Sit down, kids. Ol’ Sam’s going to tell you all a story.
Once upon a time, there was a certain comic publisher who was on the verge of bankruptcy. To stay in business, this company sold the film rights of many of its popular characters to… well, whoever was willing to pay, to be honest. In 1992, Constantin Films was about to lose the rights on their property unless production began by December.
This left Bernd Eichinger, the head of Constantin Films, with a real problem. He really wanted to make a film with these characters, but didn’t have enough money to do the characters justice. So what did he do? He hired famed director and master of low-budget moviemaking Roger Corman to make a phony film to so Constantin Films could hold onto their property a little longer. And now you know the true history of… The Fantastic Four!
The Fantastic Four
Starring: Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staab,
Michael Bailey Smith, Joseph Culp
Director: Oley Sassone
Company: Constantin Films
Rating: NR (possibly PG is ever formally released)
Now, if only the film was as compelling as the behind-the-scenes one I just told you. The Fantastic Four starts out at a nameless college campus, where a couple of 40-year olds, later revealed to be Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith), are sitting through a physics class. As the class ends, the professor reminds everyone that Colossus, the largest meteor ever discovered, is flying past Earth tonight. Ben is amused, but Reed already knew about the meteor, and had developed a plan to use a giant machine to harness the energy emitted from it. Aiding Reed is his friend and colleague Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp), a man with questionable motives and an accent of undetermined origin. Also, somewhere in there it’s established that Ben and Reed live in a boarding house owned by Mrs. Storm along with her two kids, Susan and Johnny.
Later that night, Reed and Victor are at the lab, and (surprise surprise) there is an accident, seemingly killing Victor. We then jump to ten years later, where Reed and Ben are preparing to go into space to find Colossus. The duo swing by their old home and convince (at least 20 years older) Sue and Johnny (Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood) to go with them to space. That’s right… untrained civilians in space. This isn’t going to end pretty.
We all know what happens next, but with a twist – their ship EXPLODES IN SPACE, but leaves the crew totally uninjured and with abilities far beyond common man. The crew is immediately captured by the royal army of Latveria, led by the iron-clad Dr. Doom. Hmmm… Where have I heard that name before…
I know I’m skimming, but for the sake of keeping this review light, I’m just going to skip to the end. The Fantastic Four have saved New York, both from Dr. Doom AND a totally unneeded side villain named The Jeweler (Ian Trigger). Ben meets, falls in love with, and rescues Alicia Masters (Kat Green), Johnny whines a bit, Reed and Sue get married, and the two drive off into the sunset. The end.
I’m going to come right out and say it – this is quite possibly one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The plot was laughable, the acting was atrocious, and the effects were cringe-inducing. Let’s start with the plot, shall we? For one thing, it was way too convoluted. For one thing, Doom’s motives were never clearly stated. He wanted to harness energy from a meteor (to do what with is anyone’s guess)… but he also wanted the Fantastic Four’s powers… and he wanted to destroy New York. It was too much. Also, everyone was falling in love at first sight. Reed and Sue are reintroduced to each other, and fall instantly in love. Ben practically tackles the blind Alicia Masters, and the two fall instantly in love. The Jeweler does a little dance on the roof of a building, and then falls in love with Alicia. It was weak, it was ham-fisted, and it was totally unneeded. For that matter, the entire subplot dealing with The Jeweler and Alicia Masters could have been dropped completely.
Speaking of which, I bet you’re wondering who this Jeweler guy I’ve been talking about is. Well, The Jeweler is essentially the Mole Man, only instead of Moloids, he commands the homeless. Apparently having a guy named “Mole Man” was just too crazy for this film.
OK, back on track. To put it bluntly, the acting was absolutely appalling. Everyone sounded like they were just reading their lines, with the exception of Dr. Doom, who was incredibly over the top and flamboyant. Reed had no tone to his voice (especially ion the final fight scene, where he punched Doom and mutters almost inaudibly “That’s for trying to kill me.” Sue wouldn’t stop screaming throughout the entire film. Johnny would jump from angry to whiny at the drop of a hat. And The Thing, well… he really didn’t do much more than say “It’s Clobberin’ Time” repeatedly.
The effects and costuming were bad as well, save for the suit created for The Thing. I actually like this costume better than its big-budget cousin. For one thing, it has the iconic Thing forehead ridge, tiny nose, and the mouth was way more articulate than the one used on Michael Chickless. Some people have humorously compared this film’s Thing to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with a skin condition, and in a way, they’re not wrong, but all in all, I think it works. The other standout costume was the one worn by Dr. Doom. It honestly looked like it had been ripped right out of a comic book. Well done.
As bad as this movie is, it did have a significant impact on the film world, believe it or not. For example, without this movie, which cost under two million dollars to make, Constantin Films would never have had the chance to co-opt the rights to 20th Century Fox, and would never had made over 100 million dollars on the official big-budget version. Think about that for a moment… they spent two million on a terrible movie to make 100 million on an OK one. Incredibly. Also, this movie accomplished something that I thought was impossible – it was so bad, Stan Lee himself refuses to acknowledge its existence. And anyone who knows anything about Mr. Lee and his infamous self-promoting ways, I’d say that is quite a feat.
Now, with all these negative comments I’ve made about The Fantastic Four, I’d wager you all thing I completely hated this film, right? WRONG! I don’t know why, but I found myself really enjoying this move, solely on a “So-Bad-It’s-Good” level (the same level that allows me to enjoy movies like Robot Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space). I think it’s the seriousness of the actors… they really thought they were making a good film. And while this is all well and good, it becomes a problem when it comes to giving this film a final score. Do I rate it high for its overall enjoyment level and cheese factor, or low because it is truly terrible? I thought long and hard about this, and ultimately decided grade it on the film’s technical achievements (or lack thereof), but give it an extra point for entertaining me. Therefore, I (eventually) give The Fantastic Four 2 out of 5 stars.