Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

"HHHHiya, heroes!"

They’ve been a Marvel comicbook since the 1960s, then they made 2 cartoon series, and I used to collect their adventures in the mid-80s.

Then in the 90s, I forgot about them.

Now, in the zeroes, The Fantastic Four (FF) have finally made it to the big screen.

And it’s about time.

The premise of The Fantastic Four is this:

Four astronauts, while up in space, are bombarded with cosmic rays, which cause their ship to crash back to Earth, and each of them to develop a different super-power.

This afternoon, Herschel and I were planning to go see the new Fantastic Four movie at Richmond Odeon, but before we did so, we had a bit of history to clear up. Because, unbeknownst to many, this is the second movie version of the FF.

Y’see back in 1994 Roger Corman had the rights to transfer the FF’s story onto celluloid, in fact he so had the rights that he actually, shot, edited and finished the whole thing. Why it was never released is, to me at any rate, a bit of a mystery.

Most mysteriously, the copyright holders are rumoured to have now junked all the master copies of it.

Anyway, thanks to the miracle of free bootleg DVDs, this afternoon we... what?

I know, I know, bootlegs, but this film has never even been released! Surely everyone involved in the production must have wanted someone to one day watch it?

In fact, Herschel put it best of all:

“It's not available in any other way, if I could buy it in the shops I would. Like my Percodan addiction. Eurghhh…”

Ahh, and that’s the lovely thing about giving into temptation – all the excuses that you get to make up.

So Herschel met me at the door, gave me my ticket and concessions of fruit pastilles and Smarties, told me the seats were all non-smoking and then with a torch directed me in to a spot on his bedroom floor.

Then he loaded said free bootleg DVD of said 11-year-old unreleased movie into his Playstation 2, and warmed-up the portable TV.

Were we actually about to see this rare sought-after masterpiece, or were we instead about to sit through 90 minutes of silhouettes carrying popcorn across an echoey dubbed German cut of a different movie?

Well, it was a bit ropey, but it was the right movie alright.

And it was pretty interesting too. A bit hard to get hold of the characters at first, but to my mind there were two moments that really stuck out.

1. After their spaceship has survived the bombardment of cosmic rays and crashed to Earth, a weird kind of common-sense kicks in. Sue asks if anyone else thinks it strange that, with all the wreckage lying around them, the four of them have all survived unscathed.

With the surrounding countryside utterly deserted, and no-one quite sure where they are, this is a disquieting observation indeed.

2. The second point is weirder. Alicia Masters, who’s blind, is alone in her flat. Then we see her attackers quietly breaking in and silently jumping down the stairs. The weirdest thing is the way this scene has been edited to run in a jerky strobing sort of slow-motion, freezing on an individual frame for a long time.

A great way of helping the audience to empathise with the character’s blindness, I thought. And kept on thinking. Until we both eventually stopped watching the screen to instead peer intently at the whirring black box beneath it.

And it turns out that was the end of the film, or as far as the dodgy free bootleg DVD was concerned anyway. We must have spent the best part of an hour trying in vain to get the thing onto the next chapter, or even the next frame, but all we got instead were pain and frustration.

“Hey, hey, kids – just say ‘no’ to bootlegs – it ain’t worth it. Unless they’re free.”

Yet something about those first 45 minutes seemed far more enthralling than the big-budget version we had to pay to see at the cinema that evening.

Perhaps the modern 2005 version was just too clean-cut.

The characters were all established more clearly, the effects were bigger and showier, and the comedy more focussed.

The earlier Corman version however was far less clear, and therefore more believable. Real life just ain’t that neat.

And of course the 2005 movie had the inevitable expository line about DNA about 22 minutes in, just like every super-hero movie has to nowadays. I swear if they ever make a Hollywood version of SuperTed, it’ll all be because of his rewritten bear DNA.

Fig. 1: Who was that incredible masked man?

What I did like though was the overall turnaround of events. At the start Dr. Doom has everything, and Reed Richards has nothing. It’s a movie, you can guess what happens.

My point is that this is a fair depiction of real life. So many times now something has appeared to me to be impossible, and yet when an impossible-to-foresee turn of events reverses the situation, I don’t attribute it to God. You see by then it’s in the past, so it’s now not only possible, but definite.

God, why don’t you perform miracles any more?

Finally, while all movies have faults (the 2005 version’s main one being the technologically all-powerful situation that the FF finish-up in), at least they told a better origin than the 80s cartoon version did.

Without the rights to The Human Torch, the cartoon makers came-up with Herbie The Robot to make up the team’s fourth member. And he gets his powers in one throwaway line in the opening credits:

”Now with Herbie The Robot – the newest member of the group…”

This is accompanied by a shot of Herbie emerging from the spaceship’s wreckage, cheerily waving his robot arm in greeting - whu…? How did he come to be again? The only reasonable interpretation of this shot is that when the spaceship crashed, several random pieces of wreckage were forced together, accidentally buckling into a super-intelligent flying, talking, wisecracking robot.

And why not? After all, it’s consistent with natural selection, albeit without the selection component.

I guess it's easier to accept if you're a true believer.

(review of 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer here)

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