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Mark Hamill
Donna D'Errico, Billy West, Joseph I. Burns, Roger Rose, Jess Harnell, Lori Alan, Daran Norris, Tom Kenny
Writing Credits:
Mark Hamill

Hollywood invaded the Comic Book World ... Now the real Comic Book Heroes are striking back!

Mark Hamill stars with sexy Donna D'Errico and a host of real-life celebrities - including Hugh Hefner, Stan Lee and Kevin Smith - in this wildly funny journey into the world of comic book fandom! Documentary filmmaker Donald Swan (Hamill) heads to the world's largest comic book convention where he encounters a culture of craziness that he's totally unprepared for! Also featuring the voice talent from hit shows Spongebob SquarePants, Futurama, Johnny Bravo and more!

Rated PG-13

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 1/27/2004

Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director/Actor Mark Hamill, Actors Jess Harnell, Billy West and Roger Rose, and Producers Eric Mittleman and Scott Zakarin
• Cameos Menu
• Deleted Scenes
• Cast and Crew Bios
• Sneak Peeks
Disc Two
• “Behind the Voices”
• In-Depth with Kevin  Smith
• Four Color Frenzy
• Commander Courage Radio Show
• Stan Lee on Comic Book Movies
• Don Swan’s Bruce Campbell Interview
• Hugh Hefner on Comics and Women
• ”Behind the Voices” Bios
• About Comic-Con
• Actor Comic Fund
• More Interviews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Comic Book: The Movie (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 24, 2004)

Mainly popularized by the classic This Is Spinal Tap, the “mockumentary” has seen good times in recent years via the work of Tap alumnus Christopher Guest and his company of players. The success of those flicks seemingly inspired others, so Mark Hamill decided to have a go at the comic book industry with the simply titled Comic Book: The Movie. With this effort, Hamill firmly establishes one thing: he’s no Chris Guest.

At the start of Comic, we meet “high school history teacher and comic book lover” Donald Swan (Hamill). He runs a comic store and a fanzine called “Once Upon a Dime”. Swan adores a World War II-era superhero named Commander Courage but dislikes the new re-imaging of the character as an anti-terrorist force called “Codename Courage”.

Hollywood plans a big-screen adaptation of Codename Courage, so they invite Swan to participate as a technical consultant to give the project some fanboy credibility. Little do they know that Swan possesses an agenda. He heads out to LA to meet with them and to attend the San Diego Comic-Con where the studio will formally announced the project. They just want to use him for support, but he plans to utilize his time in an attempt to convince the moviemakers to ditch Codename and go back to the classic Commander.

When he hits LA, Swan heads to the offices of Timely Studio and meets Senior VP for Production Anita Levine (Lori Alan) and her subordinate, Production VP Taylor Donahue (Roger Rose). The studio wants to document the San Diego event, so she assigns Donahue to shepherd Swan around the convention while cameraman Ricky (Jess Harnell) films the whole thing.

In addition, Swan’s friend Derek Sprang (Tom Kenney) comes to San Diego with his wife and son ostensibly to celebrate his anniversary, but he just wants to visit the Comic-Con. Swan also digs up the grandson of Commander Courage creator Jackson Whitney. Swan trots Leo Matusik (Billy West) out to San Diego in an attempt to propel support for the original character.

Comic Book doesn’t enjoy much of a plot, as it mostly focuses on Swan’s attempts to convince the studio to use Commander and not Codename. Subplots emerge in which Ricky tries to help Leo loosen up and learn how to talk to women, and also in which Swan tries to land a copy of the Codename script before the studio makes their announcement.

Nonetheless, most of the movie simply focuses on the characters’ different activities at the Comic-Con, and the flick’s improvised roots become abundantly clear. Comic Book definitely wants badly to be a Chris Guest flick, but unfortunately it lacks the talent both in front of and behind the camera. Don’t get me wrong – the movie actually includes some skilled personnel. Hamill knows most of the participants from their work as voice actors, and the film indeed presents a strong roster of vocal talent.

However, this doesn’t transfer to success in an improvisatory setting where they have to play real people, not a mix of characters. For example, West is wonderful as a slew of personalities on Futurama, but he doesn’t bring much to the part of Leo. Hamill works nicely as the Joker on the Batman animated shows, but he flops as Swan. Ironically, given that Hamill offers easily the most recognizable face here, he does probably the worst work. He tries to hard to play Swan as a passionate and somewhat fey fanboy that he badly overacts the role. The others show some vaguely natural qualities, but with Swan, it always feels like Hamill’s doing shtick and a character, not a person.

The project lacks much form of reality, which makes it little more than general mockery. Frankly, it comes across as little more than a glorified home movie made by some folks with connections in the industry. Comic Book lacks much of the wit and cleverness that make the Guest movies entertaining, and it also fails to present a well-edited and constructed film. It meanders from one area to another with little point, as the filmmakers seem to feel that the wacky bits will make it work.

They don’t. Comic Book musters the occasional chuckle, but the gags vary between pseudo-clever inside jokes to broad shtick with little connection to anything else. At one point, Ricky demonstrates the different vocal qualities of each Beatle. Parnell does this well, but what does it have to do with this movie? Why is this stoner cameraman such a skilled mimic? It makes no sense and adds to the flick’s meandering qualities.

The film includes scads of cameos. I made a list of them but won’t bother to reiterate it due to its length. The DVD touts participants such as Stan Lee, Hugh Hefner, and Kevin Smith, but you’ll find many others as well. All play along with the gag, but few do anything to advance the movie. These elements mostly feel like padding and a futile attempt to lend this misbegotten project some credibility.

Actually, we do find one fairly entertaining guest spot toward the end of the movie. Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters turn up in character as former Army buddies of Jackson Whitney. They claim they invented the comic and push for money. The movie benefits from the presence of two guys who actually know how to improvise, and it briefly benefits from their presence.

But then we return to the same dullness that engulfed us in prior moments, and we remember why we don’t much like Comic Book: The Movie. To be sure, the comic industry seems ripe for mockery, and I don’t doubt the sincerity of all involved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate into an entertaining or incisive movie. Instead, we end up with a rambling and dopey effort that rarely seems like anything made by actual professionals.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus A-

Comic Book: The Movie appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Due to its videotaped origins, Comic Book offered an erratic presentation, but it generally seemed satisfying.

Since most of the movie focused on close-ups, the majority of the came across as fairly well-defined. However, shots that broadened out from there seemed less solid. Some of the wider images presented moderately weak delineation and clarity. Jagged edges popped up with some frequency, and I also noticed examples of light shimmering and edge enhancement. Other than some video artifacting in low-light shots, the image seemed free from source defects.

Colors generally looked fine. The hues never became terrifically vivid or dynamic, but they only rarely came across as a bit bland or muddy. For the most part, the tones appeared clear and accurate. Black levels were a little thin but usually seemed acceptably deep. Low-light images were a bit iffier, as they usually looked somewhat dense. All of this came with the territory, though; as a low-budget video project, Comic Book presented an acceptable image.

Comic Book offered a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that mixed highs and lows. The soundfield created most of the concerns, as it was an odd affair. Most of the dialogue remained right in the center, and a lot of the effects came from that speaker as well; those elements occasionally broadened to the sides and rears, but a lot of the track seemed generally monaural. At least one split-surround example failed badly. During the convention, the filmmakers took speech from the monaural source material and sent it to the right rear spealer. Since this forced all the other audio to drop out, it became a strange distraction.

Music spread to all five channels fairly equally. These made it sound unbalanced, for no real delineation occurred. Instead, the same score came from all around, which felt odd.

Audio quality appeared decent but no better. Speech usually seemed acceptably clear, but edginess interfered on a number of occasions, and the “on the fly” recording techniques sometimes left us with moderately rough dialogue. Effects played a small role and generally sounded reasonably accurate and clean. Music presented bright and tight tones, though the score lacked much dimensionality. Not much depth came up during this track, as it seemed somewhat thin and flat. Given the nature of the project, the audio seemed acceptable, but it never rose above that level, and it often came across as a weirdly fashioned track.

Despite the low profile of Comic Book, this two-DVD set includes a surfeit of supplements. On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary with director/actor Mark Hamill, actors Jess Harnell, Billy West and Roger Rose, and producers Eric Mittleman and Scott Zakarin. All of them sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. Sometimes I complain that commentaries suffer from too much dead air. In this case, however, the track doesn’t present enough empty space. The definition of “chaotic”, much of the time more than one participant speaks all at once, and we even get three or four chatting simultaneously on occasion. This makes the commentary annoying to listen to and tough to follow.

The presented information doesn’t seem terribly interesting anyway. Much of the notes revolve around naming on-screen participants. Some decent trivia about the production and comics in general appears, but much of the time we simply hear an annotated cast listing. The guys also love to clown around and offer funny voices and gags, which isn’t as entertaining as it probably sounds. The group includes some talented performers, but they mostly come across as obnoxious here. This commentary doesn’t offer much of use and will likely leave you with a headache.

Cameos presents a list of the 30-plus guest stars in Comic Book. This feature doesn’t take you to the part of the movie the features the participant. Instead – and perhaps more helpfully – it shows a picture of the person and gives us some quick information about them. It’s a decent way to flesh out the cast listing. Speaking of whom, the Cast and Crew Bios give us entries for Mark Hamill, Billy West, Tom Kenny, Daran Norris, Donna D’Errico, Roger Rose, Jess Harnell, Lori Alan, Scott Zakarin, Eric Mittleman, Jason Cooley, and Creative Light Entertainment. This display decent recaps of the participants.

We get 27 images in the Art Gallery. This nice little section displays comic book covers and other art created for the flick. We see basic ideas sketched by Mark Hamill and then check out different stages on their way to completion.

13 Deleted Scenes appear next. These last between 33 seconds and five minutes, 41 seconds, for a total of 27 minutes and 39 seconds of footage. Not surprisingly, the vast majority seem dull and run on too long with little to show for the time. We get a few seconds of funniness from Jonathan Winters but otherwise the clips fall flat. In a nice touch, each deleted scene is preceded by a quick text that sets up the snippet and lets us know a little about why it was cut.

Finally, the Miramax Sneak Peeks area offers a pair of ads. We get promos for Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and My Boss’s Daughter.

Over on DVD Two, the main attraction comes from Behind the Voices. Shot at the Comic-Con, this 51-minute and 20-second program presents a panel discussion that goes over the movie. Hamill sets up the subject and we then meet the panel that includes West, Harnell, Rose, Zakarin, comics writer Peter David, and voice actors Maurice LaMarche, Gary Owens, Tom Kenney, Jim Cummings, Daran Norris, Lori Alan and Rob Paulsen. The introduction of the participants takes forever; we’re 22 and a half minutes into it before everyone’s seated. Some fun stories and decent information appears, but mostly this feels like an excuse for the actors to do some shtick.

Essentially a longer version of the bits seen in the film, In-Depth with Kevin Smith runs 20 minutes and 25 seconds. It presents the Don Swan interview with Smith. His comments were some of the few moderately amusing parts of the flick, so they’re a welcome addition here, though they meander quite a bit.

Subtitled “The Making of Comic Book: The Movie”, Four Color Frenzy lasts 17 minutes and 22 seconds. It mixes behind the scenes clips and interviews with Harnell, Rose, Zakarin, Hamill, West, Stan Lee, Daran Norris, and Donna D’Errico. They go over the origins of the project, some changes made from the original conception, character development and various aspects of the production. It dwells on a little too much praise and we hear some of the information elsewhere. Still, “Frenzy” provides a fairly good examination of the production.

We find a recreation of an alleged Commander Courage Radio Show. LaMarche, Paulsen, Owen and Cummings do the voices for this seven-minute program. It’s mildly entertaining but no better than that.

More unused footage shows up in the next three pieces. We find Stan Lee on Comic Book Movies (nine minutes, eight seconds), Don Swan’s Bruce Campbell Interview (17:20), and Hugh Hefner on Comics and Women (40:41). Some of Lee’s comments also come from a Comic-Con panel discussion. His piece offers some insightful thoughts and interesting factoids. The Campbell piece just expands on Swan’s attempts to win over Campbell. Unlike the Kevin Smith interview, at least Hamill manages to stay in character the whole time, but it’s not terribly interesting. The Hefner interview offers some surprises; who knew Hef possessed so much comprehension of comics history? The conversation gets pretty dense with obscure information, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to see a different side of such a familiar person.

Note that when the Lee feature ends, we gain access to an Easter egg. The phrase “Have Courage” becomes highlighted; press “enter” and watch a deleted scene.

Another section contains More Interviews. This area includes comments from Mark Evanier (three minutes, 40 seconds), Scott Shaw (4:57), Billy Mumy (4:34), Peter David (5:36), and Paul Dini (5:22). Since Evanier relates his opinions about various elements of the current comic industry, his interview offers some interesting elements. However, the others simply riff on different parts of the fictitious Commander Courage history. They do a surprisingly good job of talking about a non-existent character, but these bits nonetheless don’t offer much since they exist just to connect with the movie’s premise.

A few small bits round out the DVD. ”Behind the Voices” Bios provides entries for Gary Owens, Jim Cummings, Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulsen. These present short looks at their careers. About Comic-Con and ACTOR Comic Fund simply give us single screens with text that tells us more about the subjects.

Comic Book: The Movie feels a lot like something made by college kids with a video camera and some connections. The flick includes talented personnel, but they rarely demonstrate those skills to the film’s advantage, and it plods along without much to make it amusing or involving. The DVD presents fairly average picture and audio plus a shockingly large roster of extras given the obscurity of the piece. While the package seems well done, the movie itself is a dud, so I can’t recommend this release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.75 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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