The story of ‘Fantastic Four’, the film produced by the low-budget demigod Roger Corman and not released in 1994, is well known. We are not going to spend too much time on the twists and turns of his production, because here, always positive and never negative, We are not so interested in confirming whether or not it is as bad as it is said, but rather in understanding under what circumstances it occurred and, above all, if we can learn something from it.
Basically, ‘Fantastic Four’, the film based on the legendary and foundational Marvel comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, was a film conceived not to be released. But what makes it special is that almost no one involved in its production knew that this was the intention. In its day it was promoted in the specialized press, the actors gave talks at events for fans and it was even seen in some cinema due to legal imperatives. But the film never saw the light of day, and in fact, today it can be found without problems on platforms like YouTube due to a leak. Clearly, the film was not to be shown.
The details are excellently reflected in the magnificent documentary ‘Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s the Fantastic Four’, a feature film that not only witnesses the goings-on that germinate in the back room of Hollywood (even its most modest alleys), otherwise a tribute to the enthusiasm and dedication of those who believed they were making a superhero movie ma’amat a time when Marvel had only been adapted in ‘Howard the Duck’ and superhero movies, despite successes like ‘Superman’ or ‘Batman’, it had not yet developed its own grammar.
Basically everything was due to a plot orchestrated by producer Bern Eichinger, who acquired the rights to the characters from Marvel in 1986. Although large producers such as Warner or Columbia showed interest in the film, the adaptation did not materialize, and the rights would expire. with the year 1992. Marvel didn’t want to extend the rights, so the only legal way to extend them was to make a movie: in September 1992, three months before the characters returned to Marvel, Eichinger struck a deal with Roger Corman to produce a million dollar budget movie.
The film began shooting almost at the finish line, on December 28, 1992, so the rights were safeguarded. It can be said that the result, adorable and innocent, went ahead thanks to the willingness of those involved, who worked far beyond what their contracts required. For example, composers David and Eric Wurst paid $6,000 out of pocket to hire an orchestra of 48 musicians to record the soundtrack.
You just have to see the movie to understand that the intention was not to release it. And yet, part of the team paid out of pocket for a publicity campaign for a hypothetical premiere in January 1994. Suddenly, the process stopped and the team received a court order to stop talking about it, and they were controversial. Stan Lee statements from 2005 the ones that suggest that this was the plan all along, perhaps with Corman’s consent.
The last nail in the coffin was put by none other than Avi Arad, the future boss of Marvel Studios, and at the time an executive of the house. In 1993 he found out about the film from a fan, and decided that he did not want a low-budget film to dirty the brand, which had been wanting to make the leap to the cinema for some time. It is said that that, without ever seeing it, Arad ordered the destruction of all the copies, and in ‘Doomed’ it is suggested that it was to give Chris Columbus a big-budget, bespoke project, a project that would end up becoming, a decade later, in Fox’s ‘Fantastic Four’.
But… what can we learn from it?
The point is that ‘Fantastic Four’, as endearing as it is and as well as we like it due to how doomed it was from its inception, is an openly flawed movie. But that does not prevent it from having a series of clear values on board from which more ambitious productions could learn. These are the lessons that, despite its many problems, the ‘Fantastic Four’ of 1994 leaves us.
Loyalty above all
Although in this holy house we do not put fidelity before any other consideration and we like both to recognize the heroes and to be surprised with updated and groundbreaking editions of the myths, sometimes it is comforting to come across a familiar road. The characters in the Fantastic Four movie are, unequivocally, The Fantastic Four (the truth is that these characters have been lucky in that sense with all the movies, among other things because you have to have a lot of nerve to betray such iconic and specific superpowers ), but here it is taken to the extreme.
Not only are the origins of the characters identical to the comics, but the costumes don’t have “realistic” or muted-color versions (beyond production requirements). The relationships between characters are the same, everything is traced from the comic, which gives a certain tone camp and naive to the whole, because the film is not aware that what works in a comic doesn’t necessarily work translated. But the ensemble is adorable in its devotion to the fountain.
A villain without complexes
Dr. Doom is one of those characters that were inherited from the superhero comics of the forties, which in turn drank from the stories of adventure and suspense of the novels pulp of the first quarter of the century. That is to say, a masked and powerful megalomaniac, with a face as deformed as his intentions. Today very old-fashioned and very unbelievable, but he is the quintessential villain of the Fantastic Four. And so the film assumes.
Finding an old school villain in a current movie is practically impossible, but they should be brought back. Little credible? Grandiloquent? Excessive? Of course, but so are the four powers and the four personalities of a completely dysfunctional family with powers inherited from cosmic rays. From that point of view, he is the villain they deserve, and Joseph Culp as an operetta nemesis plays him perfectly.
The stickiest point. ‘Fantastic Four’ is a film for the whole family, clearly and openly, heir to the tradition of ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman’, and before ‘Blade’ swerved in a very different direction. That is to say, it is well served with goofy humor, with jokes about Mr. Fantastic’s arms that stretch a lot and that The Thing is very ugly. But all within the same dynamic of the film, not as jokes “from the outside” laughing at how ridiculous the people in disguise are.
It’s about a humor that when we find ourselves in current superhero products, like ‘Shazam!’ either ‘she hulk‘, fans don’t always welcome. But it is essential to ventilate the genre and that we are clear that, in the end, we are dealing with films of people who dress up to help others and well-intentioned fantasies of power. Of course, they don’t always have to be that way, but it’s a part of superhero fiction that shouldn’t be lost entirely.
Films made by creators, not executives
A stage of superhero movies that we will not return to, at least not while they are as successful as they are today and there are too many CEOs whose work depends on them. In ‘Doomed’ it is detected that ‘Fantastic Four’ could be a churro, but It was a churro made out of devotion and love for the characters, not an equation in a fifteen-year plan.
Because ‘Fantastic Four’ could be a disaster, but there were people behind it who were in love with the characters and wanted to make the best possible product with a tiny amount of money. Now superhero movies are more spectacular, more exciting, bigger, but sometimes there are other things that matter. Like the heart.
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