So terrible, in fact, was this film that the makers of the original never intended to release the damned thing. Instead, it was only made in order to keep the ridiculous film rights right where they liked them in a futile effort to keep control of the Fantastic Four. Creator Stan Lee famously expressed sympathy for the unknowing cast and crew that put forth their best to keep the incredibly low-budget film in the half-way-decent category.
Is that the truth?
Pretty much. As with most stories, the truth is somewhere in between what the good guys proclaim and what the bad guys defend.
So... here's the truth. 1994's The Fantastic Four was not actually made by a separate company from 2005's Fantastic Four. That's right! Though separated by a full eleven years, both films were made by Constantin Film and produced by Bernd Eichinger. Meaning? The gamble worked and the same dudes managed to maintain the rights to The Fantastic Four, including remake and sequel rights. Meaning both the 2005 film and 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer were made by the same homies as the widely reported abomination from 1994.
The both dastardly and clever reality is that on December 31, 1992, German studio Neue Constantin Film GmbH was about to lose the rights it had purchased from Marvel Comics if it didn't start production on an FF flick (and would reportedly have to pay a 5 million dollar fine back to Marvel). Thus Eichinger (who neither had the forty million bucks for a, then, big-budget Four Flick, nor even the five million for the fine) engaged the legendary low budget pioneer Roger Corman to executive-produce this adaptation with the best resources he could drum up. As rights were to revert to Marvel on December 31st, Production began on December 28th.
The cast and crew appeared at comic book conventions and did interviews and expressed their excitement for the film itself and its upcoming release. A release that was decidedly slower than Christmas; a release that took longer than Red Dwarf season VII; a release longer delayed than Watchmen... a release that never came, man!
Yep, yep, yep, yep... there has still been no damned official release of this "Original Fantastic Four film"!
Many would have you believe that this Blockage in the Digestive Tract of Cinema was never released because it sucked cat guts through a burnt empinada shell, while others have gone on record that this speed bump never came out because it was never intended to do anything but keep the rights held firmly in Constantin Film's frilly, holey pockets until the big show could hit theatres, propelled by Alba in her undies.
The 1994 film, on the other hand, may be rightly derided because... well, it's not very good, man! Even though the plot kicks off with some interesting points straight out of the Silver Age comic by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee himself. Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp) are good buddies in college, arguing over mathematical figures and working hard on all kinds of weird-ass devices that will most likely get one of them killed... or, at least, turn one of them into a raving lunatic, armor-encased super villain named Doctor Doom! In most ways this origin of Doom is much more accurate than the 2005 version (and don't get me started on that cartoon version, bros and sissies)!
Meanwhile, Reed and Victor's other good buddy, the jock pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith) are hanging out with little kids like Sue and Johnny Storm (played by somewhat recognizeable Mercedes McNab and Phillip Van Dyke). Which is... creepy.
Right around the time that the script (by Craig J. Nevius and Kevin Rock) shoots us forward in time by ten years (as punctuated by Weed Wichards' now grey-as-hell temples) we mark the next in the long line of bad-idea experiments that will lead directly to the creation of Super Team the Fantastic Four!
It's goofy enough that of all the people Reed and Benji could think of to fly into space with them, they chose Johnny (now played by the "Not Quite Human" Jay Underwood) and Sue (now played by the hot Rebecca Staab)! This could have something to do with the fact that Susan herself has grown up to be positively Rebecca Staab hot and Reed suddenly wants to sleep with her. However, while this may make sense, it makes this no less creepy.
It's right about here that director Oley Sassone's movie goes from bad to ludicrous! As we see the rise of Mister Fantastic, The Human Torch, The Invisible Girl and The Thing (now played by stuntman Carl Ciarfalio because the suit was made to fit him before Smith's ass was cast), the film starts to resemble something that... well probably shouldn't have been released. Thing's mask is radio controlled for some emotion... but he kind of looks like a melted and discolored leftover suit from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Torch's fire is poorly matted in at best and badly animated at worst, Reed's stretching is either a hydrolic jack or a rubbery fake appendage depending on the seriousness of the scene and the Invisible Chick's tricks are something you might see on stage at a mediocre magician's review.
The plot continues to have silly sub-plots pushed into the mush as we groan through tacky comic relief and a totally unnecessary and made-up villain called, get this, "The Jeweler" (Ian Trigger) who is either a bad racial stereotype or a rip off of "The Mole Man" or both! That's not even to mention the forced insertion of Alicia Masters (Kat Green) who falls in love with Ben Grimm at first sight... in spite of the fact that she's blind.
The veal-processing saddest of all of this surrounds the plasticine character of Doctor Doom. In any ambitious low-budget film something must suffer and Doom's characterization is in more distress than anything heard in a Patsy Cline, Connie Francis or Cher song or anything seen in a Cathy Guisewite comic! Look, I'm not dissing Joseph Culp (son of Robert, by the way) as an actor, really. When the mask is off he does a decent enough job with what he's given. But in costume and character as the Doomed Doom this is pathetic. With no viable facial expressions (most prints are so dark you can't see the guy's eyes) Culp is forced to be much more expressive with his hands and body movements to the point that every time he says something self-aggrandizing or important he actually seems like he's vogueing. I half-expected Madonna to come out and dance with his ass a time or two. And that over-expression keeps going and going to the point that he seems less like the nefarious Latvirian Dictator than he does a robed Power Ranger! I have to guess about some of the things Culp was trying to say because his dialogue is harder to decypher than that of Darph Nader from Hardware Wars in that helmet of his. What the HELL, was the budget so used up that they couldn't even fly the guy out for looping? Culp is on record saying he'd do the damned looping for free. Listening to him is like putting a sick friend of yours with a Scream voice disguiser and a mouth full of marbles at the end of the Harlem tunnel during Rush Hour and asking him to recite Sniglets while you're using ear-wash to break out the wax.
They should have him subtitled. Chewbacca is easier to understand, man!
I want to point out here that Culp is far from alone in his plight. While I'm not going to claim that any one of the actors we see here is so incredibly good that they transcend the sublime and make every moment of this film worth every second of the Fantastic Voyage. They're not... but they do give their all and actually cared about helping push this low budget feature into the watchable territory. The script wasn't the best and the director perhaps needed more takes... but the budget of this film is the real villain and practically demolishes all of the good intentions of the cast. Still, their performances aren't markedly worse than those in the 2005 and 2007 films!!!
While a lot of the rumors behind the scenes of this film aren't 100% true, one fact is undeniable... this isn't a good movie.
However... you could count on one hand the number of contemporary Comic Book flicks that were anywhere near as good as your average season four episode of Chico and the Man? Even the Batman series was about to get increasingly campier, dudes and chicks! The Fantastic Four is definitely no worse than the 1990 Captain America joke, it's not egregiously more terrible than 1989's The Punisher and it's no less textually accurate than the equally unreleased (and heavily bootlegged) Justice League of America telefilm. And lets not forget (or forgive) latter-day travesties like Catwoman and Punisher: War Zone!
To put things in perspective for you who have no more seen these bad movies than you have, say Howard the Duck or Elektra, despite its lack of big stars, established directors, studio funding or special effects budgets, The Fantastic Four is STILL a better movie than either Superman IV: The Quest for Peace or Batman & Robin!
That said... it still sucks. The main reason to see this film is the main reason to watch something like The Star Wars Holiday Special... because the studios are telling you that you can't. It's got its naive charm and some earnest attempts by the actors, but The Fantastic Four never translates cosmic rays to super powers enough to get past Two Stars out of Five! For those that have seen it, the sympathy angle might be hard to justify, considering all. The film is a campy mess, yes, but somehow even as I knew how much better this film could have been I still didn't feel that this was 90 minutes of my life I would never get back! Much like the aforementioned Holiday Special and other films like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, this is a terrible movie that is hard to completely loathe.
But you're not gonna like it, Bub! What a Revolting Development! See you in the next reel!