Roger Corman's Fantastic Four (1994)


First things first, the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four movie (made in 1994 and never released to the general public) is not a great movie, however - in context - it's not as bad as it could have been.

And a mischievous part of me wonders if, in years to come, it may even be considered superior to the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot from Fox and Chronicle's Josh Trank.

The 1990's Fantastic Four weaves comic book mythology with some of its own making and opens with college students Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp) working on a scientific doohickey to drain energy from a passing spatial MacGuffin codenamed Colossus.

The experiment goes wrong, the machine explodes and Victor is presumed dead.

Then it's ten years later and Reed is a pioneering scientist, planning a space trip to examine the returning Colossus, accompanied by his childhood sweetheart Sue Storm (Rebecca Staab), her hot-headed brother Johnny (Jay Underwood) and pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith).

Unfortunately, once again, things don't go according to plan. A key part of Reed's spaceship - a giant crystal - has been stolen, and swapped for a fake, by a sewer-dwelling thief called the Jeweller (Ian Trigger) as a gift for the unrequited object of his desire, the blind sculptress Alicia Masters (Kat Green)... who happens to be hung up on Ben Grimm!

These shenanigans all take place under the watchful eye of a shadowy costumed villain calling himself Doctor Doom (Reed's old college buddy 'back from the dead'), who seems determined to sabotage Reed's space flight. However, seeing that the crystal has been switched out he lets matters run their course.

Reed's ship crashes, after passing through Colossus and the four adventurers find themselves gifted with superhuman powers.

They are kidnapped by Doom's people and taken to his castle in the cheery Eastern European country of Latveria, for experimentation. Doom wants to somehow transfer their superpowers to himself, so he can take over the world (or something).

You can't help but imagine that the blasted plains of Latveria are actually in Central Park given how quickly characters flit from New York to Doom's castle and back again.

But then again, the whole affair looks like a cheap '80s TV movie with its dodgy special effects and cheesy dialogue.

In fairness to Craig J. Nevius and Kevin Rock's script, Doctor Doom starts off as a possibly quite menacing villain working behind the scenes, but becomes increasing camp as the story progresses and Joseph Culp gesticulates ever more wildly and chews the scenery. It's only really in Doom's final moments of taunting Reed that we see glimpses of the great comic book villain.

The Fantastic Four's superpowers aren't exactly that super either. While Ben Grimm gets an okay, orange, rubber body suit when he's The Thing (played by Carl Ciarfalio), Reed's elasticity is amusingly restricted to either stretching one arm  or one leg at a time through very primitive special effects. Sue's trademark invisibility is equally cheap, but she does - in the final confrontation - eventually get to create force fields as well... so that's something.

Johnny though rather drew the short straw with his "Human Torch" powers being limited for the most part to making his right hand catch alight and project flame. He only goes truly, all-body, "flame on" for his final New York-saving stunt - which involves him outracing a laser deathbeam projected from Doom's castle (don't ask!!!)

Ultimately, we're looking at cheap special effects, low-budget production values, a so-so script (it might not know science, but it does a good job of paying homage to the source material) and mediocre acting. But, its heart is in the right place, and even though Marvel Comic's greatest supervillain, Doctor Doom, kind of turns into a vaudeville act, Roger Corman's Fantastic Four isn't really that bad.

It's not a film to be taken too seriously (Reed's elasticated arm waving through the roof of the limo as he and Sue are driven away at the end is simply hilarious), but in the context of the time and situation in which it was made, it stands up surprisingly well.


BACKGROUND:
(from Wikipedia)

In 1983, German producer Bernd Eichinger met with Marvel Comics' Stan Lee at Lee's Los Angeles home to explore obtaining an option for a movie based on the Fantastic Four. The option was not available until three years later, when Eichinger's Neue Constantin film company obtained it for a price the producer called "not enormous" and which has been estimated to be $250,000.

Despite some interest from Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures, budget concerns precluded any production, and with the option scheduled to expire on December 31, 1992, Neue Constantin asked Marvel for an extension. With none forthcoming, Eichinger planned to retain his option by producing a low-budget Fantastic Four film, reasoning, he said in 2005, "They didn't say I had to make a big movie."

In September 1992, he teamed with B-movie specialist Roger Corman, who agreed to produce the film on a $1 million budget.

Production began on December 28, 1992 under music video director Oley Sassone. Storyboards were drawn by artist Pete Von Sholly. The 21-day or 25-day production was shot on the Concorde Pictures sound stage in Venice, California, as well as in Agoura, California for a spacecraft-crash scene, the Loyola Marymount campus for a lab-explosion scene, and the former Pacific Stock Exchange building in downtown Los Angeles for team-meeting scenes.

Costume designer Réve Richards recalled in 1993 going to Golden Apple Comics on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles to buy Fantastic Four comic books for research, and, upon explaining his task, "[T]hese people in the store just swarmed me and said, 'You are going to be faithful to it?' And I told them, 'This is why I am buying these books.'"

Paul Ahern was hired as weapons consultant, and Scott Billups for computer visual effects. The special-effects makeup was by John Vulich and Everett Burrell of Optic Nerve. Stuntman Carl Ciarfalio, who wore a rubber suit to portray the monstrous superhero Thing, worked with actor Michael Bailey Smith, who played the Thing's human self, Ben Grimm, so that their mannerisms would match.

During the months of post-production, music composers David and Eric Wurst personally contributed $6,000 to finance a 48-piece orchestra for the soundtrack.

Read more here.

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