Infamous film producer Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four is the movie that shouldn’t have been, but since it has found a way to become despite the odds, has been hidden so far in the Earth core that only those wholly devoted to the comic book of which the movie is based would take the time to seek out a copy. Corman and his people acquired the movie rights to the Fantastic Four at a time when Marvel Comics, the company that created and owns the rights, was in the dumps.
Marvel, unlike its rival DC Comics, seemed unable to make a profitable movie adaptation of its vast sea of comic properties. DC had Batman and Marvel had…The Punisher with Dolph Lundren; DC had Superman and Marvel had…Captain America with Matt Salinger. (Who is Matt Salinger? Exactly.) Every movie made from a Marvel comic book either went straight to video hell or, as was the case with The Incredible Hulk, managed to get on network TV…just barely. So when Corman came and asked to buy the movie rights to the Fantastic Four, Marvel eagerly gave it to them. And Fantastic Four was made — and subsequently buried.
All that having been said, is Corman’s Fantastic Four really as bad as people make it out to be? Well, no, not really. Well, okay, yes.
The film opens with college brainiacs and chums Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and Victor von Doom (Joseph Culp) planning to harness the energy of something called Colossus, which has appeared in space over Earth. The duo’s plan goes awry, and Victor is presumed dead and Reed’s collegiate career ended. Flash-forward 10 years, and Reed is now a brilliant scientist who has built a ship to go into space to once again harness the power of Colossus.
Reed’s crew consists of test pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith) and the Storm siblings, Susan and Johnny. The planned flight goes — what else? — awry when a diamond thief called the Jeweler steals an important part of Reed’s ship, causing the ship to explode in space and sending the crew tumbling back home. Once on terra firma again, the crew discovers that they have developed superpowers — just in time, too, since a maniac covered from head to toe in metal sheets is threatening to destroy all of New York City with a big bastard of a cannon…
First of all, Fantastic Four is a low-budget movie. Anyone who has seen enough movies with Corman’s name attached to them in one form or another knows this, and has accepted it. So why would anyone try to make a superhero movie with such a low budget? I have no idea. It’s akin to trying to build a Cadillac out of spare parts from a tricycle. It just isn’t a good idea, folks.
Here are the powers of the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards has the power to stretch, but seems to only be able to stretch his hand and feet — which looks like what they are, that iiis a fake hand or foot stuck to the end of a really long pole. Susan Storm, who can turn invisible, provides the movie’s cheapest sfx, since “going invisible” costs little to nothing nowadays. Johnny Storm can make fire, but besides shooting the same fireball over and over again (only blue screened on other backgrounds), his only real “special” ability comes in handy at the end, when he completely turns himself into a literal human torch. Ben Grimm’s power, as the Thing, a large monstrosity covered in chunks of orange-colored rocks, is all prosthetics, but they’re very well done prosthetics.
So what I’m trying to say is, if you went into Fantastic Four looking to go “wow,” then you should turn on the WB to catch an episode of the Superboy TV show “Smallville” instead. The sets are notoriously Corman, which means their idea of “high tech” is a series of buttons and levers borrowed from the original “Star Trek” TV show. The acting is sub par by the 4 leads, with Joseph Culp (Doctor Doom) grossly overreacting, perhaps trying to make up for the fact that we can’t see his face.
The movie’s only real highlight comes from the Ben Grimm character, which in Thing form is played by another actor besides Michael Bailey Smith. The Thing blames Reed Richards for turning him into a grotesque “thing.” Oddly enough, despite being covered in prosthetics, the Thing shows the most emotions and range of all the actors.
Oley Sassone, who shows no real flair for comic books, directs Fantastic Four as best as he can under the situation. All the scenes are average and Sassone doesn’t seem to have gotten much out of his actors, in particular Rebecca Staab (Susan Storm), who brings her pretty face to the film but forgot any thespian ability she may have had. Writers Craig J. Nevius and Kevin Rock hits all the right notes, covering all the origins of the Fantastic Four as told by the comic book, but it’s obvious their script was written to heavily conform to the film’s low budget. The addition of the Jeweler, an underground dweller and diamond thief who kidnaps Ben Grimm’s girl in hopes of marrying her, seemed out of place and unnecessary.
Fantastic Four has been making the rounds of comic book conventions everywhere, with bootleg copies being the only way to see this film, since I doubt you could find a copy at your local Blockbusters. It’s not an entirely bad film, and even with its many constraints and negatives, the film is notable for being very faithful to its comic book roots. Unfortunately it’s a Corman film, so there you have it.
Oley Sassone (director) / Craig J. Nevius, Kevin Rock (screenplay)
CAST: Alex Hyde-White …. Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards
Jay Underwood …. Human Torch/Johnny Storm
Rebecca Staab …. Invisible Girl/Sue Storm
Michael Bailey Smith …. Ben Grimm