Comic book movie blunders: ‘Fantastic Four’

fantastic four cast

It must be hard for some younger comic book movie fans to imagine what it was like in the dark years.

Since 2008, moviegoing fans have been treated to summertime releases of really top-notch versions of their favorite comic book superheroes. I’m counting from the release of “Iron Man” and I’m really talking about the other Marvel-produced films, including “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America” and “Thor,” all capped off with “The Avengers” this past summer.

I’m not counting the DC comics movies in part because they’re been wildly inconsistent, with some highlights like “The Dark Night” but more lows such as the stillborn “Green Lantern.”

Yes, back in the dark years, before not only serious-minded comic book adaptations but before adequate special effects and talented directors like Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon, fans were treated to the likes of “The Fantastic Four.”

I’m not even talking about the 2005 Tim Story movie. I’m talking about the 1994 “Fantastic Four,” directed by Oley Sasson (yeah, I know, right?) and produced by legendary cheapie producer Roger Corman.

Even if you’re old enough, you didn’t see “Fantastic Four” in theaters. Legendarily made in about a minute to extend the production company’s rights to film the comic book, the movie reflects its (maybe, possibly) million-dollar budget and the crude effects that the available money could buy.

fantastic four mr. fantastic

The proof of the skimping on effects? Johnny Storm finally fires up as the Human Torch in the final battle of the movie. Prior to that, most of his fire-starting is relegated to sneezes and the like. Sheesh.

I came across a bootleg DVD of the movie at a comic book convention a few years back. It’s a staple of the dealer’s room at every con, along with the truly awful “Justice League” TV pilot and 1960s DC comics cartoons.

The movie traces the familiar origin of the FF: Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm and Sue Storm go into space, get bombarded by cosmic rays and gain superpowers, becoming Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, The Human Torch and The Invisible Woman.

Along the way, there are run-ins with Dr. Doom and, inexplicably, a hobo/jewel thief/leader of a band of crooks. It’s the most inexplicable villain since Christopher Walken in Tim Burton “Batman” sequel.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you should take any opportunity to do so. Expect the cheap special effects to be improved by the grainy, multi-generations-removed-from-the-original copy you’ll find.

Some observations:

john byrne ff costumes

At least the movie had the courage of its costumes, with the four wearing the light blue and white FF outfits popularized during the John Byrne era on the comic.

Our heroes don’t get their powers until about half-way through the movie. When Sam Raimi does this, it’s character development. Here it was just delaying the inevitable expensive effects scenes.

Somebody told actor Joseph Culp, who plays ultimate villain Dr. Doom, thought he had to be especially expressive since the audience wouldn’t see his face. So he makes BIG HAND GESTURES throughout the movie. The highlight is when he draws, in the air in front of him, the number 12 as he says it.

One bit player in the movie went on to cult stardom. Mercedes McNab, who played airhead-turned-vampire Harmony on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” played young Sue Storm in an early scene in the movie.

fantastic four thing

Even though the later, big-budget “Fantastic Four” movies were better, the Corman-produced “FF” movie got one thing right: The Thing should be bigger than the other members of the FF. I love Michael Chiklis but as Ben Grimm and The Thing in the later movies, he wasn’t quite big enough.

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