Title: Comic Book: The Movie
Director: Mark Hamill
Distributed By: Miramax
Starring: Mark Hamill, Billy West, Donna D’Errico, Roger Rose, Jess Harnell, Lori Alan, Daran Norris, Jim Cummings, Jill Talley, Tara Strong, Arleen Sorkin, James Arnold Taylor. Debi Derryberry, Tom Kenny, Sid Caesar, and Jonathan Winters
Release Date: January 27, 2004
MPAA: Rated PG-13
Welcome back to MOVIE MONDAYS everyone! After that short break, we’re back to look at a fantastic mockumentary that came out a decade ago. I’m sure some of you have seen it, and if you have you need to revisit it. If you haven’t seen it, then you really should give it a watch. If you’re a comic book fan, you’ll enjoy it. If you’re a fan of awkward mockumentary style films like This is Spinal Tap or Best in Show, then you’ll enjoy this film.
As a comic book fan, this critic can easily relate to the idea of comic readers being thoroughly outraged and offended every time some Hollywood studio buys the rights to a beloved comic book, and completely butchers it in order to churn out some disappointing, god-awful adaptation. You’ve all had the experience of hearing the latest announcement about some movie adaptation of a favorite comic book character and instantly had two emotions. At first, and only for a fleeting moment, you’re filled with joy that your favorite character is getting a movie. Then suddenly you realize that the studio will almost certainly screw it up as much as possible, and your heart sinks to the pit of despair. That’s essentially what this film is about.
Mark Hamill directs and stars in this unscripted look at comic book fandom and the history of the industry. Playing a middle-aged comic book historian and fan named Donald Swan, Hamill’s character is “hired” by a big studio to “work” as a creative consultant of sorts on their upcoming big-screen adaptation of an old comic book that’s been given the stereotypical modern, gritty, supposedly more realistic makeover. That comic book is the fake Commander Courage, created by the fake Jackson Whitney. Through addressing this fake comic book’s adaptation, the movie looks at real comic history, such as failed attempts to adapt a Superman movie, homophobic pop-culture views toward Batman, and the famous war on comics waged by Fredric Wertham and the U.S. Congress. It’s a fantastic look at the history of the industry, and even more interesting as you figure out whom each Commander Courage story is a real-life analogy for.
One of the major treats of the film is the cast. The main cast is made up of some of the most talented voice actors working in the business today. You’d never know them in this film, because people rarely see their faces or hear their real voices since they specialize in animated features. Some of the major players are Billy West (Fry and Dr. Farnsworth on Futurama, and the current Bugs Bunny), Jess Harnell (Wakko from Animaniacs), and Daran Norris (Fairly Odd Parents and Transformers Prime). Another treat comes from the cameos and side-characters including Stan Lee, Kevin Smith, Bruce Campbell, Hugh Hefner, Peter David, Paul Dini, Sid Caesar, and Jonathan Winters.
While the premise and pay-off for this movie are both fantastic, the movie itself is only pretty great. Its impromptu nature gets in the way sometimes, and things get a little boring and awkward when not focusing on the interview portions or any scene not featuring Mark Hamill. Some of the side-stories, like the warring studio executives, really drag the movie down, and there’s a party scene in the third act that goes on far too long. That being said, all of the informative bits and historical anecdotes are completely worth slugging through the scant moments of tedium.
Kevin Smith talks about his work on the cancelled Superman project in the 90s, where Superman wasn’t allowed to fly or wear a cape or wear red and blue. Hugh Hefner talks about his original dream to be a cartoonist, and how because so many comic books were cancelled in the 50s, illustrators came to work for him at Playboy and other non-comic book-centric magazines. Bruce Campbell appears in the film as himself, as he is in talks with the studio to play Commander Courage, and compares the adventurous Golden Age comics to the cynical and hyper-violent Modern Age comics. Stan Lee offers up tidbits about the comic industry, the Hollywood machine, and acts as a contemporary to the fictitious creator of Commander Courage. Each of these segments could be a movie unto themselves, and they truly are some of the best moments in the film.
This film was released direct-to-DVD, and when you pick it up (I say “when” and not “if” because you should buy this movie!) be sure to get the 2-disc version because of all the bonus features. Every bonus feature on this DVD is phenomenal. All of the interviews are extended and offer much more insight to the world of comic books and their adaptations. Everything from the commentary to the deleted scenes is either informative or entertaining, and is well worth taking a look at.
The absolute best moment in the film is the big pay-off. The big pay-off for the film comes of course during the climax, when Mark Hamill makes a huge speech at the San Diego Comic Con, to a huge crowd of fans, and basically sums up the entire message of the film. I won’t spoil the whole thing by saying it here, but one sentence of the rousing monologue is this:
“And the movie people: I know they’re just doing their jobs, but they don’t care about us, either. They only care about our wallets.”
If you’ve ever seen a movie adaptation of something you love, whether it’s a comic book, a short story, a novel, or whatever, and been thoroughly upset with the final product, this movie is for you. If you were just somewhat disheartened and disappointed by it, and thought to yourself, “man, that could have been so much better,” this movie is for you.
Do yourself a favor and get this film. Run, don’t walk, to your computer and order it, or to your nearest movie store and buy it, or just whip out your smartphone and snatch it up now. It’s been out for a while and can be snagged from almost any retailer now for under ten dollars. Go! You can stop reading, ‘cause I’m done now. Now go get it! [Editor’s note: As of the publication of this article, it can also be streamed on Netflix.]