In 1994, B-film director Roger Corman came to the imprudent conclusion that audiences would love to see a campy under financed film take on beloved comic book heroes “The Fantastic Four”. The iconic director, whose back catalogue includes such low-budget fare as the hurried and frayed “Little Shop of Horrors” (1960), snapped up the rights from Marvel at a time when the comic crew were in dire straits, seemingly offering film rights in cereal boxes. And you couldn’t blame them – nearly every comic to film adaptation from the stable – “The Punisher,” “Captain America” – had become laughing stock among the Hollywood cineplex circuit. But despite the fact “The Fantastic Four” wouldn’t have been the first movie to drag a fêted name through the mud, distributors ultimately decided not to release the rash and unrefined tale – instead burying it deep in the annals never to see the light of day – believing there had to be a better way to milk their baby. Yes the film suddenly disappeared…even after the marketing and poster campaign had been done.
It’ll be ten years later when we finally do get a “Fantastic Four” movie on the screen; and this one will be significantly more ‘everything’ than the unpolished predecessor – bigger stars, bigger budget, bigger f/x, bigger narrative, bigger hopes. But the question for those many fans of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Human Torch and Ben is – was the concealed “Fantastic Four” of 1994 really that bad?
We have the low-down – and the answer’s not as straightforward as a yes or no. I mean, yes it’s terribly low budget and yes it’s derisorily campy and feebly performed, but at the same time there’s also something inquiringly irresistible about this B comic tale that makes you wonder why it didn’t get a release somewhere along the line. Even if it does resemble “Toxic Avenger” than say, Spider-Man.
One of the most noticeable reasons “Fantastic Four” was pulled from the calendar was the unmarketable cast. The most famous faces in the cast were actors either eminent for headlining TV movies, straight to video debris or washed-out 80s stars, like Jay Underwood of “The Boy Who Could Fly” fame, and George Gaynes, of “Police Academy”, playing Johnny Storm and a Professor here, respectively.
Making up the other roles: relative unknowns Alex Hyde-White as Reed Richards, Michael Bailey Smith as Ben Grimm, Rebecca Staab as Sue Storm and Joseph Culp as Victor Von Doom. Not exactly marquee names folks.
Our film opens with college whiz kids Reed Richards and Victor von Doom planning to yoke the energy of something called Colossus, which has appeared in space over Earth. Nothing goes to plan and Doom ends up seemingly dead, and Richards without a career. Flash-forward 10 years later and Richards is now the pilot of a spaceship, resolute to once again harness Colossus’s energy, Susan and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm partner him. But because a nasty piece of work named The Jeweller switches an imperative part of the ship, the gang’s pod explodes, and the four plummet to terra firma.
Funnily enough, no one is injured in the accident, but quickly all start to realize they’ve got some novel, but unsolicited powers. Richards discovers he can elongate his arms and legs, Sue discovers she can go invisible, Johnny realizes he has the power to turn into a human flamethrower and Ben finds himself a walking rock-like creature.
Ultimately they realize they are what they are and that there isn’t anything they can do about their new makeover, but what they can do something about is the maniacal villain stalking New York, the mystifying, darkness-shrouded Doom.
If you’ve seen any of Roger Corman’s movies, you’ll no doubt know what to expect -something very low budget, very tacky and openly campy. Definitely not what a comic book company would want to see in a film adaptation of their one of their top-selling crop.
To its merit, the film had infinitesimal potential. The script isn’t actually all that bad and some of the actors – notably Michael Bailey Smith – are actually quite good here, and with an extra polish I think they might have been able to release this thing. But when there’s potential to be had to the sound of a few zillion more dollars – and probably a better director and lead cast to headline – I hardly blame the film company for shelving this one and putting all their energies into a speedy re-erect.