"I been makin' fires outta nothin,' if that's what you mean."
— The Human Torch, when asked how he's feeling
My purpose here is not to debate the hubbub and controversy of this movie's
semi-existence on sci-fi convention tape tables and Internet downloady places.
I just like looking at it on my shelf in its Xeroxed box cover (a copy of an
FF comic cover on orange paper) and unlabeled videocassette. Sure,
I could put a label on it myself. But that'd be like signing "Property of Joe"
on a copy of the Mona Lisa. If the Mona Lisa wasn't that good, and it was a
5th-generation copy, and it had been hastily slapped together on the cheap.
I bought it on the first time I went to Atlanta's Dragon*Con, years ago. I knew it was supposed to exist, somewhere. I read
the Starlog article. I saw the movie still shots in comic book magazines. And
there it sat. And it could be mine if I just gave the dude some money. So I
did. Then my journey began.
Because when I got home, the filking tape was blank. Luckily a buddy of mine
also bought one, so I dubbed his copy onto my unexpectedly-barren tape.
Like the Star Wars Holiday Special, this should hold a spot in the
heart of the Geek Nation. It was disavowed, like the Wookiee-feast special.
But FF never aired even one time. David Hasselhoff as Marvel’s Nick
Fury, Agent of SHIELD, aired once. But not this. No cheapo tape release.
No dumping on late-night cable. Only the Geek Nation have it, and so we must
revel in it and protect it using our oral tradition, with one guy ranting and everyone else gaping in awe. Or our bloggal tradition,
where we write about it online. Or we should just make copies of it for each
This movie was made in 1994. It was an odd time for the superhero industry. Marvel was in various stages of bankruptcy, and the superhero movie boom I wanted from Michael Keaton's Batman resulted only in Dick
Tracy and Batman Returns. The consistent complaint of the time was how impossibly expensive superhero movies would be, because all the powers they needed to
do special effects for.
Now computers do all that crap, so people can focus on the writing.
Sorry. I don't know what I was thinking.
This movie tried to do four superpowers, because it had to. It's right there
in the title. And Dr. Doom. I bet the producers didn't know that when
they signed on. "Fine. Four. I think we can do this. OK, don't panic . . .
what? Five? Where's my gun?"
Roger Corman is renowned for the inexpensiveness of his movies. You have to
respect that. The Fantastic Four crash in a spacecraft. But instead of showing
the whole crash, the movie cuts to piles of flaming wreckage afterward.
They made the Fantastic Four the good old-fashioned way: Dinky prosthetics
for super-stretchy Mr. Fantastic (including a hand on a long stick), a guy in a rocky suit for The Thing, and a cartoon Torch.
Invisible Woman is easy. Just have the actress NOT BE THERE!
"Oh, the pain! The pain you must have endured, my beautiful brother!"
— Not Mole Man, to The Thing
The movie spends half itself on the FF getting their powers. This is because
before they get their powers, you don't have to go to the cost of showing them
with their powers.
It spends a terribly long time on a subplot with The Jeweller, who really should
be the FF villain Mole Man. Jeweller lives underground. He controls
a horde of minions. He's Mole Man, except he's not. Did the rights to the name
Mole Man cost an extra five bucks?
Alicia, the blind girl who loves The Thing, is kidnapped by Not Mole Man.
When he tells his thugs to kidnap "his queen," they all chant "QUEEN! QUEEN!
QUEEN! QUEEN! QUEEN!" We haven't seen its like since Wembley Stadium in '84,
after Freddie Mercury sang "We Are the Champions."
There are other silly-ass bits. I'm not telling you all of them; that's what
watching it is for. There’s the Jeweller’s hilarious dialogue, and Dr. Doom’s maniacal giggle. He finds stuff way funnier than your average mad scientist. He sounds like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein when he
went nuts. Except
Doom sounds like that all the time.
Then there's Doom's loud,
clanking dialogue-obscuring suit of armor. They knew it didn't have to be a
real armor suit. . . or did they?
There are character parts that rescue it, slightly. These, no fooling, make me think the writers and actors almost had
something going. Most of your
quickie cheapie flicks don't really contain stuff that you'd call acting. There is warmth between the foursome, even though it's acted against only three pieces of musical score. (I call them Sweet, Dramatic, and Fight.)
The special effects, including but not limited to things I mentioned
already, are beneath scorn, really. If the
effects were little mutt dogs, I'd scratch 'em behind their ears.
The origin and characters are changed little from the comics. This was a big
deal in 1994, years after Bruce Banner was named David, but still a
thousand years before precision adaptation like Hellboy.
The Thing suit is precisely like the comic, with orange rocks and an oversized
rocky brow. The problem is the guy who plays human Ben Grimm towers over Mr.
Fantastic and the others. And the guy in the Thing suit is six inches shorter than everyone.
But his fight scenes are super-fun. He says "It's Clobberin' Time!" then
starts punching. One punch, two, he flips a guy. Then he looks directly at the
camera and goes "YEAH!!!"
This scene is so physical, so cathartic, and the producers liked it so much that a couple of minutes later they do it again. Then it's one punch, two, he flips a guy, then he looks directly at the
camera (again) and goes "YEAH!!!"
This movie is sitting on a tape table at a sci-fi convention somewhere right
now. A Fantastic Four movie was completely done eleven whole years
before the fancy-pants in Hollywood did the new one. The FF walk and talk in
live action, and they're sitting on a tape. Waiting for you.
Geek Coolness Factor rating: 10/10
Actual Quality rating: 4/10
Combined rating: 7/10
Where Are They Now, My Beautiful Brother?
Alex Hyde-White (Mr. Fantastic): Pierce Macabee on the Babylon
5 episode "In the Shadow of Za'ha'Dum." Is in Catch Me If You Can
and Gods and Generals. One of three — not one, not two, THREE
— sons of superstars who unleashed upon this film their second-generational
skills: His father Wilfred Hyde-White was Dr. Goodfellow on Buck Rogers.
Jay Underwood (Human Torch): Played Ernest Hemingway AND
Sonny Bono. Beat that! Papa Doc in Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and
Papa of Chastity on And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story.
Starred in Star Command with Mr. Chad Everett and Ms. Morgan Fairchild.
Did not win a date with Tad Hamilton in Win A Date With Tad Hamilton.
Rebecca Staab (Invisible Woman): Elizabeth on the canceled
soap Port Charles. Guest-starred on the not-yet canceled NCIS
and Nip/Tuck. Probably made out with Everwood daddy Treat
Williams in The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All.
Michael Bailey-Smith (Ben Grimm): Had three different roles
on Charmed, most often Belthazor. Did video game voices in MechWarrior
4 and Emperor: Battle for Dune. Set for remake of The Hills
Joseph Culp (Dr. Doom): The Son of Culp (Robert, the gruff
but lovable Bill Maxwell on the lovable but gruff Greatest American Hero.)
Was in Apollo 13. Raimus on the Deep Space Nine episode "Honor
Perhaps scarred, much like Dr. Doom, by this experience, so
he has turned to the Legitimate Theater (pronounced thee-uh-tuh.) He writes,
produces, and directs plays, won a Drama Logue award, and his performance in
an independent film was called "exquisitely naked." Damn straight.
Mercedes McNab (Susan Storm, age 13): Grew older. Became
immortal as vampire cheerleader Harmony on Buffy The Vampire Slayer
and Angel. Next she's in Hatchet with teen-killing all-stars
Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Tony Todd.
Carl Ciarfalio (Guy in Thing Suit): A busy stuntman who returned
to Marvel in Daredevil and who is not to blame for Batman and Robin.
Most recently he was "Goon number one" on the comedy series Monk.
Bernd Eichinger (executive producer): Producer of Resident
Evil — and the new Fantastic Four movie! He's the mole!
He's the mole!
Craig J. Nevius (writer): Wrote and directed the Black
Scorpion TV series and the reality show Chasing Farrah.
Ian Trigger (Not Mole Man), Kat Green (Alicia): Nothin'.
Maybe they stole away together to some dank, underground
scumhole, where they live, love, and listen to "Another One Bites the Dust."
Roger Corman (executive producer): 361 productions listed
on IMDB, the latest of which are Bloodfist 2050 and Scorpius Gigantus.
Oley Sassone (director): The Son of Sassoon (Vidal, stylist
to the stars) continued on much the same path as the Fantastic Four bootleg,
directing episodes of TV series Sentinel, Viper, Hercules, Xena, She Spies,
and Mutant X. His hair is silky and luxuriant.