Fantastic Fest Review: Comic-Con Episode Four


[For the next few weeks Flixist will be covering Fantastic Fest 2011. We’ll be bringing you news, reviews, interviews and other pieces of awesome so make sure to come back and check out all the festival has to offer here.]

“The geeks shall inherit the Earth and blah, blah, blah!”

We’ve heard it before. “Geeks are sexy,” “geeks own the world,” etc. Despite being a pure-blooded geek raised on comic books, Atari ST, and Star Wars, I kind of hate “geek culture” and how it is represented in the media. So, imagine how I feel about the mecca of geek culture, Comic-Con.

Since this is a review, imagine how I feel about Comic-Con after watching Morgan Spurlock’s (Super Size Me) latest documentary. Surprisingly, pretty good!

I’m passionate about the things I like, but not so much that I feel the need to collect ALL THE THINGS, spend a year in my garage making a costume, or spend half-a-million on a vintage comic book (not that I have that kind of money). I really don’t understand these people, so here comes Spurlock to help me understand by taking an in-depth look at last year’s Comic-Con and the people that were there.

Unlike previous Spurlock docs, he’s nowhere to be found here. In fact, talking heads are rarely present as well. The documentary plays out almost like an episode of MTV’s True Life. We follow the personal stories of a couple of last year’s attendees, ranging from two guys trying to get their first illustration job in the business to an old comic book seller that has to sell his uber-rare Red Ranger issue 1 for half-a-million in order to keep his business afloat. Their stories don’t have the impact of American Teen or Hoop Dreams, but, as a trade-off, the film progress at a much quicker pace. The film has an energy and humor that you’d expect from a Spurlock film, even if he isn’t in the frame, thanks to the superb editing.

While Spurlock sat this one out, you will find Joss Whedon, Gerard Way, Kevin Smith, Eli Roth and a lot of other notable artists sharing their thoughts on Comic-Con and geek culture. These are inter-spliced between each subject’s story that the film jumps between every ten or so minutes. The talking heads are full of entertaining quips and no one stays around for too long. However, the characters themselves are the real heart of the film and, by the end, you’ll have grown attached to them and their quirks.

The film opens with archive footage of the first San Diego Comic-Con in 1970. It’s a bit misleading since the focus of the film is never on the historical aspects of the expo. Any information you learn is heard as an aside from the film’s cast of characters. The old comic book seller complains about Lucasfilm owning the expo’s entire loading dock and not letting others use it (who knew?) The costume designer gives us insight on how her animatronic Wrex (of Mass Effect) costume is unlike anything the show has seen in the six years she has attended. No one ever sits us down and tells us, “This is Comic-Con!” We get to find out for ourselves through stories, character’s lives and celebrities’ anecdotes.

By having nothing but ground-floor accounts and humor-driven commentary in-between, we are given closer access to the experience itself and the people that share it. Some characters come off as stereotypes because they are stereotypes. Take for example the toy collector who rushes through the crowd to buy the new 18-inch-tall Galactus toy and then walk out. You can’t help but laugh at the guy, even if the film hadn’t gone into slow-mo and played dramatic music. The other characters are much more sympathetic and colorful.

My favorite of the film has to be the costume designer. She has so much heart and skill that she puts into her creations that you can’t help but root for her and her crew as they try to win a prize for their work. Then there is the military soldier who wants nothing more than to become a Marvel illustrator. Watching the intensity and joy on his face as events unfold reminds me of why I love documentaries like this. But most of all, it’s the story of two geeks in love with each other and Kevin Smith that put a smile on my face and caused my theater’s audience to applaud. No, I won’t spoil it.

By the end, I feel like I get Comic-Con and I understand why it means so much to these social misfits. It’s a place where they can find others that share their obsessions and discover new ones. It’s an absolute madhouse where thousands upon thousands gather. Sure, it’s crazy that they stand in-line for two days and say it’s “better then heaven” but whatever.

For about 90 minutes, Spurlock puts you into the San Diego Convention Center with the sweaty Stormtrooper-dressed masses. You get to share the euphoria they feel without having to smell their stench. It’s a good deal for those of us who like to keep our geekery at a distance.