The Fantastic 4 (1994) – Retro Showcase

 Obscurity is a strange beast, not only does it intrigue the masses but also creates an underground “club” if you will of those that thrive on the strange and unknown. I should know since I am a huge fan of underground cinema and the independent. So obscure that the movie actually does not exist, I am referring to the 1994 version of The Fantastic 4 produced by Roger Corman.

Not a typo, 11 years before the 2005 version directed by Tim Story and starring Chris Evans and Jessica Alba. In 1992, Fox was going to lose the rights to the F4 unless a film was made from the source material. Without the $40 million to properly produce a live action version, Fox turned to B-Movie legend Roger Corman. He fronted the $1 million, the result is pure 90’s movie nostalgia that has gained a cult following and is one of the most treasured finds on the internet.

Now the only way to watch this is to download it online, since Fox never actually released it and never even had the intent to distribute the movie. The cast and crew had no idea and actually thought that they were making a big film. Poor suckers…

The plot is very similar to the comic in which Reed Richards, Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom want to experiment on a passing comet but are hit with cosmic rays which ultimately give them the powers everyone knows. Elasticity, invisibility, fire and rock skin. Doom is transformed after an accident and turns evil, the rest of the film centers around a gem that can capture the comets energy and a race to find the gem before Doom does. Pretty generic but it moves along nicely with good pacing.

The cast is littered with no names but everyone does the best job they can given the low budget. I did notice however that the characters are more in tuned with the source material than the 2005 and 2007 versions. Almost carbon copies from the page to screen, which is a nice touch.

Produced in the 90’s means the movie is dated and the special effects are fun to watch, some people look at dated effects and just think they’re terrible compared to todays standards. I think it’s interesting to watch how far we’ve come. I love the FX on this movie, the Human Torch effect is early CGI — on par with The Lawnmower Man (1992). Mr. Fantastic’s stretching is a mechanical effect and looks strange, The Thing is actually pretty well done. An obvious suit but it looks dark and bulky much like the comic. I feel it looks better than The Thing in the newer installments.

Obviously picture quality isn’t much to talk about since any copy you find is VHS quality, which I actually prefer for a movie like this. It has much darker cinematography and tone than the recent releases, I was never a fan of the cartoon-ish look overlaying the previous two movies.

On another note, I found somethings very interesting. Certain scenes in this film are almost identical to the 2005 version, which means Tim Story and the writers completely ripped this off. Like The Thing changing back into Ben and coming back at the end to save the day as The Thing again. Then there is a scene in which Dr. Doom shoots a laser and The Human Torch has to out fly the laser, much like when Dr. Doom shoots a missile in the 2005 movie.

When everything is said and done, this movie is a low-budget adaptation of a big-budget idea — but it stays true to the source material and delivers on action. This movie reeks of 90’s film making, but that is what makes it great. It’s nostalgia at it’s best and deserves a proper DVD release, but that will never happen. Comic book fans a film enthusiasts should track down a copy of this — pop open a beer and enjoy some cheesy fun. 7/10