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Battle of the Stars

"Fantastic Four," "Batman Begins," and "War of the Worlds"--the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, only not in that order.

12:00 AM, Jul 8, 2005 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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THE BEST MOVIES are usually both earnest and smart (The Insider). Many successful movies are superficial and smart (Die Hard). And every so often, you can find an enjoyable movie which is superficial and stupid (The Fast and the Furious).

Fox's latest offering, Fantastic Four, is not one of those rare finds. A recent string of exceptionally well-made comic-book movies has spoiled us. X-Men 2 in 2003, Spider-Man 2 in 2004, and then The Incredibles later that year, each set new high-water marks for the genre. Fantastic Four stands out in a different way.

In 1993, B-movie king Roger Corman produced a filmed version of the Marvel comic book Fantastic Four. Hiring director Oley Sassone (his previous credits included 1992's Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight), Corman was not much concerned with the niceties of production. The film was so shoddily made that in one scene a blind woman is subdued as chloroform is forced over her mouth. The camera then cuts to show us a point-of-view shot from her perspective, as the world becomes hazy and fades out.

But the producers weren't 100 percent worried about this sort of bumble because, you see, they never intended to release the movie. Poor Oley Sassone's film was made as the result of a contractual loophole. Corman and his co-producer Bernd Eichinger had the rights to the cinematic version of Fantastic Four, but those rights were about to expire. A-list director Chris Columbus and Fox wanted to do a big-budget version and were waiting for the expiration in the hopes of scooping up the property on the cheap. But buried in the contract was a clause extending Corman's and Eichinger's rights if they simply made a movie. Which is exactly what they did.

In early 1993, Corman spent $1.5 million on Sassone's version of Fantastic Four. He went through the motions, promising Variety in December that the film would appear in theaters on January 21 in the "largest theatrical push" of his career. But that was a lie. The producers had never intended Fantastic Four to be let out of the vault. As Eichinger confessed to Variety in August of 1994--immediately after he sold the property's rights to Fox and Columbus--"To make a long story short, we shot [the] movie because we had to start principal photography within a certain period of time. Time was running out and we had to make a movie." Sassone's Fantastic Four was never released, either in theaters or on video. Today it sits in a can somewhere, contractually bound to gather dust so as not to taint the Fantastic Four property.

It is nearly tragic to note that Sassone, his cast, and his crew never knew they were merely going through the motions to please the lawyers and the producers.

It is incredibly tragic to note that Sassone's ghost film is actually better than the Fantastic Four which has finally reached theaters 11 years later.

FANTASTIC FOUR is superficial and stupid, the type of movie which bludgeons your intellect, your id, and your patience. The nub of the plot, for those not familiar with the comic, is that five people are exposed to cosmic rays while in space. These rays mutate them, giving each special powers, which coincidentally coincide with their personalities. Reed Richards (played by Ioan Gruffudd) is described as "always stretching"; his body turns into rubber. Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) is a "hothead"; he becomes the human torch. And so on. Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) turns into the orange rock monster known as The Thing and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) becomes The Invisible Girl. The fifth mutant becomes Dr. Doom. Guess which one of our unfortunate astronauts is the villain.