Following in the tradition of This Is Spinal Tap, Mark Hamill’s Comic Book: The Movie is a “mockumentary” that delves into the lives of those obsessed by comics and those that try to make money off of these people i.e. heartless Hollywood types who want to cash into the comic book craze by bastardizing a classic comic book hero into a major Hollywood blockbuster. Hosted by longtime comic geek Donald Swann (Hamill), this new ‘documentary’ shows the evolution of legendary character Commander Courage. Orig…nally a 1940s-era Nazi-fighting patriot, Courage has evolved into a post-9/11 terrorist-fighting vigilante, and Swann is against this evolution every step of the way. A new movie starring the revamped character (Codename: Courage) is in the works, and Swann is lobbying to bring the once-classic hero back to his original roots. With the help of some friends, he just might pull it off.
Most of the footage was shot in just 4 days, during the San Diego Comic Convention. It must have been quite a challenge to put everything together amidst the chaos, but the spontaneous nature of the movie really works to its advantage. It almost seems as if everyone who’s anyone shows up here, from Hugh Hefner (a long-time fan of comics and once-aspiring cartoonist), to Ray Harryhausen (pioneer of stop-motion animation), to Bruce Campbell (cult movie icon), to the Godfather of Comics himself, Stan “The Man” Lee. In fact, most of the supporting characters are noteworthy voice actors from the wonderful world of animation, including Billy West (Ren & Stimpy, Futurama), Jess Harnell and Robert Paulson (Animaniacs), the legendary Gary Owens (Space Ghost), and many more! In short, Comic Book: The Movie is a treasure trove of pop culture comedy gold, and it’s a winning effort from start to finish.
While not as funny as Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind, and let’s face it Christopher Guest and Rob Reiner are masters of the ‘mockumentary’, it is very entertaining. This would be closer to “FUBAR” in that it is quite funny at the beginning and tends to get a bit drawn out by the end.
Presented in the typical documentary aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full screen, Comic Book: The Movie looks very good. There’s no real “look” to the bulk of the footage, as it’s very natural and straightforward. Colors are handled well. Blacks are also solid, only drifting into dark gray during convention footage with low lighting. All in all, everything is about as good as it needs to be, and won’t disappoint fans in the least. This is a movie that centers around a visual medium, so it’s good that the video quality delivers here.
The audio also gets the job done well. Surprisingly, we’re given a full 5.1 Surround Sound mix, although it’s not of the same design as your typical action movie. This is a dialogue-driven movie, so you won’t get tons of surround activity (though it occasionally comes into play during group dialogue and the convention footage). The soundtrack is surprisingly striking in its dramatic effect.
This is where the disc really shines!
Disc One contains a number of great extras. To start things of, we’re treated to an Audio Commentary with Mark Hamill and co-stars/producers Jess Hornell, Billy West, and Roger Rose… Also present are co-producers Scott Zakarin and Eric Mittleman, making this quite a rowdy listen. I’ve always said that the best commentaries are done by Kevin Smith and compadres – and I don’t know if this was his influence on this picture – but this commentary track comes very close to a Kevin Smith film all of the participants are completely off-the-wall, and revert to their cartoon personas on many occasions. There are some great stories and experiences shared here too, making it one of the most entertaining commentaries of recent memory. Next, we have an informative Cameo Guide, which lists all of the guest appearances made during the movie…a really nice touch! After that, we’re treated to an awesome Art Gallery, showcasing much of the art used in the movie itself, plus a few new sketches and designs. Next up are no less than 13 Deleted Scenes, as well as list of Cast & Crew Bios and Sneak Peeks for two other Miramax releases.
Disc Two keeps the ball rolling. The main feature is the 50 minute Behind the Voices featurette, a Q&A session held at the San Diego Comic Con (presumably after the shooting was finished). The majority of the voice talent from the movie is accounted for, as well as Mark Hamill, writer Peter David, and more! This is a lively presentation, and all of the participants are in good spirits (almost too good!). Naturally, there are many moments where the actors do the voices that helped make them famous, so it’s also a great trip for any animation fan in general. Next up, we have a series of Interviews, the majority of which are extended versions of the ones in the film. Interviewees include Kevin Smith (20 minutes), Stan Lee (9 minutes), Bruce Campbell (17 minutes), and Hugh Hefner (41 minutes). Also on board here is Four Color Frenzy, a short making-of featurette on the movie itself (18 minutes). Another highlight is the Commander Courage Radio Show (7 minutes), a mock presentation of the hero’s first adventure done old-time radio style. Performed by several of the voice actors from ‘Behind the Voices’, this was a very thoughtful inclusion. Rounding out the second disc are Promotions for the ACTOR Comic Fund and the San Diego Comic Convention (links to their respective websites can be found below). Easily one of the best sets of extras included on a disc.
This is a movie for comic book fans and it makes that very clear in the first 30 seconds of the movie. Now I have been collecting comics since I was 5 years old so I would consider myself a fan, and as a fan I really got a kick out of this movie. If you are not a fan, a lot of the inside gags would completely pass by (for example in the convention Donald passes by a group of uninterested bystanders whom he asks for directions and quickly runs off – the bystanders are Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and David Prowse (Darth Vader) – cool!) and as a whole this likely will not be an enjoyable movie. The extras are amazing and for a comic book fan a definite purchase!
Special Features List
- Audio commentary with Mark Hamill & cast
- “Four Color Frenzy”-the making of “Comic Book: The Movie”
- “Behind The Voices” featurette with the top voices in animation
- Don Swan in-depth with Kevin Smith
- “Commander Courage” radio show
- Stan Lee on comic book movies
- Don Swan’s complete Bruce Campbell interview
- Hugh Hefner on comics and women
- Deleted scenes and bloopers