Saturday 21 April 2012

The Fantastic Four (1994 unreleased version)

Four Play

The Fantastic Four
Germany/US 1994
Directed by Oley Sassone 
Produced by Roger Corman
Status: Unreleased

Well then. This is one of those films you’ve either never heard of, because the studio didn’t want you to know about it, or have more than likely snapped up as a bootleg copy at a comic fair in the intervening years. A bootleg or streamer of an unscrupulous website is probably the only way you’d ever get to see it, though, because it’s never been intended to be seen by anybody and it’s certainly never had any kind of commercial release or broadcast.

However, if you don’t already know the story behind this one then I’ll tell you all I know about it now. Skip to the end if you’ve already heard this one...

Constantin Films had the rights to make a movie of the famous Marvel Comics property The Fantastic Four, but the thing is (as I found out when I used to get interested in why comic companies would put out a single issue of a character after a decade before consinging said character back to comic book limbo  again for another decade or so), when you buy these rights they will eventually revert back to someone else who can then put them up for sale again. Basically, you have to show that you have used the characters you have bought the rights for in the media you intended to use them in or you will lose the option to hang on to them after a certain period of time. I think I’ve got that right.

So anyway, Constantin Films had these rights, but they didn’t have the budget to make a proper movie version of The Fantastic Four at that point in time... and the clock was ticking on their options because they didn’t have long before they had to show they’d done something with them. So they approached the legendary producer/director Roger Corman to make a quick movie out of the property with a teeny, tiny budget and not much time. So that’s exactly what he did.

Now none of the cast, crew or even the director knew that this wasn’t a movie being made for a paying audience. This means that everybody on this movie was doing the best they could which, frankly... after having seen the final product, is pretty scary to be honest. Now I don’t know how many retakes there were on this one but I do know that the film took approximately one month to shoot. Just one month. That should tell you a lot right there... and yes, I know some of Corman’s own, more brilliant masterpieces were done in less time and with even less budget but it’s like comparing apples to oranges here. Edgar Allan Poe costume epics are not going to have the same kind of costs as something which needs a massive budget, just for effects work alone, like a superhero movie. Especially a superhero “team” movie where each of the characters have different powers to deal with.

So okay... that’s the background!

The movie itself... well actually it’s not as incompetently put together as you might expect from my little build up. It’s quite bad but, frankly, if this had been shown on TV as a pilot episode for a new show back in the 1970s, it could have held its head up high with shows such as Spiderman, Logans Run or Planet Of The Apes (to name a few). However, what you have to remember and keep reminding yourself while you’re watching this version is... it wasn’t made in the seventies, it was made in the nineties... how in heck did the cast and crew think this was ever going to pass muster on any TV set, let alone as a “high profile” movie?

The film starts off with the four main characters as younger versions of themselves, with Sue and Johnny Storm being not quite teenagers yet... while Ben Grimm and Reed Richards pretty much looking the same as they do when the story jumps forward in time (Note to moviemakers: The addition of white sideburns after a jump in time does not automatically make a person look older!). Here we have the origin of Doctor Doom played out, kinda, although the guy playing Doom is actually pretty bad in this... but infinitely more watchable than the guy they got to play him in the later ones. In all fairness to the actors in this one, I think it’s best if I let their names go unmentioned in this review... they were all pretty solid TV actors who have done a fair bit of work (the gentleman playing Reed Richards even went on to play the back of the younger version of Sean Connery’s head in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade some years later).

After Victor Von Doom is frazzled, presume dead, we jump ten years to find that Johnny has grown up to be the right kind of age, Reed and Ben have stayed more or less the same and Sue Storm has somehow grown into a character played by a 33 year old actress, which makes her just the right age to be marrying Reed I guess but... really hurts your head when you try to figure out the timeline.

So anyway, cut a long story short, the four go into space, get mutated via cosmic rays, get captured by Doom, escape Doom, go to rescue Ben’s new crush (the blind character Alicia Masters) from an underground dwelling group of criminals who stole the diamond from the Fantastic Four’s rocketship which is what caused them to go wrong in space in the first place, then go back to clobber Doom. And that’s about it I’m afraid...

The story doesn’t make sense in a lot of places, it has to be said. And the dialogue is excruciating. The only thing that even half saves this version is the fact that the actors all managed to keep a straight face. The costumes really aren’t that bad, it’s the old blue with white highlights the group used to wear in some of the comics during the 80s and 90s... but the effects work which is needed to give the four heroes their powers is... well... it’s pretty weak.

The Thing is a suit with a few moving parts... it’s actually not that bad but not what I’d want out of the design (I much preferred the new one from the modern movies to this). Think, The Toxic Avenger but made out of orange rocks. The Invisible Girl is just done with crude but adequate fade outs. Mr. Fantastic himself is just using a few stretchy limbs which look quite bad (especially when his arm is all twirly and unmoving as he waves from a car after his wedding in the final shot... quite laughable in fact) but the way The Human Torch is handled is quite charming. Bad... but charming.

For most of the film his powers are just relegated to a fiery hand or arm which are cartooned over like a Disney production... but it’s quite fun and pretty to look at. When we finally get to see him go to the full body Torch, and it’s only the once, it turns into a complete cartoon rendition as he trys to fly in front of the path of some destructive cosmic force. What this sequence reminded me of almost exactly (and I wouldn’t be surprised if Corman’s lot didn’t use it as a template) was a similar scene in the very first 1940s Max Fleisher Superman cartoon (The Mad Scientist). So... like I said... not without its charm.

The film is, however, quite bad and some of the acting in here has to be seen to be believed. But worse than the acting is the score... it’s quite bad and innapropriate in a lot of places for anything other than a 1950s melodrama. The piano passages in this one were irritating me beyond belief and I just wanted it to stop a lot of the time. This is one score I wouldn’t be picking up, I think, even if it did ever get a commercial release somehow... for all I know it could’ve been tracked in from something equally as cheesy. It was credited to two professional composers, however, so it’s probably all original. Blimey! How far do you have to go to retain the rights to a bunch of characters? Maybe it was cheaper than buying library music... who knows. Music is always subjective though, so I won’t shout too loudly about this one.

At the end of the day, I was hoping this unreleased “gem” of a movie would be so bad that it kinda won me over. However, some sections of this are more competent than others and there’s no real “garbage” overload coming from this one. I’d recommend this one only to fans of the characters who want to see “what could have been” and to the rest of you I’d say “don’t bother with this one”... if you can find a copy to bother with in the first place, that is. It’s really just a curio and an interesting watch if you want to see what allowed Constantin to retain the rights to the characters and put enough of the budget in to be part of the modern incarnations of these characters at the cinema... and I’m glad they did because I thought those last two movies were pretty fun.

And, yes, I know I’m in a minority on that one.


  1. Wow. Cynical reason for making a film (but understandable in a business way). And ow. That keening sound is me wailing for the pathetic hopes and dreams of the actors.

    great review, btw!

  2. Hi Bucko.

    Yeah... the actors mostly were regulars in all kinds of TV shows and never stopped working by the looks of it. Just never seemed to make it big in the movies.

    Thanks for dropping by. :-)