by John W. Herbert
Mark Hamill plays Don Swan, a middle-aged comic book historian hired by a movie producer to film a DVD extra for a new film based on Swan’s favorite comic, Commander Courage. But Swan thinks that the Hollywood update of his hero from a WWII patriot to an early 21st century anti-terrorism vigilante isn’t right and he decides to do something about it. So as cameras follow Swan and his Hollywood handler around the San Diego Comicon, Swan is secretly plotting ways to disrupt the project.
The film stars Hamill and a host of his buddies from voiceover work, many of whom leapt at the chance to be seen in front of the camera (and many of whom are also comic geeks). In fact, all the parts are played by actors that are more famous for their voices than their faces. Billy West plays Leo, the grandson of the creator of Commander Courage who a con-virgin attending his first con with no idea what he is in for. Jess Harnell plays the rocker/cameraman Ricky, who dutifully follows Hamill’s character everywhere with digital camera in hand.. And Jim Cummings (the voice of Winnie the Pooh) plays a party animal who slowly drinks himself into a mind-altered stupor with absinthe. Oh, bother!
Cameos abound with Donna D’Errico, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Hugh Hefner, Bruce Campbell, Ray Harrhausen, Matt Groening and Bill Mumy appearing, just to name only a few on the dozens of familiar faces crammed into this film. (In one scene, Hamill’s character asks a trio of gentlemen if he can share their table in a snack bar. One tells him, "No, move along, son." Look closely – it’s David ‘Darth Vader’ Prowse.) Even Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters share a scene on camera for the first time in 41 years. And dozens of comic professionals appear, too.
Clearly a labour of love by self-professed comic geek Hamill, Comic Book: The Movie is a "mockumentary" in the improvised style of This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show and Hard Core Logo. Using digital cameras and filmed mostly at the San Diego Comicon, it has the perfect look of a faux low-budget DVD extra. (And if you’ve ever wanted to see what a con with 65,000 attendees looks like, here’s your chance.) Hamill and crew clearly had a blast improvising with whomever they came across at the Con, be they star, fan or mundane. To be fair, the actors here just don’t quite have the chops that the actors in Chris Guest’s series of mockumentaries do, and the film could have used a tighter edit. And frankly, the ending seemed to go flat. But it was a heck of a lot fun getting there. This is the best fan-oriented film since Free Enterprise.
And the DVD is loaded with tons ofgreat extras, including a panel at Comicon featuring all the voiceover artists strutting their stuff. (Or stuttering their stuff in Billy West’s case – his rendition of Porky Pig singing "My Generation" is as funny as it sounds.)
Comic Book: The Movie – not a hoax, but definitely a fun, imaginary tale,’ Nuff said.
(originally published in Neo-Opsis #3, reprinted in Under the Ozone Hole #17)