NOT A PART OF OUR COLLECTION
Will we be adding this to our collection? Thanks to Avi Arad, we will NEVER get the chance!
The first official live-action outing for The Fantastic Four was in 2005, at the peak of the first foray in to the Marvel Universe. We had seen Hulk (2003), two X-Men movies, Daredevil and two Spider-man’s, but this was also the year of DC’s return with Batman Begins. But this isn’t a review of Fantastic 4 (2005), this is a rare look at a lost film which is now only available as a bootleg DVD and on Youtube.
The myth goes something like this, but like all stories, this is not fact and is probably based as much on rumour as anything else, so take this as a guide only.
Back in 2004, Marvel were trying to sell as many of their comic book rights a possible as don’t forget, back then, even though there had been a comic book revival with Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), Marvel’s comic book adaptations were confined to television, with Bill Bixby’s, The Incredible Hulk probably being the most notable, but the perceived jewel in the Marvel crown was the First Family of Marvel, The Fantastic Four.
Marvel sold the rights for something like $250,000, a pittance by today’s standards and the aim was to raise a $40 million budget and produce a blockbuster, but that never happened. In order to keep the rights, Constantin Film, the production company, produced a micro budget version, as a place-holder as it were, probably with NO intention of it ever being released.
In the end, legendary low-budget mogul, Roger Corman pitched in and The Fantastic Four was completed, trailers were included on his other video releases of that year and it seemed that the intention was to release the movie, either as a theatrical feature or a straight to video release. But Producer, Avi Arad joined Marvel, bought the negative and is rumoured to have destroyed it. As a result, there will probably never be a remastered or official version released.
Bootleg prints made it out and the rest is cult history, with versions doing the rounds at comic book conventions, on eBay and YouTube ever since. So, with the background out-of-the-way, let’s take a look at the film proper. The first thing to note here is that the screenplay, though different, is quite similar in many respects to the official version, 11 years later.
The plot is simple and well tread. Victor von Doom and Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic) are experimenting with a laser to harness the energy of a comet with passes Earth every ten years when Victor is seeming electrocuted. Ten years later, Reed, along with his best friend Ben Grimm (The Thing), love interest Sue Storm (The Invisible Woman) and her younger, “hotheaded” brother Johnny Storm (Human Torch) all go into space to try again, but because of some ludicrous shenanigans involving an original character, The Jeweller (Ian Trigger), they are all irradiated and become The Fantastic Four.
Victor, who is not dead but has become a Darth Vader styled villain, Doctor Doom, is after revenge on Reed who he believes is responsable for his disfigurement and threatens to destroy New York with a variation of the radiation harnessing laser.
My first thought is that even tough this is pretty terrible, in the context of a TV movie of 1994, it’s not as bad as I would have expected. I preferred Alex Hyde-White’s portrayal of Reed over Ioan Gruffudd’s 2005 version, as he’s harder and less dippy that Gruffudd. As for his and Sue’s relationship, here it seems a little creepy. Reed is a young man and she was a young girl when they first meet and later as a young woman, she is constantly swooning over him, an older man, and it comes across as being a little weird and over played.
But some elements were played well, such as Grimm’s reaction to becoming The Thing, once you get past the initial “NOOOOOOO” scene. But his make up actually quite good considering and the effects aren’t bad for the time and budget either. The most ambitious being that of Johnny Storm who by the end is ludicrously outrunning a laser heading for New York, impossible I would have thought as he would have to travelling faster than the speed of light but anyway, a point which I can only presume was alluded to in the opening scene with Police Academy’s Commissioner Lessard (George Gaynes) lecturing on the speed of light, but maybe there was something which I missed the point off.
The plot is so simple and pointless it’s silly, but the execution is only a reasonable jump away from what would become a fully fledged blockbuster of 2005. Don’t kid yourself! The main difference is that they spend a lot of time filling in the cracks with Tim Story’s version by building the Fantastic Four up as a brand, as celebrities, something which is not alluded too here at all.
As for The Jeweller, the secondary villain, we could have done without his plot, which was only used to add peril later with The Thing and to switch the diamonds around with would lead to The Fantastic Four’s creation. But as villains, go, von Doom was pretty funny though I’m not sure if that’s what they were going for, but it’s what we got!
And then there was the suits. I actually didn’t see the reason for the big complaints about these. The look was pretty authentic to the source material, though it was a bit strange that the first person to don the lycra was Sue Storm, who spends more time than any of the four in the figure hugging outfit, clearly demonstrating why the producers hired her. It wasn’t Oscar-winning acting that’s for sure!
In the end, we get a film of its decade, cheap and cheerful comic book adaptation, more TV movie that Oscar contender, but it’s still a film none the less and even though on the whole it’s far from what we could expect from a major motion picture, it has many element which work. Firstly, pacing, which is actually very good.
The plot zips along and takes us to where we need to go without rushing. In fact, in this 90 minute film, we don’t meet the Fantastic Four in earnest until around the 40 minute mark. But the story is simple and would need a lot more drafting before it would be a serous theatrical version, but back in 1994, nobody took comic book movies seriously and wouldn’t be until Singer’s X-Men (2000) that the modern Marvel comic book adaptation would take hold.
So in the context of the time, how does it hold up? Okay actually. The Thing’s make up is really good, as is the pacing and Hyde White’s hammy performance as Reed. The music is pretty good as well as a fully orchestrated score, not bad for a budget movie and von Doom is pretty funny, but overall, it doesn’t stand up that well against it’s peers, with films such as True Lies, Stargate, Star Trek: Generations and even The Mask to fend off in the same year.
But watch for yourself. I’m sure that there are plenty of versions available in varying degree’s of quality but I have supplied a link to a pretty decent YouTube copy, compete with trailer. I wouldn’t normally recommend Bootleg copy’s but since this film is effectively lost and this is the only way for it to seen, then I’m quite happy to point you in this direction. This is the only way to see MPAA 32281, since Marvel don’t want you see it. Originally to protect the brand but now I reckon it’s because if this is supposedly so bad and it’s not so far removed from it’s official 2005 version, it doesn’t say much for Marvel’s First Family, does it.
I may not have been so forgiving of this if it had been released as straight to video or DVD, but since this is the Marvel film which THEY don’t want us to see, I’ve taken the time to judge it for all it’s worth. It isn’t great, it’s far from a classic but it is a curio of a failed film which we’re not meant to see. It is pleasantly watchable though. But thanks to some, another lost film has been saved.