Sunday, 29 July 2018


77. “I love walking into a trap, don’t you?”


In 2014 [link], I stated I would rather not hear about Jerry Lewis’s unreleased film “The Day the Clown Cried” ever again, rather than be able to watch it to gauge how bad it is meant to be. At the same time, I said I wanted to do this with the unreleased film made of “The Fantastic Four,” made only to extend the option the producer had on it.

The story of the film’s production predisposes you to expect mediocrity. Bernd Eichinger, the German film producer of “The Neverending Story,” and later “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” as well as the “Resident Evil” films, obtained the film rights in 1983, and had to start making something before 1992 ended to avoid losing the. Reasoning there was no restriction on what the budget had to be, partnered with the fabled producer Roger Corman to produce an adaptation, filming for between 21 and 25 days, for just $1 million. Just the mention of Corman’s name gives you certain expectations of what you will get, but he had made bigger-budgeted films before, so his pedigree in making serviceable films at high speed, and his ownership of a studio in Venice, California (converted from a lumber yard), was the bigger concern here.

What of the finished film itself? Think of it this way: as an adaptation of the comic book, it is perfect. Everything and everyone looks right, the characterisation is spot on, and the plot, while melodramatic, may actually be a bit more realistic than the book. There’s little point to explaining the plot: it is the origin story, with Doctor Doom, Alicia Masters, and the Jeweler, a new villain that stole a diamond vital for Reed Richard’s ship, causing the accident that became the first Marvel mutations. The special effects are cheap and cheesy, but get the job done, and would have been perfectly fine if this was a television pilot, instead of a feature film – you could also say this of the production as a whole, which only spends as long on scenes and emotions as long as it needs, needing only ninety minutes to tell a story that could not afford space to breathe.

Oley Sassone, a music video director, had been a fan of “The Fantastic Four” since childhood, and recreated the book faithfully. Crucially, David and Eric Wurst, composers of the film’s music, paid $6,000 of their own money for the soundtrack, which re-uses its few musical passages more than a few times, to be performed by an orchestra, lending a respectability to the production that, really, was never intended.

It is not clear whether “The Fantastic Four” was ever going to be released, or if that was a decision made after it was completed. Stan Lee had appeared on set to inspect filming, and called Alex Hyde-White, paid $3,500 a week to play Reed Richards, the person he envisaged playing the character. However, the planned premiere was cancelled, and the cast were given cease-and-desist orders to stop talking about it. Roger Corman had a contract to release the film, and had to be bought out of it. The film was reportedly sold by Bernd Eichinger to Marvel executive Avi Arad, who had prints of it destroyed like it was “Nosferatu.”

In an example of the Streisand Effect, “The Fantastic Four” is readily available on bootleg DVDs, as well as online. Those that made the film seemingly won’t ever get royalties for a proper release, but they made a film that was intriguing enough to seek out. Would it be regarded as such if it had been released in 1994, bearing in mind the “Fantastic Four” films that Eichinger was able to make with 20th Century Fox? The ones that reportedly caused Marvel to stop publishing the comic book in 2015?

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