Morgan Spurlock isn't the first name that comes to mind when discussing filmmakers that resist self-promotion. In part, it's due to his coming along at a time when becoming the subject (or inserting yourself into the subject) of your film isn't frowned upon anymore. Think of Spurlock, who always appears on camera in his films, as the logical outgrowth of the Michael Moore and Ross McElwee school of film; a modern, popular subgenre of documentary film driven by the personality of the individual who wears the director's cap.
Sometimes, his results have been great (for instance, Super Size Me or most episodes of his sorely missed television show 30 Days). Other times, it's been difficult to come to grips with Spurlock's thesis due to his presence before the camera overwhelming the impact of the subject he's broaching (never more true than in his segment of Freakonomics), even when the proceedings have been entertaining enough.
Shockingly, in his latest work, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, Spurlock simply vanishes, neither he nor his voice are featured anywhere in the film. It's a completely unexpected left turn from the director, after some eight years of basically applying the same technique to every project, liberating the proceedings and allowing for the most mature work of his career to emerge.
As the title indicates, Comic-Con Episode IV is about the world's biggest annual nerd convention, some 40+ years into its existence; a place where comic book fans can mingle with action figure collectors, film and tv geeks and hot women dressed as Wonder Woman or other fantasy based characters (the film actually features a moment involving a "slave-trader" who deals exclusively in women dressed as Princess Leia).
Spurlock wisely chooses to document the event through a small number of characters attending the convention. Among them, he's got two wanna-be comic book artists who head to San Diego to undergo portfolio reviews with the many publishers who set up booths there. There's also a costume designer whose team has brought the characters from the video game Mass Effect to life in the hopes of having their talents discovered. And, perhaps most endearingly, there's the nerdy young dude who spends much of the film orchestrating a marriage proposal to his equally geeky girl during a Kevin Smith q&a.
Additionally, there are interviews and appearances by more famous folk, such as Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Eli Roth, etc.
Yes, it's hard to swallow the use of the word "mature" to describe a film about toy collectors and fantasy-lovin' folk. But, seriously, Comic-Con is a huge step forward in Spurlock's overall trajectory as a filmmaker. Plus, it's REALLY entertaining and often quite heartwarming in its depiction of the passion that lies at the heart of fan culture.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope opens at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, April 6th. Morgan Spurlock will be in attendance for the Saturday, April 7th show at 7:15pm. More info here.
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