Friday, July 12, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 21: The Fantastic Four

I want to be crystal clear: this movie isn't to be confused with the 2004 movie, "Fantastic Four", which also deserves consideration in this series, but this is rather its predecessor from a decade earlier. Produced by Roger Corman for an estimated 1.5 million dollars and never released or shown in any official capacity, "The Fantastic Four" is infamous as one of the worst superhero movies ever made.

There's a rumor that it was never even intended for release; that it was filmed simply in order to retain the movie rights. It's a good story, but it's not actually true. This was made in order to utilize (and presumably retain) the rights, but there's no indication that the producers didn't intent to screen it. What is accurate is that they were paid to not release it (more accurately, the studio with a long-term interest in the franchise bought the rights to the movie in order to bury it).

The question you're probably asking is, "Was it really that bad?"

Disappointingly, the answer is: not entirely. Don't get me wrong: this is definitely low budget. The effects are abysmal, and the production values are laughable. It's a B-movie, through and through.

Actually, if it weren't for a few sequences of awful computer effects, this would be indistinguishable from something made for TV in the 70's or 80's. But... here's the thing - if that was its origin, if this had been made in the 70's and aired on NBC, it would be a cult favorite. People would remember it from their childhood and adore it. It may not have been good, but it's more watchable than the live-action 70's Spiderman or some of the direct-to-video superhero flicks of the 80s.

Of course, this wasn't a made-for-TV production from the 70's, so it's hard to overlook how bad everything looks. But strip that away and you're left with something that's fun almost as often as it's tedious. The script's certainly not great writing, but it's got far more right to the name Fantastic Four than the 2004 film. The origin story for the team and Doom are straight out of the comics (no random lightning powers for Victor, either). Likewise, the leads do a decent job with the material. I wouldn't say they deserve any awards, but the team sure felt a lot closer in spirit to the Fantastic Four I know than the cast assembled a decade later.

I don't want this to come off as too positive. There are things in this movie that are painful. When the camp isn't carrying it, the tedium sets in. There are also scenes in this movie that are painfully out of place, sequences where an actor overacts to the point of absurdity or there's an extreme tone shift.

This isn't good; not by a long stretch. But, as a campy superhero comedy, it's nowhere near as unwatchable as its reputation suggests.

Like most in this series, there's no reason to seek this out unless you're a serious (and I do mean serious) Marvel fan interested in all the minutiae of the Fantastic Four's history. Then again, same goes for the 2004 movie and its sequel.

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