Marvel Movie Madness! Part 4: Fantastic Four (1994)

This early attempt is no stretch of the imagination.

by | May 17, 2011 | Comments

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

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Part 4: The Fantastic Four (1994)

Directed by Oley Sassone, starring Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Carl Ciarfalio, Jay Underwood

Matt: Imagine hiring a director and cast to make a movie that you never intended to release. That’s exactly what happened in 1994, when Constantin Film partnered with Roger Corman to make this low-budget version of The Fantastic Four. The film was made only so that Constantin could maintain the film rights to the franchise.

There’s no getting around it – this movie is pretty bad, as expected from something that was never meant to see the light of day. And the standard Roger Corman elements are there – stock footage, cheap effects, etc (one of my favorites was the use of asbestos fire suits to stand in for space suits). But to be honest, it’s no worse than you’d expect out of something shown on TV in 1994.

The kicker here is that no one told the cast and crew the movie wasn’t intended to be released; they all thought the movie was legit at the time. The fact that the director and cast thought they were making a real movie makes this weirdly fascinating to watch. The actors are clearly trying here (sometimes too much), and the movie does have a sort of hokey charm.

In some places, the movie actually does compare to the 20th Century Fox productions. I think this Dr. Doom is more true to what we’d expect from the comics, and The Thing from the later, big budget films doesn’t really look that much better than he does here, although this Thing looks a little reptilian.

Alex: I’ve been falling asleep to this movie over the past week. I’m at the part where one of the villains — the one that looks like The Penguin’s disfigured cousin — kidnaps a blind pottery artist to make her his bride. I’m assuming Dr. Doom fits into this, perhaps as one of the groomsmen? Is he planning the bachelor party? I’m sure it’ll make sense when I get to the end.

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Tim:: My cousin, who’s a huge Marvel geek, was talking about this movie around the time it was made, so I’ve long wondered what a zero-budget Fantastic Four movie would look like. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I have an answer — and though this movie is far from being good, it’s not the unwatchable mess I had anticipated. I agree with everything Matt said; it’s kind of poignant watching the faux Four (and the filmmakers) invest such energy into a movie that would never (officially) see the light of day. The Fantastic Four is overacted (sometimes laughably so), the sets and special effects are straight from the dime store, and it’s got a goofy, gee-whiz vibe that’s laughably out of fashion in our era of dark, gritty comic book adaptations. But it’s occasionally a lot weirder than it has to be (the Jeweler, surrounded by legions of subterranean hobos, wouldn’t seem out of place in a Terry Gilliam movie). And I have to admit, the scene in which the Four’s craft is hit by a cosmic ray was nicely done — the slow-mo shots of our heroes blinded by a powerful blast of light was both inspired and evocative. All in all, it’s a thoroughly so-so movie, but not a disaster by any means.

Jeff: Purity of intent can go a long way, can’t it? Maybe I’ve just been beaten down by crassly cynical Hollywood product, but I think there’s something sort of endearing about a movie this cheerfully crappy. Fantastic Four is bad, but it’s bad in a Little Rascals-type “Let’s get the gang together and make a movie!” way. It reminds me a little of the Sunday night movies that Disney used to make for network TV, with bare-minimum production values, slumming character actors (I hope they gave you at least enough for a mortgage payment, George Gaynes), and performances that swing wildly from curiously deadpan to way over the top — sometimes during the same line.

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A couple of asides: If someone ever writes a book about the making of this movie, I’m buying it. And during the opening credits, while the Muzak score played over a tour of the galaxy, I briefly daydreamed that I was watching an episode of Newhart in Space.

Matt: Jeff, I think you should do the investigating and write that book – there have to be some great stories there. I’d love for this to get a DVD or Blu-ray release, because I’d be interested in seeing a decent transfer. We all watched this on YouTube, and I think that watching a 240p feed from what has to be at least a 3rd generation VHS copy only adds to the experience. And if it ever makes it to DVD, Jeff gets the pull quote on the box: “Cheerfully crappy!”

Tim:: All joking aside, you guys raise an interesting point: it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a curiosity like it again, since no Marvel property is getting the B-movie treatment in the near future. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in the last couple years we’ve seen some remarkably mature, stylistically bold comic book movies. But that also means we’ll be denied perversely watchable oddities like this.

Alex: Made it to the end. Nope, no sense at all. Put this one back in the ashcan.


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