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The Fantastic Four (1994)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE FANTASTIC FOUR (1994)

Starring: Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staab, Michael Bailey Smith, Joseph Culp, Kat Green

Written By: Craig J. Nevius, Kevin Rock Directed By: Oley Sassone

The Short Version

Behold the Marvel heroes movie no audience was ever meant to see…

…but no one told the cast and crew that.

The Fantastic Four has lots and lots of heart, and begs to be cheered for.

Objectively, it’s not a very good movie.  Or even kinda good.

Subjectively, The Fantastic Four is more fun than it has any right to be.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

GOLDFISH CRACKERS.

Yeah, they’re cheap, but how can you not love goldfish crackers?


Pairs Well With...

SCHLITZ.

It’s cheap, but it deserves some respect.

“I think it's made us feel that our worst character defects are in fact our greatest strengths.”

“Holy Freud, Batman!  I think you're right!”


The details of the following tale vary, depending on who tells it (there’s even a documentary in the works), but the gist is this:

Once upon a time, someone held the rights to turn Marvel Comics’ “Fantastic Four” into a movie.  But those rights were about to expire, and unless there was an actual film in the can in quick order, they’d be lost forever.  So, where does one go to make a superhero flick with a deadline of just a few weeks and a budget of roughly a million and a half bucks and no more?

Why, one goes to Roger Corman, of course!

And then, after Mr. Corman works his usual magic and the rights are secure once more, one does the underhanded thing and buys the movie back with the intention of shelving it, never to see the light of day.  Needless to say, one doesn’t tell the cast and crew (or, in most versions, Mr. Corman) about that part until after the fact.

Dust collects, until…

Suddenly, one of the most famous pieces of bootleg cinema ever makes it in front of the public eye, and becomes the stuff of legend.

Okay, so the public generally agrees that it’s not very good stuff, per se, but it hits the legend mark none the less.

As for me… I’d love to tell you that The Fantastic Four is a great movie that time forgot, but objectively speaking, I can’t.  Better stuff than Batman & Robin or Daredevil, sure, but so are some beer commercials… and come to think of it, some of those beer commercials probably have bigger budgets than The Fantastic Four does.  Heart and creativity may often be able trump obstacles presented by a lack of funds – just ask any decent indie filmmaker – but when it comes to heroes with powers like these, there’s just no way to do it right without the kind of hardcore special effects that the relatively tiny amount of money available simply couldn’t buy, and given a script that goes off in directions that lead straight into parts of left field where the budget really can’t follow… well…  At that point, even the likelihood of making a “Corman classic” becomes more than a little remote.

Dammit, though, this cast and crew try, and as far as they knew at the time, they had every reason to.  For most of them, The Fantastic Four represented the “Big Break” that everyone in Hollywood (and its less expensive metaphorical suburbs) always talks about.  That “Big Break” had, after all, happened to many others in Roger Corman’s employ, so why not them?  The heart and soul and sincerity that pour out of the screen toward any viewer capable of feeling real feelings is almost too much to take; indeed, for me, the experience of watching The Fantastic Four was not unlike that of watching a particularly awesome high school musical, only without the songs.  And I do mean awesome, because this movie is fun.

Okay, so Alex Hyde-White is just this side of “dreadfully miscast” playing role of team leader Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic.  And maybe the special effects used to make him stretch his arms and feet to impossible lengths (we won’t speculate on any further stretching he might do after the film’s final scene) are more than just a wee bit lame.

And maybe the “ghost effect” used to make Sue Storm – aka Invisible Woman – turn invisible looks less polished than the same trick done in a movie made in 1932.  (White Zombie, if you’re wondering.) 

Yeah, the fire effects used to make Johnny Storm – aka Human Torch – “flame on” are only slightly less hilarious than the fact that he blocks a death ray with his butt before turning around to finish the job in a slightly more dignified but just as badly animated fashion.

I suppose that there’s no arguing against the stone truth that the apparent foam rubber suit used to turn Ben Grimm into The Thing (and into a different actor altogether) wouldn’t even pass muster at a respectable Halloween party, and that it only gets worse when he talks.

Speaking of talking, I’ll admit that Doctor Doom sounds ridiculous trying to talk past his otherwise kinda cool looking facemask, which muffles his dialogue so badly that a change in overall volume is required to facilitate understanding.  (I will defend his and everyone else’s dialogue, however.  Yeah, I know it’s goofy, but it’s fun to listen to precisely because it’s goofy, and hey: getting a reference to competitor DC’s Batman in there is a nice touch.)

Sure, the soundtrack is ridiculous, especially when it starts sounding like the obnoxious cousin of a score from a screen-adapted Russian romance novel.

Fine; the angle with the gnomish “Jeweler” character is a bit weird in an off-the-charts kind of way that reeks of someone reaching for a “Burtonesque” subplot… and unfortunately grabbing it dead-on.  And yes, it’s a total waste of runtime that just muddles up an otherwise respectable plot.  (That plot, by the way, is a reasonable facsimile of the classic “Fantastic Four” origin story.)

All right, I know that all of the above is just the tip of a very big iceberg, and that by most any critical standard one can possibly think of, The Fantastic Four is a ridiculously underfunded train wreck and, at the end of the day, a really bad movie.

But…

But I also know that this cheap and cheesy take on The Fantastic Four really is more fun than the hundred-million-plus opus Batman & Robin.  Or Marvel’s own latter-day money pits Daredevil and Elektra and Spider-Man 3.  Or the Hollywood take on Fantastic Four from 2005, for that matter. I know that Rebecca Staab’s performance as Sue Storm makes me smile, and that Kat Green is genuinely excellent as blind sculptor Alicia Masters.  I know that this movie made me want to cheer when so many other “hero” flicks don’t.

I know that The Fantastic Four was never meant to see the light of day, but dammit, I’m glad that some bootlegger got the ball rolling to make sure that it did.

Bottom line, The Fantastic Four isn’t a good movie by any critical standard, but I love it anyway.

I guess heart does count for something after all.  Maybe even enough to beat the odds and make a “Corman classic” out of something that the people who hired Corman’s company in the first place wanted to keep buried forever.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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