Friday, August 14, 2015

The Fantastic Four (1994)

It's been a long week full of sub-par attempts to make the Fantastic Four worth watching on the big screen. We've looked at the most recent attempt, which was a bleak film that missed the point of the characters and concept entirely. And we've also taken a look at the 2005 film, which managed to get most of the characters pretty right but ended up screwing audiences who wanted to see an exciting film, delivering instead a group of heroes who spent the majority of the movie just doing a whole lot of nothing. Now, at the end of the week, we're finally taking a peek at the first film to ever bring these characters to life.

Which actually had a poster painted using all of the blood from the people killed in the Fant4stic film.

Produced independently, this movie is actually said to have been made only so Bernd Eichinger could hold onto the film rights to the characters. Wanting to crank out a cheap film, he consulted with the king of B-movies, Roger Corman. With Corman as executive producer, this film was guaranteed to be made cheaply but what was I said about Corman before? Oh yeah, he makes movies that are cheap but fun. Yeah, that's Corman in a nutshell. Scheduled for a 1994 theatrical release date, this movie ended up not being released at all in an official capacity. Despite having trailers available that showed off the film and the cast doing a promotional screenings where clips were shown hyping it, this movie didn't get released. In a world where 1990's Captain America got released, a movie in which Cap has rubber human ears sewn onto his mask, a Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four film got shuffled off into a dark corner to be ignored.

That Captain America movie? Yeah, it's on Blu-Ray now. Those rubber ears can be seen in high definition.
Supposedly, Avi Arad, who was at that time a high ranking executive at Marvel, bought the film over concerns it might "cheapen the brand". It's said that he wanted all prints of it destroyed. A film he never bothered watching, by the way, and he wanted to just destroy it completely. Did I mention this is also one of the guys who was in charge of Marvel Comics when the company nearly collapsed upon itself? Yeah, he was a part of all of that. I was honestly a bit shocked he didn't get offered a job at DC when the New 52 went into effect, as many of his former playmates were over repeating the same mistakes. But again, this movie deserved destroying but the world was allowed to have Generation X? Talk about weakening a brand.

"Your pain brings me pleasure."
So, after the other two movies and all this business about this movie being so bad that it might "cheapen the brand", could this possibly be the worst of the three? Let's find out together, shall we? The film opens on space as the credits roll to a rather nice score that definitely sets a tone for adventure. Right away, that's a major plus, as nothing about the other films scores really said "fun adventure". One score was trying to be cool and the other was trying to be dark, both of which don't really fit properly with characters like the Fantastic Four. These are explorers, adventurers, and purveyors of all things fantastic. They are not leather-bound teens full of loathing for themselves and one another.

Not that I'm pointing any figures at any movie in particular when I say that.
As the credits finish taking us on a tour of the set of Cosmos, we see Reed in a college classroom as a student. Alongside him are his best friends, Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom. What's that? A movie origin that actually shows the characters as friends during their youth, much like was shown in the comics? That exists? And the trio is shown to be older than the Storm siblings, which is also something more true to that same source material? The devil you say!

"No, not me. I had nothing to do with this one. I was too busy making plans to have Deadpool's mouth sewn shut in his first film appearance."
Yes, we are indeed shown that Reed, Victor and Ben are all friends. They're busy preparing for a test run of the project they're been working on which is supposed to pull down cosmic radiation from a comet so it can be harnessed. Reed and Ben both live in Mrs. Storm's boarding house where Ben plays video games with young Johnny while Susan moons over Reed as a young teen. Believe it or not, internet, but there actually was a time when a young girl lusting after an older man was pretty normal. Actually, I think that still happens. But Reed, as always, is fairly oblivious to her. Maybe in ten years, Susie. We're also shown two guys playing checkers that look up at Reed and Victor as they pass by, with sinister flute music cuing us into the fact that they're clearly evil.

Because, as we all know, the flute is the most sinister of all musical instruments.
That night, as the comet is passing overhead, Victor and Reed put their experiment to the test as they attempt to do what they wanted to do, but sadly they had no time to really test it properly first and the energy ends up being a bit too much. This results in Victor getting fried nearly to death, with Ben being the one who rushes in to save him.

"Come on, Vic. Maybe you shouldn't stand quite so close to the lightning bolt. It seems a bit dangerous."
This is a tragic accident ultimately caused by Victor's own ambition and refusal to accept failure, as he had ample time to get out of the way, with Reed even pleading for him to take cover. But he didn't and instead gets to be extra crispy. In the hospital a doctor tells Reed that Victor is dead, except that it's not really a doctor but is rather the evil beardy guy with the flute music! he and his accomplice wheel off Victor and we jump ten years to when Reed and Ben are discussing the project Reed's spent all those years on in honour of his dead friend who totally isn't the villain of this movie. They're planning to take a ship into space to extract the cosmic radiation from the same source as before, but this time Reed's better prepared. Ben tells him they're taking the Storm kids along though, because they're actually capable and we can't make a movie about only two people getting powers. What would we call it, the Dynamic Duo? That'd just be silly.

Much like spending half an hour in Photoshop making something that looks like this.
They go to the Storm household where Johnny excitedly greets them, mostly because he's used to being The Invisible Kid. And he's got to feel extra invisible when Sue walks down the stairs and Reed instantly forgets how to speak when he notices that she's suddenly ten years older. So, obviously he loves her now. Seriously, they stare at each other longingly and everyone else just kinda looks on awkwardly.

Except for Johnny, who is totally checking out Reed's ass.
But Ben gets his own moment of awkward love at first sight, only his is with a blind girl. That's right, on the way to their office, he runs into Alicia Masters and they also basically get struck by the love bug pretty much immediately. Someone really needs to tell Cupid to rein it in, we're trying to make a movie here. In the office, Reed gives the group the down-low on how his big shiny diamond is going to make everything work this time and how no one is going to get exposed to cosmic radiation that may result in anyone turning into a flaming corpse or a shitty CGI rock monster. After all, they're going to space, not to Planet Zero. But all is not well, as the checker playing baddies from earlier are up to hijinks! They're not the only ones up to something though, as an old man called the Jeweler breaks in to steal the big diamond, replacing it with a fake. The flute boys and their boss, Dr. Doom, watch on and let it happen, as it saves them the trouble of sabotaging the rocket. Why does the Jeweler want to diamond? To sell it, right? Wrong. He wants it so he can use the big sparkly jewel to woo Alicia.

Because nothing wins over a blind woman better than a giant sparkly diamond she can't see.
As a result things go a bit wonky in space for our heroes as the fake diamond gets overheated and the four get bombarded with cosmic radiation and Stanley Kubrick makes them watch the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oh, and the rocket explodes. But, despite that little set-back, they all manage to survive and find themselves back on Earth among the wreckage. Johnny and Ben find Reed, pulling him from some wreckage, but things get more surreal for them as Johnny then sneezes fire onto a bush. I heard some guy name Moses later wandered over there and had a conversation with it. Jeff Goldblum was involved somehow. Anyway, Susan also shows up with the ability to turn invisible and Reed learns he can stretch, as he saves her from falling in a panic. Ben seems fine for a while until the military shows up and he's suddenly looking a bit lumpy.

"Seriously, guys, I could use some lotion over here. My skin is getting a bit scaley."
They get taken to a place where they're tested, which basically goes like this: Ben breaks a chair, Johnny freaks out when his catches on fire, Sue turns invisible a makes the doctor shit, and Reed grabs the doctor's syringe from across the room. The doctor is a bit freaked out, to say the least. Also, there's something about that doctor that seems oddly familiar. Like he resembles someone...someone I don't trust...someone from another Marvel film...

Dammit, Arnim Zola! Stop popping up in movies I'm reviewing! This isn't even a movie that should have Nazis!!
Surprising no one, the obvious Nazi lookalike works for Dr. Doom and the four are being held there while being told they're contagious. Meanwhile, back in New York, Alicia is comissioned to do a statue of them, as everyone else thinks they're dead. While feeling casts of their faces, she recognizes the contours of Ben's face and gets emotionally distraught, which is the perfect time for the Jeweler's men to kidnap her. Back in Latveria, our heroes fianlly figure out that something stinks and decide to escape captivity where Doom introduced himself. He then leaves them to his henchmen, whom they trounce, and comes back to see they've escaped. His reaction to this? He says "huh..." as if it barely bothers him. Wow. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most laid back Doom ever. I bet he doesn't even worry about ironing his tunic. He just tosses it on as is. They make it home where Reed figures out two things: why they got their specific powers and also the fact that the guy named Doom is his supposedly dead bestie who also happened to have Doom in his name. I guess Doom is just a really common surname in the Marvel universe.

"No, no, my name is Tobias Deacon Doomstein of the Philadelphia Doomsteins. I shortened when I opened my practice."
Ben isn't really happy about things though, as he feels like his life is over being that he doesn't look so normal anymore. He wanders off and ends up getting recruited into the Jeweler's gang. And can I just say that the Jeweler and his gang do not feel like they belong here. No, they feel like they wandered over from Tim Burton's Oliver Twist and I honestly half expect Michael Keaton's Batman to burst in and beat them all up every single time they're on screen. I adore them. I want a movie about them. Tim Burton, if you're reading this, make an Oliver Twist movie with these guys in it. I'm begging you here. Especially the guy with the hands. I love that guy.

"Would you like to see something strange and mysterious? Or should I quote more Freakazoid at you?"
They're all ready to celebrate having a big guy in their group but then Doom shows up to crash their party. His men start making short work and hands man makes a valiant attempt to stop him by...moving his hands around like he tends to do. Doom shoots him dead and then the  Jeweler comes out with a gun at Alicia's head, threatening to kill her. Doom responds by pointing out he doesn't care, as she means nothing to him, which kinda makes the Jeweler's plan fall apart. But Ben does care as he demands they let her go. Jeweler taps out and Doom then puts his gun on her to keep Ben at bay, which makes him turn back human for some reason, so he runs off. Doom escapes with her and Ben gets back in touch with his inner walking callous, turning back to the Thing and rejoining his freinds to go save Alicia and stop Doom from blowing up New York.

You ever notice how no one ever wants to blow up Delaware?
They go to Castle Doom in the Fantasticar, which I guess Reed built in his downtime, and end up getting captured as Doom reveals he plans to take their powers for himself. Before he can though, Reed wriggles his leg under the forcefield and kicks the machine, which blows up the forcefield generator and then there's a lot of clobberin' to be done. Reed and Doom have a showdown on the balcony while Johnny flies off to New York, racing to beat the laser there. Ultimately, he does manage to do so, using his fire powers to push the beam into space where it explodes, which I doubt is scientifically accurate, but whatever. Doom ends up getting knocked off the balcony of his castle during his and Reed's fight, with Reed trying to save him, but his glove slips off and he laughs all the way to the bottom. They head back to New York, missing the fact that Doom's gauntlet moves (implying either that he survived the fall or that he was really a Doombot), and Reed and Sue get married. Really, that's how it goes. From saving the world straight to them getting hitched and driving off while Reed waves his big wobbly arm. Thus ends the tale of the Fantastic Four. Was it really that bad? Actually...no, I really don't think it was.

Scientific accuracy be damned.
It's glaringly obvious this movie was made on a small budget, but at the same time, it's not an unimpressive film. On the budget it had, which was a paltry $1 million, it gave us a really nicely done Thing that was entirely practical with no computer generated effects, fairly decent CGI for the time that wasn't really distracting or awful, a story that felt straight out of the comics, and actors who not only looked like their characters but acted like them. It's almost like they researched their roles or something, yes? Not to mention, we finally got a Dr. Doom who actually acted like Dr. Doom, complete with armour and a massive ego. There was no subplot about him being obsessed with Sue or any silly love triangle, there was just the tragic accident that created him and his irrational hatred of Reed as result. I...holy shit...I think...I liked this movie.

Red alert! Red alert!! A Fantastic Four movie gave me joy! AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!
Yeah, this movie actually made me smile...a lot. From the Johnny Storm burning hand freakout to the Tim Burton-esque gang of homeless thieves, I honestly enjoyed every second of this film. At no point did I find myself thinking these characters were mishandled or acting in a way that didn't stay true to their character from the source material. Never did I find myself cringing at out of place dark moments that didn't fit the overall tone of the film. And, again, Dr. Doom didn't once creep on Sue Storm in this movie. How in the ever-loving name of fuck did this movie deserve the fate it got? Really, I want to know. Because this movie is better than several big budget superhero movies I can think of and I find the fact that it's treated like it's some sort of misbegotten spawn of shit quite questionable. Again, I must remind you all that a movie in which a rubber-eared Captain America gets tossed around by most everyone and fights an Italian Red Skull exists and is available on Blu-Ray. But this movie doesn't even get a VHS release? Fuck you, Avi Arad. This movie deserved better and I hope that one day it finally gets the proper release it deserves. Fox may continuously get it wrong, but Roger Corman and company managed to get it right once upon a time snd that's most definitely worth remembering. So, until Jay Underwood stops having nightmares about John Candy's zombified corpse lusting for his blood, I'll be over here dreading when I have to talk about some of the much shittier Marvel films. Later days, bleeders.

I'd much rather talk about Hands Man some more.

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