The Fantastic Four (1994)

The Fantastic Four


Today, I’m going to delve into the infamous first attempt to bring the comic book team The Fantastic Four to the big screen: 1994’s The Fantastic Four.

The plot of The Fantastic Four is described on IMDb as follows:

When an experimental space voyage goes awry, four people are forever changed by cosmic rays: Reed Richards, inventor and leader of the group gains the ability to stretch his body and takes the name Mr. Fantastic. His girlfriend, Sue Storm, gains the ability to turn invisible and create force fields becoming The Invisible Girl. Her little brother, Johnny Storm, becomes The Human Torch with the ability to control fire, including covering his own body with flame. The pilot Ben Grimm is turned into the super-strong, super-tough Thing. Together they become a team of super-heroes and use their unique powers to foil the evil plans of villains

The superhero team The Fantastic Four was created by famed comic book masters Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and first appeared in The Fantastic Four #1 in November of 1961. Since then, the team has been a mainstay of Marvel comics, and has made the jump to cartoons, video games, and a number of movies.

The screenplay for this film adaptation was credited to Craig J. Nevius (Black Scorpion) and Kevin Rock (Howling VI, The Philadelphia Experiment II).

The director for The Fantastic Four was Oley Sassone, who helmed numerous episodes of the television shows Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

The cast of The Fantastic Four includes Jay Underwood (The Boy Who Could Fly, Uncle Buck), Rebecca Staab (The Substitute 3, Love Potion No. 9), Michael Bailey Smith (Men In Black II, The Hills Have Eyes), Joseph Culp (Mad Men), and Alex Hyde-White (Pretty Woman).

The editor for The Fantastic Four was Glenn Garland, who has gone on to become Rob Zombie’s go-to film cutter. His credits include 31, The Lords of Salem, Bunraku, The Devil’s Rejects, Retroactive, and both of Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies.

One of the executive producers for the film was Roger Corman, the legendary b-movie producer and director. As legend has it, he was given a small budget, and the job of throwing together a Fantastic Four movie as quickly and cheaply as possible, so that the rights to the property could be retained for another ten years. Thus, in many ways, The Fantastic Four is considered his creation, and is often referred to as Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four.

One of the special effects makeup artists for the movie was Everett Burrell, whose other credits include Castle Freak, Re-Animator, Troll, Ghoulies, DeepStar Six, Harry and the Hendersons, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Creepshow 2, among others.

The production designer for The Fantastic Four was Mick Strawn, who has served as a designer and art director on such movies as A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, Kazaam, The Hidden, and Candyman.

In 2015, a documentary by the name of Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four was released, which detailed the story of the movie’s bizarre production, non-release, and ultimate cult status.

Including this iteration, The Fantastic Four has been put to film four times. The other attempts, 2015’s Fantastic Four, 2005’s Fantastic Four, and 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, all met with mixed to negative receptions, leading to a popular belief that there is no way to make a Fantastic Four film work in this day and age.

The hit comedy television show Arrested Development has a recurring, thinly veiled reference to the production of this film that runs throughout the show’s fourth season. One of the main character creates a musical adaptation of an unfinished Fantastic Four movie from the 1990s, in an attempt to circumvent rights issues with Marvel.

Because the movie was never formally released, people only managed to hear about it through word of mouth, and see it on unfinished bootleg tapes. Still, the film’s reputation got around. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 3.9/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 29% from critics and 27% from audiences.

Personally, I think that there are a whole lot of things to like about this flicks. The costumes, for instance, look pretty great, and are delightfully faithful to the group’s comic book origins. They may be cheesy and somewhat goofy, but that sort of gels with what this particular hero team has always been.

Likewise, the performances and writing are generally pretty good here. All of the key players put in performances that suit their characters, are there aren’t any weak links among them. In particular, I’m a big fan of Dr. Doom in this movie: he way be an over-the-top mustache-twirler, but that is exactly what I wanted from the villain in this movie.

The biggest issues with the film relate to its financial limitations and time constrictions. The effects, for instance, are inarguably cheesy and cheap. Likewise, the audio isn’t great for some of the dialogue, which isn’t so strange for a movie that was never quite finished, and not meant for consumption. Regardless, I think these issues give the movie an added, curious charm, so it hard to fault the movie for them.

The Fantastic Four is certainly no masterpiece, but it may be the most loyal and genuine Fantastic Four movie that the world will ever see. For fans of the property, it is worth checking out. More importantly, though, this is an absolute gem of a feature for bad movie fans: the performances are goofy, the costumes and effects are cheap, and there’s a great behind-the-scenes story to tie the whole thing together.

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