I love the Fantastic Four. I’m sure you do too. Everybody knows Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny, the intrepid scientist family who venture into outer space only to be mutated by cosmic rays and gifted with powers. Then becoming Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Thing and The Human Torch. Thus, The Fantastic Four.
Growing up in comic book stores and movie rental establishments, everybody always talked about ‘that Fantastic Four movie’. My initial response ways, ‘oh! Cool! They made an FF movie? How did I not know about this?’ At which point some poor clerk somewhere would have to explain to me the whole backstory of one of the most infamous cult films ever made but never released.
The story goes that Bernd Eichinger bought the film rights to the Fantastic Four from Marvel for $250,000. After attempting to get the movie made as a big budget movie for many years nothing was happening and he was nearing the end of his option. He reached out to noted low budget film producer Roger Corman with the intention of creating a Fantastic Four feature film that would allow him to keep the rights, while attempting to find financing for a big budget version of the Fantastic Four.
The venture worked. Bernd Eichinger made the crappy low budget version, kept the rights, and eventually, in 2005, made a big budget film. The low-budget Corman film was never released. Some have even suggested that it was never intended to be released.
In the pre-internet era, this baby was a coveted item. I remember seeing VHS copies going for $50. I suppose one should take into consideration that pre-internet also means pre-comic book movie boom. So, people in the nerd culture used to be pretty veracious when it came to live action adaptations of their favorite four-color heroes.
I first saw the film at a friend’s house on a VHS tape that was so blown out you could barely see what was happening.
The film chronicles the origin of both the Four and Dr Doom and their inevitable conflict in a fairly adept manor. The film is shoddy, sure. It’s made for five dollars, the acting is bad, and the visual effects are non-existent. But the best part of the film is the fact that everything, accept for good acting, happens on screen. Oh, sure the film is hokey, and campy as all get out. And the character’s decision-making is questionable at best. (Reed let’s Johnny and Sue accompany him on the rocket to outer space because Sue’s hot. Literally. He’s in the middle of saying, “Maybe you guys should sit this one out.” When Sue walks down the down the stairs and he gets all tongue-tied. It’s really terrible) But in the age of movies that inundate you with a CGI cacophony it’s cool that everyone is wearing real costumes. Case in point: The Thing. Ben Grimm’s rubber suit is amazing. It’s perfect. Strangely, it’s better than the one that the one that Michael Chiklis wore in the ’05 version of the FF.
The film has a painfully quaint center. It’s so earnest in its aw shucks attitude that it’s almost sickening. There are so many close ups of people smiling into the camera that you’re almost forced to contemplate the possibility that the entire film was just b-roll that some editor is using to select footage to make a cheesy 90’s sitcom opening montage from.
The film is a record of what could have been. As if super hero movies, and comic book movies in general, hadn’t had a long enough road to being taken seriously, this film could have set the genre back another ten years. And that’s why I enjoy it so feverishly. It’s a constant roller coaster of “oh, man. This was almost a thing.” The near miss of this is what makes it so enjoyable. Well, that and the crappy rubber suits. I love those.
This whole film feels like a psychotically rambling Craig’s list post. It’s creepy, weird, trying too hard to be nice, but the inner mania keeps you reading… or watching, as the case may be. This version of the Fantastic Four is terrible, but y’know what? At least they didn’t put them in black leather.
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Tagged: comic book films, comic books, dr doom, fantastic four, johnny storm, mole man, reed richards, roger corman
Posted in: Cult Movies, Featured (Film), Film, Film Reviews, Miscellaneous, Super Hero Movies