whom are animated by that same meet and greet spirit. But the convention has become considerably more than that, a gathering of the clans that provides an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to be as weird as they want to be, to live their dreams by dressing up as their favorite fantasy characters, from "Star Wars" storm troopers to Alice in Wonderland.

Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," describes the "I have found my tribe" look that appears on the faces of friends he's taken to Comic-Con for the first time, fans who share the belief that "are we not amazing for being so obsessed with something."

Whedon is one of numerous fan world big names such as director Kevin Smith and Marvel Comics luminary Stan Lee interviewed for the piece, but it is to the film's credit that it belongs heart and soul not to the experts but to the carefully selected group of conventiongoers (Spurlock screened potential subjects online) who have followed their passion to the Con.

Two of the group are artists that want to break into the business and plan on using the convention as a way to get noticed and get their portfolios evaluated. While bartender Skip Harvey is a second-generation geek (his parents met at a planning meeting for a"Star Trek"convention), the equally passionate Eric Hanson comes from a very different world. He's married and in the Air Force, for one thing, stationed in Minot, N.D., and though he's never been one for crowded venues, he has to give the Con a shot.

Also wanting a break is Holly Conrad, a young costume and creature designer. Working out of her garage near San Bernardino, she and a group of friends are preparing an elaborate action sequence inspired by the Mass Effect video game for Comic-Con's Masquerade evening. "This is about doing something insane," Conrad says. "It's a metaphorical suicide mission for my future."

Concerned about his future, but in a different way, is Chuck Rozanski, the owner of Denver's Mile High Comics, which with 8 million books is perhaps the biggest comic store in the country.

A veteran of 38 consecutive Comic-Cons, Rozanski is worried, as are several people interviewed, that the comic nature of the convention is getting deluged in waves of film and computer-oriented popular culture. Rozanski is bringing one of his rarest books, Red Raven No. 1, to San Diego, but he fears it is so rare that many at the Con won't even know it exists.

Easily the most appealing "Comic-Con" segment is entitled "The Lovers" and follows James Darling, who met girlfriend Se Young Kang at the convention in 2009 and now wants to propose to her. In public. At a mass Kevin Smith event. You'll want to be there.

And there, finally, is where all the Comic-Con folks want desperately to be. "It's like having a country of your own," says one fan, while Rozanski, his qualms about it notwithstanding, unequivocally says that he'd forgo heaven for a chance to spend eternity at Comic-Con. If you are a true believer, it is that kind of a place.

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