The Unreleased "Fantastic Four" Movie (1994) Review

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"The Fantastic Four" (1994) - Directed by Oley Sasson

The super heroes of Marvel Studios are sitting pretty atop the box office heap nowadays thanks to massively successful film franchises like Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, and of course The Avengers, but it certainly wasn't an easy road to cinematic glory for the House of Ideas. In the '80s and '90s, Marvel watched from the sidelines while their rivals at DC Comics turned both Superman and Batman into successful film franchises, but Marvel's stable of heroes were stalled at Hollywood's starting gate aside from some animated TV projects. A proposed Spider-Man film (which, legend has it, might have starred a young Charlie Sheen - !!! - as the web slinger!) had been languishing in development Hell for a number of years at a variety of studios, and attempts at filming The Punisher (1989, starring Dolph Lundgren) and Captain America (1991, starring Matt Salinger) resulted in low budget turkeys that went quietly (and deservedly) to home video. But hey, True Believers -- did you know that there was one Marvel Movie didn't even make it THAT far? I'm sure that most of us are familiar with the pair of mega-budgeted "Fantastic Four" films starring Jessica Alba and Chris Evans (2005's Fantastic Four and 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer), and the disastrous attempt at an FF "reboot" in the Summer of 2015, but an even earlier attempt at bringing "The World's Greatest Comics Magazine" to film was doomed to failure before the cameras even rolled.

"Coming Soon.to a Theater Near You...or Maybe Not!"
"Coming Soon.to a Theater Near You...or Maybe Not!" | Source

The Strange Saga

The story behind 1994's Fantastic Four film is actually more interesting than the film itself. In 1992, the German production company Constantin Films had been sitting on the movie rights to the Fantastic Four comics series for a number of years, and their option on the characters was set to expire by the end of the year unless they started filming something - anything - right away. Constantin had envisioned The Fantastic Four as a big budget film (supposedly around $40 million), with a heavy reliance on eye-popping special effects, but they were unable to secure enough financing to begin the project. With the deadline looming and desperate to get cameras rolling, Constantin knocked on the door of New Horizons Productions, home of of B-Movie legend Roger Corman - a man who certainly knows a thing or two about makin' movies quick and makin' em cheap. Corman and Constantin shook hands and before long The Fantastic Four had a cast, a director, a shooting schedule (of less than a month), and a budget of just $1.5 million to make it all happen. Yeah, that's Roger Corman all over.

Trailer!

"Does this cape make me look fat?"
"Does this cape make me look fat?" | Source

The Story...

Befitting its minuscule budget and pared-down presentation, The Fantastic Four plays like an ambitious fan film, or a pilot for an extremely cheap television series. When we first meet scientific genius Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and his close friend, athlete and tough guy Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith) they're college students living at Mrs. Storm's off campus Boarding House, where they're idolized by their landlady's two young children, Sue and Johnny. (Geek trivia note: the pint-sized Sue Storm is played by a young Mercedes McNab, who would eventually go on to play the bloodsucking hottie "Harmony" in TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spinoff, "Angel.") Reed and his lab partner Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp) are working on an experiment that will harness the energy from a passing comet called "Colossus." Naturally, something goes horribly wrong, Victor is believed killed in the ensuing explosion, and only the timely intervention of Ben saves Reed from the same fate.

Ten years later, a guilt-ridden Reed is now a world famous scientist and he's still working on perfecting the experiment that he and Victor had started together. Colossus is due for another pass by Earth and he's built a rocket to intercept it. Ben is going to fly the ship and they recruit the now-grown Sue (Rebecca Staab) and Johnny (Jay Underwood) to fill out their crew...by simply showing up at their house and asking their Mom if they can come along. Yes, really! The centerpiece of the new and improved experiment is a gigantic diamond, which unfortunately is stolen and replaced with a fake prior to the mission by a subterranean villain named "The Jeweler" (a low rent version of the long time FF villain "Mole Man"). Once again, the mission goes horribly wrong, the ship crashes to Earth, and our four heroes quickly discover that the "cosmic rays" from Colossus have bestowed each of them with strange new abilities -- Reed can stretch his body to absurd lengths, Sue can turn invisible and project force fields, Johnny can throw fireballs, and Ben has transformed into a rock-like, super-strong gorilla with a bad skin condition. Seriously, even though I'm sure that a good chunk of the film's minuscule budget must've been spent on Grimm's "Thing" costume, it never looks like more than a guy in an ill-fitting rubber suit. As fate would have it, they've crash landed on the island nation of Latveria, home of -- wait for it -- the villainous Doctor Doom (dun-dun-duuuuuun!), who captures them in order to study their amazing new powers.

From there... well, things certainly move quickly, even if they don't make a helluva lot of sense. The newly christened Fantastic Four escape from Doom's castle and return to New York, where Ben Grimm quits the team... till the Jeweler reappears and puts Ben's beloved Alicia Masters (Kat Green) - who is a major player in the comic books, but who seems shoehorned into this film as an afterthought - in peril. Doctor Doom is revealed to be Reed's old friend Victor, now crazed and seeking revenge for the experiment that horribly scarred him a decade before, and he makes short work of the traitorous Jeweler and his minions in order to steal back Reed's massive diamond, which he needs for his ultimate laser-beam weapon. Then stuff gets blown up, Grimm sez "It's clobberin' time" a lot, Johnny "Human Torch" Blaze has to save New York City from destruction via Doctor Doom's super laser by turning into an animated character....and somewhere along the way, of course, Reed and Susan fall in love.

Yeah, I know, this sounds like a train wreck. But believe it or not, despite all of its flaws, The Fantastic Four was actually a lot of fun to watch. I have to give the actors credit, they do what they can with the ridiculous dialogue they're forced to spout, and Culp in particular is a hoot as Doctor Doom, mincing around his Evil Headquarters, punctuating everything he says with wild hand gestures and lots of "MWA-HA-HA-HA's!" Naturally, the special effects are where the film suffers the most. Reed's "stretching" powers look ridiculous, and the sequence where Johnny finally does a full body "flame on" to stop Dr. Doom's laser beam (till then, he's only shown tossing fireballs from one hand) is so poorly CGI'd that it looks like a cheap Saturday morning cartoon. Other than the Fantastic Four's costumes (which neatly copy the FF's late '80s/early '90s look), the sets and other decorations look like yard-sale castoffs or leftovers from previous Corman sci-fi productions. I suppose that with the money they had to work with, it's some kind of miracle that the film looks as good as it does. Overall, the film looks like it was a labor of love for the cast and crew, who were obviously trying to create something really cool under the absolute worst of conditions...and they nearly pulled it off!

"Hey, wait...that's not Jessica Alba! I want my money back!"
"Hey, wait...that's not Jessica Alba! I want my money back!" | Source

It's Clobberin' Time!

So Where Can I See It?

The Fantastic Four was slated to be released in the Summer of 1994 and for a while at least, the hype machine was in full gear. The film's cast members made comic-book convention appearances to promote the film, updates appeared on the "Bullpen Bulletins" news pages in Marvel's monthly comics, trailers appeared on some of Corman's home video releases and then just as the movie was due for its big gala premiere at the Mall of America in Minnesota, its plug was suddenly pulled. In the cruelest cut of all, it turned out that Constantin never intended to actually release The Fantastic Four -- they just needed to have something on their books in order to retain their movie rights. The problem was, they never told anyone in the cast and crew that the film was simply going to go on the shelf, causing much heartbreak for all involved. (Legend has it that even Roger Corman himself was blindsided by Constantin's underhanded move!) The Fantastic Four disappeared off the face of the Earth, though a few screener copies found their way out of the vaults and went on to become hot selling bootlegs on the comic book convention circuit for many years afterwards. Now, of course, the film can be found easily on the Internet for those of you who know where to look (*cough cough YOUTUBE cough cough*).

We all know how the story ends. Constantin Film finally re-used their option on the characters a decade later and partnered with 20th Century Fox to produce the two big-budget "FF" films starring Jessica Alba et. al., both of which made a pile of money but weren't particularly embraced by fans. 2015's rebooted version of Fantastic Four was met with even more fanboy hatred and was one of that year's biggest flops. Even while their more expensive counterparts were in theaters, there was still no quickie cash-in DVD release of the "original" FF film. It's become the red headed step kid of the Marvel filmography, which is a shame because it's simply a fun B-Movie. In my book, it certainly was a lot more fun than those dreary Punisher and Captain America films made around the same period, and those at least were given a dignified, straight-to-video burial!! All members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society need to see the film at least once; as long as you don't compare it to the 21st Century "FF" movies you should have a fun, cheesy, clobberin' good time.

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Comments 23 comments

spartucusjones profile image

spartucusjones 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

Awesome hub! I will have to make a point of watching it. B-movies can be a lot of campy fun.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Cool man, glad you enjoyed it. To find this flick just go to YouTube and search for "Fantastic Four 1994" -- you should be able to find it easily. Enjoy!


A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 4 years ago from Texas

I had no idea this film existed. How did you know?


FreedomMetal profile image

FreedomMetal 4 years ago from Somewhere In Time

Nice hub!!! I will have to hit Youtube when I have a chance to check it out!!!! I remember hearing about about this back in the day and sadly was never able to secure a copy on VHS. I did see The Punisher and Capt America, which were low budget and cheesy yet fun.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Thanx for your responses, fellas!

@ A.A. - I was a big time comic geek when this film was in the works and before its plug was pulled, it got its fair share of press in the comic-industry/fan news grapevine, so I was aware of it (and wondered where it disappeared to!) back then...

@ Freedom - it's worth 90 minutes of your life on YouTube for sure, haha. Back in the day bootleg VHS tapes of this flick were going for $40 and up at comic book conventions, which was a little rich for my blood, that's why I never got around to seeing it till now.


dblyn profile image

dblyn 4 years ago from Staten Island, NY

This is a great hub. I used to work in a comic book store at the time and I remember this getting pulled very fast and the rumors were that it was so bad, Marvel didn't want to release it. That was the story anyway. I knew a few artists at Marvel at the time and they didn't want to talk about it either. I can't wait to watch some of this on YouTube...


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hi dblyn - yeah, it certainly disappeared without a trace, which is a shame cuz at the time a lot of fans were looking forward to it. You can watch the entire film on YouTube now (gotta love the internet!), if you check it out please feel free to come back and let me know what you thought of it!


FreedomMetal profile image

FreedomMetal 4 years ago from Somewhere In Time

Forgot to mention that I did finally watch it last weekend. Wow, it's bad, really really bad. Like USA Up All Night bad. In fact, it reminded me of those cheesy 70's B movies that they would play. Still, they should have allowed it to go to video - it would have survived as a camp classic!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Awesome, Freedom! Yeah, I agree, for a movie made in the 90s it definitely had more of a 60s/70s feel. If they'd released this as a live action kids' film ala "Power Rangers," who knows, it could've actually been a hit!


Domenick Dicce 4 years ago

I have seen bits and pieces of this awful film a few years ago and completely forgot about it. I am going to have to go on youtube and finally get around to watching the whole thing.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Cool, Domenick. Hope you get a kick out of this long lost cheesy gem.


Geekdom profile image

Geekdom 4 years ago

Those direct to video movies like Dolph Lundgren's Punisher and Matt Salinger Captain America were truly awful. At least now we are getting a lot of great superhero films.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Very true... it took Marvel a while to catch up to DC in terms of film quality but I think they're definitely the front runners nowadays.


Geekdom profile image

Geekdom 4 years ago

Before DC had Warner Brothers. Not Marvel has Disney. It is a battle of the titans. :)


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Yeah, Warners has owned DC since the '70s, so they had a head start.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 22 months ago from The Garden State Author

Updated!


Thief12 profile image

Thief12 22 months ago from Puerto Rico

Oh my Gawd, that trailer! LOL. Interesting hub. Voted UP!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 22 months ago from The Garden State Author

Have you seen the trailer for the "new" F4 movie yet, Thief? I wasn't impressed, I think I'd rather watch the 1994 version again. Haha!


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 22 months ago from United States

The thing looks like the stuff of 90's kids' nightmares. Also, based on the trailer, Sue Storm can become immaterial as well as invisible, otherwise those goons would have still run into her. (Maybe she just stepped out of the way.) I completely agree that this should get some kind of dvd release, or maybe put it as a special feature on the inevitable blue ray of the reboot. It's old enough that it can't tarnish the image of the brand now, so it would be a fun easter egg for long time fans.


Thief12 profile image

Thief12 22 months ago from Puerto Rico

FFC, the trailer wasn't bad, but I wasn't impressed either. Seems like more of the same "new, gritty" approach to superhero films. Then again, I haven't been that big on recent superhero films, other than the Dark Knight ones, and I'm not even a huge fan of those, so I'm not necessarily the target audience.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 22 months ago from The Garden State Author

I feel the same way, Thief... the trailer for the new film doesn't even look like an "F4" movie, it looks like just another generic sci-fi/action pic.


Mr Showbiz 18 months ago

Finally managed to see this movie yesterday morning via Youtube (it has its uses) and I was pleasantly surprised how good it is. Minor quibble about The Jeweller sub plot but that aside it really is..dare I say it...Fantastic. Thoroughly enjoyable.


mrober92 7 months ago

I fing love this movie

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