Fantastic Four in Cinema – Part 1: Labor of Love
by Rick Lundeen
Although there have been some good bits and highlights, for the most part, the poor FF have not had a lot of luck at the cinema. Attempts have been made, but by and large, they’ve fallen short. As we wait for Kevin Feige to give us news, hope, casting info and a time table for when a Marvel owned and controlled FF film will FINALLY come out, I think about what has gone before.
Back in the early 1990’s, Roger Corman and Constantine films put together The Fantastic Four with 4 unknowns (Alex Hyde-White/Reed, Rebecca Staab/Sue, Jay Underwood/Johnny, Michael Bailey smith/Ben) playing the FF and another Joseph Culp) portraying Dr. Doom. This was very sad, in that while the cast and crew really put their heart into the production and gave it their all, it was doomed, excuse the pun. There’s even a documentary about it on Amazon Prime, I believe, called “Doomed”. Turns out, the studio never had any intention of putting the film in theaters, it was just a business maneuver. I forget whether it was just to test the waters regarding what *could* be done with a big budget or just a place holder to keep the rights.
It really was a shame because it’s actually not *that* bad of a film. Oh, it’s not great by any stretch (sorry), but it’s not as bad as many make it out to be. One reason is the quality of the copy you watched. Most of us diehard FF fans first saw this movie on a bootleg VHS tape in the ’90’s. And it wasn’t just a copy, it was A FIFTH GENERATION COPY. The picture quality was horrific and certainly didn’t do the scenery and lighting any favors. The sound was also bad which effected how we heard lines delivered, etc. The *only* reason I know this is because I eventually watched a better copy on YouTube. Still wasn’t pristine by any means but a much cleaner copy. It gave me the opportunity to watch it again with a more critical and appraising eye.
First, the lack of a budget is apparent regarding special effects and animation and that they were kept to a minimum. But it *must* be acknowledged that they shot the whole film for 1 million dollars. That’s nothing. Any old low budget rom com of the day back then would cost a lot more, never mind a sci-fi superhero film with prosthetics and special effects! Back then, a standard, 45 minute episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation cost over 2 million — every week! The Thing’s costume took alone took up half the budget. And it was worth it — it looked great, right down to the independent motors that moved his mouth.
Maybe it was my exposure to Doctor Who in the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s and watching what they tried to do on an even worse budget. Either way, it didn’t look that bad. They got the FF’s costumes right but timing is everything, and currently in the comic, the FF still had the blue costumes with the white collars, boots, gloves and belt. It took the right artist to make that work in the comic and the film would have been better off with the black boots, gloves, etc. Live and learn. Doctor Doom’s costume was also great and so far, in every way, it’s STILL the best Dr. Doom we’ve had so far, period. There was mocking of his voice, not being able to understand him behind the mask. A lot easier with the cleaner film copy. But it’s always easier to mock.
There were problems, in that the acting was uneven, some of the dialog was so-so, The Jeweler was a villain no one really wanted and Doom’s thugs were mostly unwanted comic relief. There was a side story about some gem blah blah blah but the FF’s final confrontation with Doom, Johnny racing the laser beam (choreography mapped out on an old Fleischer Superman cartoon) and Reed’s final face off with Doom was actually vintage comic book FF. They even honored the comic by having the team in costume for Reed and Sue’s wedding. We won’t dwell on the rubber hand at the end.
In the end, even though the project was sabotaged from the beginning, it was a labor of love for everyone involved. It’s a real shame that even now, I don’t believe there’s any chance of it ever being remastered or even released on DVD for whatever reason. As for rating it, I can only imagine the further subtle change upward in quality with a pristine print of the film but taking all things into consideration regarding what they wanted to do and what we got: Roger Corman’s FF: 5/10
Next: Fox takes their shots…