The Fantastic Four (1993) (part 4 of 7)
A haggard tree looms menacingly on the horizon, bent limbs reminiscent of the gnarled fingers of a retired sweatshop worker. Three ivory chunks of metal and a BBQ enthusiast’s out-of-control grease fire speckle the lush hills of somber countryside. Above, the sky is partly cloudy with a chance of light rain. So begins my section of this recap of Roger Corman’s unreleased train wreck, The Fantastic Four.
Ben Grimm, looking a bit scuffed but otherwise unharmed after the wreck of his spacecraft, appears on a hill, yelling out the names of his crew members. Through the flames of the wreckage, we see his wavy silhouette accompanied by odd Arabian calypso music. His screams get louder and more melodramatic until he hears Reed’s voice in the distance, and follows the sound.
Some distance away, Ben comes upon even more smoldering wreckage. He spots Reed’s outstretched arm coming from beneath a sheet of metal, and helps his friend get to his feet. “Careful,” Reed warns solemnly, “I must be in shock, because I don’t feel any pain.” Ah, Dr. Richards, if only you knew the fantastic abilities coursing through your veins.
Then Johnny appears, waving his arms in true lunatic fashion and running toward Ben and Reed. I understand that he’s excited about being alive and all, but seriously, his performance is way too hyperactive. This is the one character I consistently wanted to knock out during the entire film. Oh, and I should mention at this point how silly their spacesuits are. These guys look like potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil a few seconds before they’re popped in the oven.
While Johnny is elated, Reed seems almost peeved that they’re still alive. He questions aloud how they could have possibly survived their ship being torn to pieces. However, our always goofy Johnny sarcastically says he’s not completely okay, because he has dirt lodged in his nose. He immediately goes into a silent film sneeze, the kind where a person literally arches back with each gasp, their mouth open wide, before they actually scream, “Ah-choo!” In any case, this sneeze is meant to introduce us to Johnny’s new abilities, because he causes a nearby holly bush to burst into flames. The eerie calypso tune starts anew. “Did I do that?” Johnny asks.
“Do what?” Susan’s voice asks, but none of the men can see her. Suddenly, her head and torso appear out of thin air, which is a cheap effect to begin with, but made all the more ludicrous considering how tall Susan appears in relation to the ground. Her legs by themselves would have to be roughly five feet long in order for this image to make any sense. On top of that, she’s also walking like she’s underwater, or on the moon, with stiff movements and really wide steps.
When the guys point out Susan’s non-legs, she immediately freaks out, shouting Reed’s name before falling backwards. Her total loss of basic motor skills is actually a lame excuse for the script to reveal Reed’s power. Seconds before Susan’s head is impaled on a jagged spike in the wreckage, Reed stretches his arm and grabs her in the nick of time. Imagine this effect as just a practical fake arm jutting awkwardly out of Reed’s body, and you’ll chuckle. Imagine the effect including a doll’s head in place of Susan’s head, and glued to the plastic hand, and you’ll laugh uncontrollably.
After saving Sue (so that he can later rob her from the cradle), Reed and the others take stock of their situation and look at each other grimly. This is all set to appropriately sinister chords on a keyboard, letting the audience know that this is a dramatic moment, and not one we’re supposed to make fun of in any way, shape, or form. Then our Fantastic Friends are seen standing atop a hill watching a blazing red sunset, a nice little shot in a film otherwise bereft of any filmmaking skill.
In the next shot, Reed is standing under a starry sky, shooting a pathetically wimpy flare that fizzles out after two seconds. He walks over to a campfire where the others sit in various states of glum. “We must have dropped telemetry,” Reed says, which makes no real sense. Thankfully, Johnny clears things up when he explains they’ve “dropped off the radar” and thus are stranded. Frankly, I don’t see why they’re so panicked at landing in what is pretty much a lush valley. Why haven’t they at least looked around for some signs of life?
Reed tries to calm the group down. Hot-headed Johnny explodes, however, his temper causing him to twitch, flail, and mug so much I thought he might faint from exhaustion. Reed makes a facile attempt at calming him by saying that there’s a scientific explanation for everything, but Ben isn’t so sure. “What should we do?” he montones. Frankly, I think he’s just grumpy over not having a power yet.
With absolutely no other vague ideas to spout, Reed suggests they all get some rest, in what must now be their blazingly hot oven-ready space suits. He also asks Johnny to keep the fire going, a weird line delivered somewhere between Dry Sarcasm and Inappropriate Cruelty. Johnny just sulks in reaction, staring at his hands until a small fireball appears in one of his palms. A riff on The Omen theme plays as Johnny’s eyes bulge out of their sockets, and as he stares at the fire, we actually hear Dr. Doom’s maniacal laughter [??] on the soundtrack. He quickly makes a fist, effectively dousing the flame. “God help us,” he exclaims. Yeah, not really buying the dramatic tension at this point.
Settling in for the night, Reed gets nice and cozy with Jail Bait, I mean, uh, Susan, telling everyone things will work out soon enough. Really? So is he the end-all, be-all authority on everything now? A moment ago everyone was looking to him to explain their powers, as if the man had a university degree in super-abilities. And now they’re only going to bed because Reed tells them to? You almost expect them to ask Reed why the sky is blue or where babies come from.
“Alive?!” Now we’re in the lair of Dr. Doom, who is really, really annoyed. He’s just been told by his 1980s Sprockets henchmen, both of whom are currently kneeling before him, that our Fantastic Friends somehow survived the crash. Doom, now fully revealed to us in all his green felt cloak glory, goes into one of his trademark Villain Spiels, patting his two minions on the head. And it’s laughable how articulate his hand gestures are here, almost like the actor was trying to overcompensate for the inability to emote with his face. Doom orders his men to find Reed and the others, ending his tirade with a cape flourish as he storms out of the room. The henchmen exchange worried glances before comically [sic] giving each other a sibling-esque punch in the arm. So… why does Doom have only two guys as henchmen? I have to wonder how he gets anything done.
Now we’re treated once again to one of the biggest movie clichés of all time, i.e. the Spinning Expositional Newspaper Headline. It spins towards us and stops, revealing that this edition features the headline “Shuttle Disappears from Radar. Radio Contact Nil.” First of all, why the period use? How often do you see periods in newspaper headlines, anyway? Second… “nil”? Choosing to use the word “nil” makes it seem as if you’re being really dismissive of the whole issue. Why not “Radio Contact Lost”? Eh, never mind.
Meanwhile, Alicia Masters is pawing the grotesque Ben head she made in her spare time. And for a second, I almost thought the Lionel Ritchie song “Hello” would start playing, which would have been hilarious, not to mention hilariously appropriate. Making this scene all the more bizarre, Alicia touches Ben’s clay lips and then presses her fingertips to her own lips, in some semblance of… let’s call it intimacy. We hear Ben’s dialogue from when he first met ol’ No Eyes, but the moment is ruined when a delivery boy knocks at Alicia’s door. He enters with a package, and it seems he’s wearing a hat with Captain America wings adorning the sides, which I’ll go ahead and guess is yet another attempt at humor on the movie’s part.
Delivery Boy helps Alicia open the package, and inside are four white mannequin heads. Via some really clunky exposition, we learn Alicia has been hired to sculpt a memorial statue for our Fantastic Friends (getting annoyed with that nickname yet?), and she’s basing it on these mannequin heads. Delivery Boy says these heads were made for the “helmet fitting”, and I have no reason to doubt him, but boy, does this scene have me confused. Well, just know that Alicia’s making a memorial statue and try not to skip ahead of me to the next predictable plot point.
Cut to an alleyway, and two seconds later, a horizontal wipe takes us to the underground catacombs of the wicked Jeweler. Man, what a stupid villain. I’m sorry, but of all the secondary baddies ever used in a movie, the Jeweler has to be one of the lamest. He’s the ruler of a hobo brigade, for crying out loud! Speaking of which, a vast assemblage of these vagrants has convened to hear the Jeweler wax philosophical about nothing in particular.
The little runt eventually orders them to kidnap Alicia so he can make her his “queen”, and he reiterates his plan to use the diamond he stole earlier as a present for her. The Jeweler’s right hand man, who was probably told as a community theatre actor that he needed to be peppier, and then took that criticism to heart, leads the charge to find Alicia. As a side note, one of the homeless guys looks a heck of a lot like Robert Z’Dar.
Back at Alicia’s pad, we get our latest goofy plot point when she feels the Ben Grimm mannequin head, and then recognizes him as the same person she was sculpting earlier. How likely is it that A) a blind woman can create an extremely accurate sculpture after bumping into a guy once, B) she can fall in love with said guy after bumping into him once, and C) touch two different sculptures of that guy’s face and realize they’re one and the same? My god, the idiocy is suffocating.
Despondent, Alicia reads Ben’s name off a Braille tag below the mannequin head. This tender, sorrowful moment ends, however, when about a dozen assorted hobos sneak into her home, leading me to seriously question this girl’s other senses. I thought blind people had better hearing than most? At the very least, I wouldn’t expect them to have significantly worse hearing than most, like our friend Alicia here. In any case, she has no idea these guys are rappelling from an upstairs loft and landing right next to her, so I’ll have no pity for her when she eventually gets attacked.
Well, maybe I spoke too soon, as they don’t really attack so much as circle around her, growling like perturbed gnomes as they play a rousing game of I’m Not Touching You. Freaked out, Alicia goes for the nearest phone, but is stopped by the Jeweler’s right hand man, who sprays her with Crazy Purple Knock-Out Gas. As she gets sprayed, we actually get a shot from Alicia’s POV. I say again: We get a blind woman’s POV shot as she gets sprayed. You know you’ve found comedy gold when a mistake like that gets overlooked. She collapses into the arms of her intruders, and as he’s leaving, Right Hand Man picks up a flower, sniffs it, and sighs with pleasure. Whatever.
Thankfully, my section of this movie begins to wind down with the arrival of military jeeps driving through the blue London fog of the countryside. Reed, Johnny, and Susan leap to their feet to greet the vehicles, which all sport little American flags to show their patriotism. Three soldiers hop out and inform our Fantastic Friends that they’ll be taken by jet to a debriefing session. Everyone’s happy until the soldiers suddenly panic, and aim their guns at something off-camera. And here’s where we get our first look at Ben as the Thing.
Now, considering the Thing is pretty much a giant circus peanut, I have to admit the rubber suit they created for him is pretty good. Sure, the mouth isn’t very lifelike, but otherwise it’s perfectly serviceable for a $1.4 million budget. Ben isn’t so happy with his new look, however, which for unexplained reasons has just now manifested itself. “What kind of a thing have I turned into?!” he bellows. He picks up a mirror and gazes at his new, Fish Bowl Pebble appearance. “What have you done, Reed? What have you done?!” So… it’s Reed’s fault you’re a walking pile of orange kitty litter? I’d like to see you make a strong argument there, buddy.
Reed tries to calm Ben down by acting like the guy’s deaf, yelling at him about going to get help. This soothes the big lug for the moment, and he willingly goes with the group to the jeeps. In one last instance of random stupidity, Reed lightly slaps Johnny on the face as he passes him. So yeah, that wraps up my chunk of the movie. I definitely had fun, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the article. Flame on, readers! …Or something. Leave me alone. I’m not your clown.