With the popularity of comic books in Hollywood, it’s only natural that they’d get the same treatment for documentaries, as well. And, well, over the past few years, we’ve gotten quite a few comic book documentaries, mostly as extras on DVDs, but documentaries nonetheless. And now, the recent Starz documentary Comic Books Unbound has hit home video and, well, it does do the format justice. However, it’s not as good as it could’ve been, and we’ll go through the faults in closer details once we zip past the synopsis.
From superheroes to superstars, Hollywood has always turned to comic books for imagination and inspiration. In this Starz Inside documentary, discover the history of comics from page to screen through the evolution and revolutions that have changed entertainment forever. Its a heroes’ journey of hits, misses, and unstoppable superpowers, featuring Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men and Batman films (including The Dark Knight), Iron Man, Hellboy II, Sin City, The Incredible Hulk, Fritz the Cat, Blade, American Splendor, Fantastic Four, Wanted A History of Violence, Captain America, 300, Persepolis and beyond, plus revealing interviews with Guillermo del Toro, Stan Lee, Robert Downey Jr., Zak Penn, Edward Norton, Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Neal Adams, Bryan Singer, Roger Corman, Avi Arad, Mike Mignolia, Paul Pope, Richard Donner, Jim Steranko, and many more.
Now, this documentary has a big order to fill. It takes the big risk of covering the entire history of the comics in less than sixty minutes. Yeah, a tall order and, sadly, one that it doesn’t quite pull off. Just think about it for a minute. More than seventy years of history jammed into sixty minutes? Yeah, the math doesn’t really add up, if you ask me. Regardless, the creators behind the Comic Books Unbound documentary do give it a fair shot, but, in the end, it falls just a little bit short. Which is a shame because, as it starts off, it seems like it’s going to be this incredibly in-depth look at all the major comic book characters, and related feature films, from the start. We get these great looks at the early theatrical serials and then, things just start flying.
And I mean flying. We start to skip over movies and characters and events really quickly. And that, to me, is the main fault of the documentary. It really just lightly touches upon each era, but never really goes in depth. Any avid comic book fan won’t learn anything new here, but, to be honest, some newbies to the format may actually learn a thing or to, and it seems like that is who this documentary is geared toward. Don’t know about the comic book censorship of the 1950s? Well, they touch upon it here. The revolutionary 1980s? Also here. Most of the big events are here, but not all of them.
So, to any of you die-hard comic fans, this is worth checking out, but you’ll likely not learn anything new. However, it’s nice to see how they managed to really bring the comic book and feature films topics together quite nicely. They don’t let either of the topics really overpower the other, as each have a fair swing at your attention. We get plenty of clips from a host of movies, including some of the big hits of the past summer. And, I will admit, it’s so odd to see Ed Norton involved in an interview for The Incredible Hulk after all of the controversy surrounding the film earlier this year, but it appears this is one of those pre-release EPK interviews.
Still, we get to see even some of the lesser known titles get a fair swing, like Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which gets a great amount of time in this documentary. I do want to point out that, thankfully, the documentary also quickly touches upon the movies that, well, people didn’t realize were actually based on comics, like A History of Violence or Road To Perdition. It would’ve been nice to see more about these films in particular, but with all of the documentary, we only lightly touch upon each topic. I will say that I was very surprised to see the famed Felix the Cat touched upon in here, plus it’s nice to see the underground comic movement looked at, even briefly.
And for those wondering, the documentary is divided into eight parts. The documentary is divided into “The Early Years: The 1930s, 40s, and 50s; Comic Counterculture: 1960s; The Super ’70s; Back to the Future: 1980s; The Seekers: 1990; Modern Times: 1990s – 2000s; The New Wave: 2000s, and; The Future.
All in all, Comic Books Unbound is a good documentary, one that gives you a broad sense of the comic culture, but not a real close look. There’s definitely a lot left to be explored here and if this release proves to be a success, maybe we can expect more Comic Books Unbound releases. Personally, I’d Recommend it for those who are just getting into comics or really dig comic movies (but don’t read the comic books), but the hardcore comic fans may want to rent it before purchasing the title. Still, Comic Books Unbound does give a quick overview at the history of this great medium, but I find it could have gone a bit deeper if it allowed itself to run longer than an hour.
The DVD release of Comic Books Unbound is a pretty no-frills affair. The audio and video transfer is standard and looks good, but not great. It’s above broadcast quality, no doubt, and looks pretty good for a television documentary release. The extras are very thin for this release. In fact, the only extras are a collection of pre-menu trailers and interview outtakes from the movie. That’s all. A few minutes of extras do compliment the main feature nicely, but it would have been nice for more content to be included. However, given the focus of the documentary itself, it’s easy to understand why the bonus features are lacking.
I can only imagine how much it might have cost to get all those involved, and obtain more film clips, all together again for the bonus features.
Overall, it’s a good documentary, but it only touches upon the subject without really diving into it, which is its only major flaw. Other than that, it’s a nice look into the world of comics, one which may actually entice some newcomers into the fan-base. The DVD is a good release, in terms of audio and video transfer, but it could have used more special features to round out the disc. Still, the DVD release of Comic Books Unbound would make a solid Rental for a weekend night, or, if you can find it for the right price, it would fit into any comic fan’s DVD collection. If they pushed a little more, maybe went a bit deeper into the world of comics, it’d be a great documentary, not just a good one, but for what we get, it’s pretty good.
Comic Books Unbound hits DVD on November 4th, 2008.