The Fantastic Four

Synopsis: When an experimental space voyage goes awry, four people are forever changed by cosmic rays: Reed Richards, inventor and leader of the group gains the ability to stretch his body and takes the name Mister Fantastic. His girlfriend, Sue Storm, gains the ability to turn invisible and create force fields becoming The Invisible Girl. Her little brother, Johnny Storm, becomes The Human Torch with the ability to control fire, including covering his own body with flame. The pilot Ben Grimm is turned into the super-strong, super-tough Thing. Together they become a team of super-heroes and use their unique powers to foil the evil plans of villains.

The Fantastic Four 2.5

Legend has it that this 1994 el-cheapo film was cobbled together with the help of b-movie mastermind Roger Corman in order to safeguard Constantin Film’s rights to the material (they would later produce the two big budget films of recent years). It was hardly a labour of love, and it can be painful to watch. In fact, some might consider this a traumatic experience.

But I suppose one could look at the bright side and say that “at least every single dollar of their 1.5 million budget is right there on the screen”

Honestly, it’s hard to review a film that was produced so poorly. Finding the positives in something that was never meant to be any good and that wasn’t even meant to be seen is a challenging task to say the least.

But here goes:

Compared to the two big-budget extravaganzas that Fox released, the age of the characters is more appropriate. Or, at least, they TRY to make them more appropriate. There SHOULD be an age difference between Reed Richards and Sue Storm – he is the eldest by quite a few years (even if the adult characters are virtually indistinguishable in age). Perhaps Fox felt that its audience would have a problem with this? Well, I had a problem with a youthful Mister Fantastic with nary a grey hair. So there.

This story is a little bit more akin to the comics. For one, Dr. Doom’s origin isn’t as left-field as it was in the Fox releases. In fact, he also looks the part way more, mask, armour, hood and all. As for the minutia, it frequently changes in the comics as the series gets passed along from one generation to the next in the first place. So, while it’s not exactly as I remembered it, this film at least keeps the spirit of the source material.

That’s about it.

Now for the “good” stuff:

The story takes a weird turn at one point by introducing a weird underground society/gang/civilization led by a troll-like old coot. I don’t know what the point of this was, other than to contrive the creation of The Fantastic Four and include the Alicia Masters character in a more substantial fashion. But I don’t remember this from the comics and it felt like an intruder from another b-movie (likely a rehash from one of Corman’s many other cheapo productions!).

As expected, the special effects are SO bad, it’s beyond reason (but, given the budget, it’s hardly surprising). Think about it: how can you create Mister Fantastic and The Human Torch’s powers on film pre-CGI? Well, let’s just say that traditional animation and old-school visual effects had to be used. It’s laughable, but it’s also kind of amusing to see. Frankly, the director managed to make it work half the time – and that’s pretty good, all things considered.

Still, this doesn’t justify the outrageously over-the-top acting from what MUST be non-actors. I’m surprised to see that the actors playing Johnny Storm and Dr. Doom are still getting gigs to this day, because they are hilariously bad. Jay Underwood (Storm) overacted like karazaaaaaay and couldn’t even stay still when they were in the freeze ray – he kept wobbling. As for Joseph Culp (Doom), his wild gesticulations have to seen to be believed (I’m guessing that he was trying to compensate for being behind a mask most of the film. But, geeeeezus, it’s an awful touch!)

‘The Fantastic Fiour’ is such a mishmash of different tones that it’s hard to know if they were taking themselves seriously, going kitsch, trying to be an action film, a comedy, …etc. Sometimes I got the sense that it was either written on the fly (maybe even by a rotating list of writers daily), that the editor was on crack withdrawal and/or that the director had no idea what he was doing or what he wanted. It’s really just all over the place.

Having said that, they made do with VERY little money and resources – and they probably had little time to put this thing together (seeing as the only point was to have a finished product, and nothing else!). So I give the filmmakers kudos for achieving what they did. While it’s a dismally-made film, there is a blueprint for something decent in there.

It’s just a shame that their names will forever be associated with this mess (legend has it that they were not even privy to the fact that they were cinematic cannon fodder until well after the fact).

Nota bene: my appreciation of the film is higher than 2.5, but it’s such a bad film, technically, that I have to dock it many points. It’s simply NOT a good film. And yet I would watch this over many films I’ve rated higher than this. Necessity is the mother of invention, and these people proved it in spades; that’s worth something in my eyes.

What do you think?

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