Fantastic Four (1994)

ff-1994-poster“It’s clobberin’ time!”

The Scoop: 1994 PG and directed by Oley Sassone and starring Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, and Michael Bailey Smith

Tagline: Part Elastic, Part Invisible, Part Fire, Part Stone

Summary Capsule: Four bright eyed and bushy tailed friends battle the ultimate evil: homeless sewer folk!

Justin’s Rating: So, if I have a brilliant mind — and I do — there’s a good chance I’ll be turned into stone too?

Justin’s Review: According to the Online Film Critic Association of Associates, it is a Movie Law of sorts that whenever the 1994 Roger Corman version of Fantastic Four is discussed, mentioned, alluded to, or dreamt about, the entire saga behind the making and non-releasing of the movie must be disclosed in painstaking detail. It’s almost as old of a tradition in film circles as the ritual bashing of all SNL-based flicks. So… here we go!

First of all, although Roger Corman is always associated with this version of FanFour, he is not the director, just the producer. Actually, this is what makes it much, much worse. Corman isn’t known for making films that circulate in art house societies; he’s the kind of hack that will gladly release a two-hour cinematic effort that consists of a camera filming a piece of dog poo the entire time, as long as the budget was $1 and it made $3 back in rentals. He’s out for profit, not respect, and so the name “Roger Corman” plastered on anything should send you screaming for the exit. While I’m sure there was a large contingent of Fantastic Four fans in the early 90’s eager for a big screen version of their heroes, no one was exactly glad to see Corman step up and take control. So what happened, really, and why can you never find this film in rental stores — stores that shamelessly feature eight Hellraiser straight-to-video sequels and can still sleep like a baby at night — and why is the only place you can even view it is either off the net or on a bootlegged tape?

The official story wavers, depending on which version you listen to. What is generally agreed upon is that either (a) the movie was made just because the rights to the intellectual property would’ve expired otherwise, so it bought more time to make a good FF flick for whoever owned it, or (b) it was made, but not funded nearly enough for the quality it deserved, and the studios deliberately mothballed it rather than get a critical drubbing over its release. Since there were actual marketing efforts around 1994 to get the word out about FF, I’m going with “B” here. The movie was made for a tad under $2 million — I heard $1.6 somewhere — and it shows, particularly in set design and special effects. It definitely deserved more, particularly considering the subject matter. $2 million might cover an Alpo dog food commercial nowadays, but that’s about it. However, if you look at it from a glass-half-full-of-poison perspective, they actually did a fairly entertaining job of stretching that budget (no pun intended) and made something that did earn the right to be seen somewhere at some point. But nope, no video release, not even on TV. Nada.

Enough of dat. We gots some movie to clobber!

After the rout in the theater battle of ‘05, where the new and fancy-pants version of Fantastic Four broke the morale of critic soldiers and sent us screaming for the rear lines, it was downright refreshing to partake of a simpler yet kookier version of this superhero team. Honestly? It’s even a better movie in most respects, offering heapings of humor (both intentional and “Hey Jerry, you gotta come over to my place quick, there’s something we gotta point at and laugh at together like the hearty folk we are!”) and a strong streak of faithfulness to the original source material (even more original than the 2005 version, natch). Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing that I’m gonna marry any time soon, but everyone sort of expects this to be absolutely rancid from the whole never-released-anywhere legend, and the truth is that Fantastic Four is neither so bad, nor so good as to warrant any sort of extreme statement. Statements! To the extreme!

The movie begins with both Reed/Mr. Fantastic and Victor von Doom/Dr. Doom in college, performing elaborate experiments with classic Star Trek series equipment on some sort of traveling space phenomena known as “Colossus”. Doom gets horribly burned and is thought dead, but Reed goes about with his life just ducky. Ten years later, Reed gets ready for another experiment on Colossus, and enlists his friend Ben Grimm/The Thing to pilot his shuttle, and drags along two decidedly non-astronauts-nor-scientists in the form of brother/sister Sue Storm/Invisible Girl and Johnny Storm/Human Torch. Through the magic of cheap special effects and quick editing, they go into space and have some sort of bad accident that crash lands them to earth with new super powers. Mr. Fantastic can once in a while stretch his arm or leg really long, along with whatever super-stretchy outfit he’s wearing that day. Invisible Girl gets the cheapest effect, with the SFX crew just wiping away half of her body or not showing anything and then just having her talk from behind the camera. Human Torch gets the ability to light his hand on fire and shoot fire beams (?), but he’s kind of freaked out by being on fire, as we would reasonably expect. And The Thing turns into a really spiffy-looking critter who tends to walk through posterboard walls at the drop of a hat.

Their main conflict in the film comes from two baddies: Dr. Doom, who somewhat shoots electricity and overacts with his arms like he’s a grounded hummingbird, and The Jeweler, a guy obsessed with jewels and keeps in his pay a whole slew of homeless people in the sewer. ‘Cause that’s where the homeless live. And they are there to do your bidding. The Jeweler wants to kidnap Thing’s blind girlfriend to make her his “queen”, and Doom wants to build some sort of vague laser to blow up stuff with. Good thing we have a brand new supergroup to deal with it all!

I’m not going to brush over the bad parts here — this is ideal if you wanted to get a movie mocking party going with some witty and loud friends. The acting is for the most part atrocious, almost deliberately so; I’m not sure if they were attempting to really step up the camp factor here, but everyone doesn’t act even remotely like normal people. Reed is a whole lot more likable than his 2005 counterpart, although Johnny (to balance things out) is hyper-spastically annoying. At many points in the movie, significant details are brushed over and time flashes forward in weird bursts (after their crash, the FanFour are brought to what they think is a normal military medical installation for tests, but it takes them forever to figure out that it’s actually Doom’s base, because I think the filmmakers made that last detail up toward the end just to not have to worry about making the team travel much).

There is much to be praised, as long as we’re just looking at it for entertainment and not as any definitive treatise on Marvel comic legends. The score is very well-done, some hybrid of Superman and Jurassic Park, for starters. The Thing’s makeup and facial expressions reminded me a lot (in a good way) of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their outfits. There’s quite a few funny moments and even exciting ones, as long as you’re willing to keep expectations low — the team taking out a whole room of gun-toting goons is the highlight. Even the romance here between Reed and Sue is more believable than the awkward, Alba-laced 2005 version, which maybe isn’t saying much.

See, I love campy stuff, and campy superhero flicks done on a shoestring budget aren’t as common as you might think. For that, I thank Fantastic Four for being my FF entertainment of choice. Flame on!

Someone in this family got beaten silly with the ugly stick

Someone in this family got beaten silly with the ugly stick

Intermission!

  • In an interview with filmmaker Kevin Smith, Fantastic Four creator Stan Lee said that, unbeknown to the cast and crew, this movie was never intended to be released, and was made only because the studio who owned the rights to make a Fantastic Four movie would have lost the rights if they did not begin production by a certain date.
  • Currently rivals the The Star Wars Holiday Special as the most popular bootlegged film among comic and sci-fi fans. Interestingly, like the Star Wars special, it is also roundly despised by those very fans as well as it own creators.
  • In 1961, Stan Lee created what he wanted to call “The Fabulous Four” (renamed, obviously) as a rival to DC comics’ Justice League of America. The group of superheroes were radically different from the norm at the time: no secret identities, a brother-and-sister duo, and a comic book first of two superheroes marrying. For a while, this was THE comic that put Marvel in front, and boasted the label “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” on front.
  • George Gaynes, aka “Lassard” from the Police Academy flicks, as the professor!
  • Ladies and gentlemen, a trip through your animated solar system! And an actually decent musical score!
  • “Special Effects by Mr. Film” Is he related to Mr. Coffee?
  • This is one very excitable professor
  • The video game is an obvious animation
  • Sue and Johnny are really young
  • What the heck is “Colossus” anyway?
  • Victor is a screamer, ain’t he?
  • Science will get you burned, then killed. It sucks.
  • Men hugging!
  • Reed’s got a Superman hair curl going on
  • I swear, the piano theme sounds like Jurassic Park. I SWEAR.
  • So the Fantastic Four got their name from… mom?
  • He can smell a diamond? Do diamonds… smell at all?
  • Me likee the thick fake European accents
  • I like any guy who says “night… thickens!” to himself
  • That laser grid alarm system is quite easily navigated
  • Wow, that shuttle looks straight out of 1933… Nice job, model artists!
  • The shuttle chunks that crash land don’t harm the grass or plow into the dirt at all. Strange!
  • Johnny needs Ritalin.
  • Johnny finds out about his superpowers by sneezing
  • I wish I had homeless minions to bring me a queen
  • The Thing’s makeup is actually decently done
  • Cheesy doctor with cheesy acting
  • The dialogue is FAR wittier than the 2005 version. Seriously!
  • Weak girls have weak punches
  • Thing’s PJs
  • Doom’s reaction to the Four’s escape is wonderfully low key
  • So Thing can lose his outer shell and become normal again if a blind girl hits on him?
  • Thing and Torch like to say their catch phrases about ten times each in this film
  • Hahaha… the super-long waving hand is so cheesy, it’s great
  • Although Alicia Masters is blind, we see a point-of-view shot from her view when Doctor Doom chloroforms her.

Groovy Quotes

Sue: (about Reed) He’s dreamy!

Reed: We’re… fine? Doesn’t that bother anyone, just a little?

The Thing: I love walking into a trap, don’t you?
Mr. Fantastic: I don’t know, never done it before.

The Thing: It’s clobberin’ time!

Human Torch: Flame on!

Mr. Fantastic: I think it’s made us feel that our worst character defects are in fact our greatest strengths.
Human Torch: Holy Freud, Batman. I think you’re right.

Mom: Look at you… the fantastic four! (music swells)

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Fantastic Four (2005)
  • Captain America (1990)
  • Spider-Man
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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: “I Just Wanna Be Loved” Says Dr. Doom and The Thing | THE EXTREMIS REVIEW

  2. The weird thing about this film, if you ignore the obvious oversteps, like the youth of the actors and the shmacty acting, this film really gets the spirit of the Silver Age comics. I think it is a more worthy comic book adaptation then a lot of adaptations out there. Batman Returns, Forever, and Robin, I’m looking at you.

    Happy Fandom.

  3. Reblogged this on THE EXTREMIS REVIEW and commented:
    Take a look at this review of the infamous first Fantastic Four adaptation.
    The weird thing about this film is, if you ignore the obvious oversteps, like the youth of the actors and the shmacty acting, it really understands the spirit of the Silver Age comics. I think it is a more worthy comic book adaptation then a lot of adaptations out there. Batman Returns, Forever, and Robin; I’m looking at you.

  4. Pingback: /AFK: The Stare | Bio Break

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