Documentaries about the fans and fandom often lack any impartiality and frequently have there own agenda, be it positive or negative. Looking at the names associated with Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, it fairly clear from the outset that this is not going to be an overtly critical undertaking. Director Morgan Spurlock follows five attendees during San Diego Comic-Con 2010 as they endeavour to fulfil their ambitions. The fans are presented from the outset in a fairly positive way and as the documentary proceeds the viewer gets the opportunity to form their own opinion about the lifestyles, choices and philosophies. The documentary is also interspersed with talking heads from known genre luminaries such a Joss Wheedon, Kevin Smith and Stan Lee, who provide some interesting and quite frank views on Comic-Con and the wider fan scene.
While Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope does not wallow too much in the excesses of fandom it does not avoid all criticism. Joss Wheedon speaks of how what used to be a exclusive geek scene has now become a much broader event that is cynically exploited by the bean-counters. Veteran comic dealer Chuck, who is one of the focal points of the documentary, mourns the decline in the comic scene within the convention itself. There is a lot of truth in what he says and the commercial success of Comic-Con certainly has not been to the benefit of all. There are also some comments that do seem to validate some of usual stereotypes about fans. There is talk of the “smell” of Comic-Con and some rather disdainful remarks about counterfeit geeks or geek-for-a-week tourists.
Out of the six or so subjects of the documentary, perhaps it is the aspirations of the two illustrators Eric and Skip that are best explored and offer the best drama. This is because they are seeking gainful employment and the a chance to alter their lives as they hawk their portfolios between publishing houses. Their obsession is presented in a positive manner, where the adventures of action figure collector seems far more self indulgent. Costume designer Holly Conrad and here colleagues foray into the world of cosplay is both absorbing and honest. After spending a year creating their Mass Effect tribute costumes their dedication at times becomes a little manic. Tempers fray during cosplay rehearsals yet perhaps that is understandable considering the pressure and effort. As for the so called “lovers” and the alleged surprise proposal whilst at Comic-Con, it’s the least edifying part of the documentary.
Although a enjoyable insight into a growing aspect of popular culture, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is a not truly definitive or unbiased documentary and does not pretend to be one. It is fairly safe portal into the world of fandom for those on the outside, which removes some of the scenes rough edges, as well as being an ode to geekdom from those who have grown up with it. It does make a few points about the commercialisation of this particular phenomenon but doesn’t offer any in-depth critique or solutions. Instead it settles for being a celebration of geek culture and focusing on the aspirational dreams of many of its participants which is a worthy positive spin.