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Comic Book: The Movie (January 29/04)

Comic Book: The Movie is a fake documentary in the tradition of This is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind, and irrefutably proves that this genre isn't quite as easy to master as it may appear. First time director Mark Hamill assembles a cast of quirky cult legends - folks like Kevin Smith and Bruce Campbell appear - and seems to have a genuine love for comics, but the movie just isn't compelling enough to warrant such an overlong running time.

Hamill stars as Don Swan, a lifelong aficionado of comics (he even runs a store dedicated to the illustrated books) who receives an irresistible opportunity to document the planning stages of a big budget film based on a legendary superhero named Commander Courage. Though he's initially thrilled about the idea, he begins to learn more about the film and is dismayed to discovery that it's to be based on a cynical update entitled Codename: Courage. Still, Swan heads out to the San Diego Comic Convention - one of the largest of its type - and meets many real-life figures, the majority of whom provide background history on Commander Courage.

And that's the film's biggest problem. With such an impressive roster of interviewees, it's somewhat disheartening that the only thing they're allowed to talk about is Commander Courage (which, obviously, isn't a real comic). When you have people like Stan Lee and Peter David - guys who undoubtedly know a lot about this particular format - it seems silly to force them to go on and on about a title that's never existed. While any excuse to see Bruce Campbell on screen is welcome, his segment is especially irrelevant; though he's in talks to play the updated version of Commander Courage, Hamill's Swan convinces him to stick with the old-fashioned take on the character. As Ferris Bueller might say, "I mean, really. What's the point?"

Still, Hamill's enthusiasm keeps things afloat to a certain extent - with the sequences at the San Diego convention an obvious highlight. With folks wandering around dressed like Klingons and Storm Troopers, it's hard not to be amused by this admittedly bizarre sight. And Hamill does a fantastic job of interacting with several more-than-willing participants, resisting the temptation to poke fun at them. Since Hamill presumably sees himself as a geek of sorts, he approaches this material on the same level a historian might tackle a treatise on Napoleon. The movie will probably play better for those with a better appreciation for the world of comics than for those without, as such viewers would likely be more willing to overlook the emphasis on the fake history of a fictional character.

But the movie is essentially entertaining throughout, although some sequences go on for so long they eventually become interminable (a long stretch at a party is the most notable example of this). It's just a shame that the movie never amounts to anything more than a mildly effective time-waster, considering the amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera.

out of

About the DVD: Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents Comic Book: The Movie with a spotless full-frame transfer, along with a host of extra features. This two-disc set gets off to a great start with a wonderful commentary track from Hamill, along with co-stars Billy West, Roger Rose and Jess Harnell (and even two producers, Scott Zakarin and Eric Mittleman). These guys clearly have a lot of enthusiasm for the subject, and they do a fantastic job of providing info on the many elements of the film. Disc one also includes a list of the various cameos in the movie, an art gallery, cast/crew bios, and thirteen deleted scenes. The majority of the extras are housed on disc two, starting with "Behind the Voices" - a filmed panel discussion from the San Diego Comic Convention that lasts just over 50 minutes. Many, many cartoon voice actors appear and do the voices that made them famous - making this far more entertaining than the actual film. Also included are extended interviews with several figures seen in the film (Kevin Smith, Bruce Campbell, Stan Lee, and Hugh Hefner - along with five bonus interviews). A 20 minute featurette on the making of the movie doesn't repeat info that was in the commentary track, while an eight minute Commander Courage radio play is a little too silly to be taken seriously. Promos and bios round out the package, which will surely appeal to fans of the film (while non-fans would be well advised to check out that panel discussion).