POSSIBLE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
My wife and I have been to San Diego Comic Con quite a few times, including the year this movie was "filmed". We were, in fact, in the audience for the final scenes. So we were particularly interested in finally seeing this movie.
Mark Hamill, an avowed comic book fan, has been a constant presence at SDCC for years. We met him there when he was promoting the release of his own comic book, and have heard him speak several times. His love of the genre is obviously genuine.
And he intended this "mockumentary" to be "a love letter to all this" (his words). Whether he succeeded is arguable; looking at the other comments, it is clear people are sharply divided. I will say this does not strike me as a movie you will enjoy unless you are in on the joke, can recognize the players, and have some insight into the comics world. (In one scene, Mark's character asks if he can take a seat at a table already occupied by 3 people. One of them refuses, saying, "Move along, son." The scene would be meaningless unless you recognize the man speaking as David Prowse, who played Hamill's father in the Star Wars movies. And the 2 others at the table are also actors from the series.)
Perhaps it would have been better if Mark had not played the lead himself -- even with a beard and eye-magnifying nerd glasses, it proved impossible (for us at least) to disassociate Don Swan from Mark Hamill. When Swan is interacting with the celebs making cameo appearances, we always thought, "These people are hanging out with Mark Hamill, who is pretending to be a nerd." (To Mr. Hamill's credit, he obviously considers himself a nerd as great as any other. He does not poke mean fun at comic book fans; he certainly presents types, but I'm here to tell ya those types exist...) Because of this, it is hard to feel for Don Swan as a character.
Something else which served to keep me distanced from the film was the camera work. Mark's Swan character is being followed about by a camera crew throughout the film. But the camera crew is also being filmed... The POV shifts abruptly between the two cameras. The first time it happens it is quite jarring; after that it is merely dizzying. This directorial/editing decision made it very difficult for me to ever become immersed in the film.
For anyone who has ever attended a comic book convention there is certainly a familiarity factor at work. This is especially strong for those who have been to the Comic Con: "Hey -- I've shopped at that booth, talked to that person, sat by that pillar..." (Though the film never gives a true impression of just how big the Con is, nor how crowded it becomes -- most of the scenes were obviously done early on in the con when relatively few people are in attendance. Later on the scenes would have been impossible to shoot, with 50,000 people about.)
Mark gathered together some friends who just happen to be some of the greatest voice talent in the business. Everybody tries hard, but excellence in voice talent does not necessarily translate into screen presence, and all too often we found ourselves watching past the actors to see if anyone we knew was walking past.
So appreciation of the movie itself is a matter of personal taste, and how it impacts upon you. The extras, however, are a gem which can be appreciated by anyone!
Mr. Hamill has sometimes been the target of criticism for, after early screen success, having to "stoop to voice-over work" on cartoons. I have heard him speak on this subject, and he is not defensive but rather amazed that anyone could hold such a view. When doing voice-overs, you don't have to do makeup, go on location, answer 5 a.m. calls, worry about your appearance -- as one of the voice talents says, "they can't see you get old or fat!", a valuable thing in age-ist, image-conscious Hollywood.
And however we may feel about the movie itself, Mark will always have a special place in our hearts for drawing together an amazing group of voice actors to appear in it. As mentioned above, we were there on hand for the filming of the final scenes -- the Con let Mark schedule one of the rooms for filming, and the production needed crowd extras. So we were there until early in the morning (condensing inward as the crowded room slowly emptied over the course of the shoot).
To keep us in place, entertained, and rewarded for the long hours, Mark got the actors from the film to do a panel on, well, themselves. And a grand collection of talent they were -- dozens of memorable cartoon voices, represented by the people on that stage. They had great fun, and shared it with us. Though many of them had worked together, it was the first time this group had been together in one place, and they were obviously having a wonderful time simply being there, and being in the presence of their idol Gary Owens (who made it all look easy, and gave a cold reading which proved again why he is considered the Grand Old Man of voice talent.) Quite a bit of this session is on the Bonus disk, though sadly not all -- I recall other wonderful moments as the folks went through their repertoire of voices, as well as trying to do each other's. Still, we are overjoyed to have on disk a record of that night, and that collection of talent.
Watch the movie and decide for yourself, but treasure the extra material and share it with anyone who has ever watched a cartoon.
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