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Unreleased "Fantastic Four" review

.The very FIRST Fantastic Four movie ever made has never been released! Here's the story: German producer Bernd Eichinger and his Neue Constantin Films purchased the FF movie rights from Marvel, then sub-licensed them to B-movie king Roger Corman in 1992. With a budget of just two million dollars, Corman shot the first FF movie in a big hurry.

He had to. Constantin Films, and therefore Corman's sub-license, would have lost all rights to the property if Corman hadn't begun production by a certain date. So, the first FF movie was rushed into production. Corman must have known it might never get released, because he knew Hollywood wanted to make a big-budget FF movie, and wouldn't want a cheaper version to premiere before theirs could be made.

Sure enough, shortly after the Corman film was completed, Constantin Films paid Corman a cool million dollars to repossess the FF rights. They then shelved Corman's version, hoping to re-sell the rights AGAIN -- this time to Hollywood, and for more money. They were purchased by 20th Century Fox for "Home Alone" director Chris Columbus, who planned to make a new, multi-million dollar version with modern effects and celebrity actors. Chris Columbus eventually left the project, but a .new, big budget FF movie WAS made, and it will premiere next month, on July 8, 2005.

But getting back to the first FF movie: What was it like? How were the effects? The acting? Was it really THAT bad? I've seen a bootleg copy of the entire movie, and the answer is a resounding YES. From the painfully low-budget special effects to the wretched acting to the cardboard sets and plastic masks, YES -- it really is THAT bad.

IT GETS WORSE

The plot: Forget about "cosmic rays." Every ten years, a mysterious comet-like object called "Colossus" orbits close to the Earth. At a New York university, young Reed Richards is working with his friend Victor von Doom, hoping to tap into the power of Colossus, to use it as an energy source. Suddenly, Colossus sends down. a bolt of energy which explodes Reed and Von Doom's lab, and electrocutes Victor. Reed's friend Ben Grimm rushes in to help, but it's too late. At the hospital, von Doom is pronounced dead.

Ten years later, Colossus nears the Earth again. What a fortunate coincidence! This time, a mysterious benefactor has funded the building of a rocket plane to fly closer to Colossus. Ben plans pilot the plane. First, Ben and Reed visit their friends Johnny and Sue. They are brother and sister, and they both have blonde hair (unlike Chris Evans, the inexplicably dark-haired Torch in the new FF movie).

Next we meet an eccentric dwarf named the Jeweler, a sort of cut-rate Mole Man who is the ruler of the city's underground misfits. I guess the FF doesn't have enough great villains, so they just HAD to invent a new one. And such a "good" one! Why is he necessary? Well, when the Jeweler finds out that Reed is using a special diamond for his space flight, he manages to steal it, and secretly replace it with a counterfeit.


FANTASTIC?

The four board a rocket and blast off to meet Colossus. Suddenly, an energy surge explodes the fake diamond along with the ship. Miraculously, the team falls to earth and survives completely intact. Not only that, they discover Colossus has given them each a different super power. For example, .Reed has the power to add new segments to his clothing so that his newly-stretchy arms don't tear up his wardrobe. See pic above. Johnny can flame on ... but chooses not to do the "Full Monty" flame on. Cheaper that way. Sue's invisible, Ben's the Thing ... you know the drill. Anyway, the group is met by soldiers and taken to a nearby castle, but their host turns out to be ... Dr. Doom! He survived, you see. Shocking!

The team escapes Dr. Doom by using their "fantastic" powers. A special effects extravaganza? Hardly. Looks more like the "special" effects one might find in a high school class play. Invisibility is a fairly easy effect to pull off on even a shoestring budget, but Johnny's flames and Reed's stretching ability are especially hampered by budgetary constraints and the fact that CGI had not yet been invented (Johnny flames-on totally only once, at the end of the movie). Ben looks pretty good in his orange, rocky laytex Thing suit -- as long as he doesn't move or talk, which, unfortunately, he does do.

MEANWHILE...

Back in New York, the team tries to learn to control their super-abilities -- and Reed, always the scientist, offers the world's lamest explanation of why each team member got their particular super- power. .Reed himself, you see, is curious and always "stretching" to learn new things, so he got stretching powers. Sue is said to be the shy type (since when?!?!), so she became invisible.

Johnny is temperamental and a young hot-head, so he naturally became the flaming Human Torch. The scene where a horrified Torch watches his "hand'" burst into flames is a classic of laughable over-acting. The flaming "hand" is obviously a fake wooden hand, and Johnny's acting style, too, is equally fake and even more wooden than actual wood.

Finally, poor Ben has a gruff and monstrous personality, so he became a Thing. Wow, so that's how it worked! Who knew? Anyway, Ben who runs off into the night, depressed because he now looks like a walking pile of orange rocks. As has been well-established in the comic, of the four, Ben definitely got the short end of the stick.

Meanwhile, we meet a pretty blind girl named Alicia Masters, who Ben had a crush on before his transformation to the Thing. In a classic scene, Doctor Doom's henchmen kidnap Alicia .Masters. They sneak up behind her and do the standard "chloroform rag over the mouth" bit to render her unconscious. We see Alicia's point-of-view, then the bottom half of the screen is covered by a rag. Fade to black. But there's one small problem: It was nice of the filmmakers to show us Alicia's point of view ... but did they forget that Alicia is supposed to be totally blind? Ouch.

Now kidnapped by the Jeweler, Alicia recognizes Ben's voice from afar and calls to him for help. Ben is so touched he temporarily changes back to human form. Then he turns back, yells "Its clobberin' time!" and rescues Alicia.

Ben rejoins his friends, and as a team they track down Dr. Doom, who has taken to wearing a green costume and plastic face-mask (see photo). For some reason, .Doom is sending a missile into the sun, and it will destroy the world, or some such nonsense. Why? Ummm... revenge? Yeah, that's it.

What to do? Call the Watcher? No! Johnny -- you've got to catch the missile before it explodes! Hurry! Flame on! So Johnny flames on completely, for the first time in the whole movie, and we get to see him fly. A very cool special effect -- NOT. It isn't a pretty picture. In fact, flaming flying Johnny looks almost a cartoon, and a very bad and cheap-looking cartoon at that. Nevertheless, with .the Torch's help, the FF defeat Dr. Doom's evil plot to destroy the earth. Yay!

The big wrap up: Reed finally proposes to his beloved Sue, and they get married. Just like the comic book. Then, in what has to be the low-point in Mr. Fantastic's entire career -- including his best-forgotten encounter with the Infant Terrible -- the movie ends with Reed stretching his "hand" (actually a contraption that resembles a glove stuck on top of a broom, see pic) out of the top of the limo, and waving good-bye to all the wedding guests.

Which do NOT include any Avengers, Inhumans, Super-villains, or even Stan and Jack. Oh well, Stan and Jack didn't make it into the wedding in the comic, either. Roll credits, fade to black. It's all over now .. thank God. Get me some aspirin.


THE END, AND A NEW BEGINNING

As animated Johnny Storm points out below, yes, the very first Fantastic Four movie ever made really did SUCK. However, keep in mind that It was left unreleased not because it was so bad, but due to Hollywood political maneuvering. There have been worse Marvel movies, like the dreadful Captain America TV movies, or the also-unreleased first Punisher movie.

So let's give the first FF movie a bit of a break ... it was made for almost no money, with almost no special effects, with a no-name cast, by a noted schlockmeister, in a very short time, for the purpose of securing rights to the property before they ran out. Given the .constraints, the filmmakers did what they could.

Without this crappy, deservedly unreleased movie, there might never have been a new, big-budget FF movie like the one that premieres in July. Well, not really, but it sounds good. Will the new movie be any better than THIS dreadful piece of work? Hmmm ... well, it COULDN'T be worse. Or could it?!?!?

COMING TOMORROW:
IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!