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Fantastic Four: Bootleg
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, @revolutionsf, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Roger Corman (producer), Oley Sassone (director)
Genre:   Superhero
Released:   Filmed in 1994
Review Date:   July 08, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

"I been makin' fires outta nothin,' if that's what you mean." -- The Human Torch, when asked how he's feeling

My purpose here is not to debate the hubbub and controversy of this movie's semi-existence on sci-fi convention tape tables and Internet downloady places.

I just like looking at it on my shelf in its Xeroxed box cover (a copy of an FF comic cover on orange paper) and unlabeled videocassette. Sure, I could put a label on it myself. But that'd be like signing "Property of Joe" on a copy of the Mona Lisa. If the Mona Lisa wasn't that good, and it was a 5th-generation copy, and it had been hastily slapped together on the cheap.

I bought it on the first time I went to Atlanta's Dragon Con, years ago. I knew it was supposed to exist, somewhere. I read the Starlog article. I saw the movie still shots in comic book magazines. And there it sat. And it could be mine if I just gave the dude some money. So I did. Then my journey began.

Because when I got home, the filking tape was blank. Luckily a buddy of mine also bought one, so I dubbed his copy onto my unexpectedly-barren tape.

Like the Star Wars Holiday Special, this should hold a spot in the heart of the geekospher. It was disavowed, like that Wookiee loving special. But FF never aired even one time. David Hasselhoff as Marvel's Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, aired once. But not this. No cheapo tape release. No dumping on late-night cable. Only we have it, and so we must revel in it and protect it using our oral tradition, with one guy ranting and everyone else gaping in awe. Or our bloggal tradition, where we write about it online and post it on YouTube.

This movie was made in 1994. It was an odd time for the superhero industry. Marvel was in various stages of bankruptcy, and the superhero movie boom I wanted from Michael Keaton's Batman resulted only in Dick Tracy and Batman Returns. The consistent complaint of the time was how impossibly expensive superhero movies would be, because all the powers they needed to do special effects for.

Now computers do all that crap, so people can focus on the writing.

Sorry. I don't know what I was thinking.

This movie tried to do four superpowers, because it had to. It's right there in the title. And Dr. Doom. I bet the producers didn't know that when they signed on. "Fine. Four. I think we can do this. OK, don't panic. What? FIVE? How high up is this office?"

Roger Corman is renowned for the inexpensiveness of his movies. You have to respect that. The Fantastic Four crash in a spacecraft. But instead of showing the whole crash, the movie cuts to piles of flaming wreckage afterward.

They made the Fantastic Four the good old-fashioned way: Dinky prosthetics for super-stretchy Mr. Fantastic (including a hand on a long stick), a guy in a rocky suit for The Thing, and a cartoon Torch.

Invisible Woman is easy. Just have the actress NOT BE THERE!

"Oh, the pain! The pain you must have endured, my beautiful brother!" -- Not Mole Man, to The Thing

The movie spends half itself on the FF getting their powers. This is because before they get their powers, you don't have to go to the cost of showing them with their powers.

It spends a terribly long time on a subplot with The Jeweller, who really should be the FF villain Mole Man. Jeweller lives underground. He controls a horde of minions. He's Mole Man, except he's not. Did the rights to the name Mole Man cost an extra five bucks?

Alicia, the blind girl who loves The Thing, is kidnapped by Not Mole Man. When he tells his thugs to kidnap "his queen," they all chant "QUEEN! QUEEN! QUEEN! QUEEN! QUEEN!" We haven't seen its like since Wembley Stadium in '84, after Freddie Mercury sang "We Are the Champions."

There are other silly-ass bits. I'm not telling you all of them; that's what watching it is for. The Jeweller's hilarious dialogue, and Dr. Doom's maniacal giggle. He finds stuff way funnier than your average mad scientist. He sounds like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein when he went nuts. Except Doom sounds like that all the time.

Doom wears a clanking, dialogue-obscuring suit of armor. Did they know the suit did not have to be real armor?

Some character parts, no fooling, make me think the writers and actors had something going. Most of your quickie flicks don't contain stuff that you'd call acting. There is warmth between the foursome, even as their dialogue is almost overshadowed by the soundtrack, which is three pieces of music, over and over again. though it's acted against only three pieces of musical score.

The special effects, including but not limited to things I mentioned already, are beneath scorn. They're precious. If the effects were little mutt dogs, I'd scratch 'em behind their ears.

The origin and characters are changed little from the comics. This was a big deal in 1994, years after Bruce Banner was named David, but still a thousand years before precision adaptation like Hellboy.

The Thing suit is precisely like the comic, with orange rocks and an oversized rocky brow. The guy who plays human Ben Grimm towers over Mr. Fantastic and the others. The guy in the Thing suit is six inches shorter than everyone.

But his fight scenes are SO GREAT. He says "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!" then starts punching. One punch, two, he flips a guy. Then he looks directly at the camera and goes "YEAH!!!"

This scene is so physical, so cathartic, and the producers liked it so much that a couple of minutes later they do it again. Then it's one punch, two, he flips a guy, then he looks directly at the camera (again) and goes "YEAH!!!"

This movie is sitting on a DVD table at a sci-fi convention somewhere right now. It's on YouTube right now. A Fantastic Four movie was completely done eleven whole years before the fancy-pants in Hollywood did the new one. The FF walk and talk in live action, and they're out there. Waiting for you.

Geek Coolness Factor rating: 10/10
Actual Quality rating: 4/10
Combined rating: 7/10

Where Are They Now, My Beautiful Brother?

Alex Hyde-White (Mr. Fantastic): Pierce Macabee on the Babylon 5 episode "In the Shadow of Za'ha'Dum." Is in Catch Me If You Can and Gods and Generals. His father Wilfred Hyde-White was Dr. Goodfellow on Buck Rogers.

Jay Underwood (Human Torch): This guy played Ernest Hemingway AND Sonny Bono. He played Papa Doc in Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Papa of Chastity on And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story. Starred in Star Command with Mr. Chad Everett and Ms. Morgan Fairchild. Did not win a date with Tad Hamilton in Win A Date With Tad Hamilton.

Rebecca Staab (Invisible Woman): Elizabeth on the canceled soap Port Charles. Guest-starred on NCIS and Nip/Tuck with the guy who plays Doctor Doom in the 2005 Fantastic Four movie.

Michael Bailey-Smith (Ben Grimm): Had three different roles on Charmed, most often Belthazor. Did video game voices in MechWarrior 4 and Emperor: Battle for Dune. In remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

Joseph Culp (Dr. Doom): The Son of Culp (Robert, the gruff but lovable Bill Maxwell on the lovable but gruff Greatest American Hero.) Was in Apollo 13. Raimus on the Deep Space Nine episode "Honor Among Thieves.”

Perhaps scarred, much like Dr. Doom, by this experience, so he has turned to the Legitimate Theater (pronounced thee-uh-tuh.) He writes, produces, and directs plays, won a Drama Logue award, and his performance in an independent film was called "exquisitely naked." Damn straight.

Mercedes McNab (Susan Storm, age 13): Grew older. Became immortal as vampire cheerleader Harmony on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Next she's in Hatchet with teen-killing all-stars Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Tony Todd.

Carl Ciarfalio (Guy in Thing Suit): A busy stuntman who returned to Marvel in Daredevil and who is not to blame for Batman and Robin. Most recently he was "Goon number one" on the comedy series Monk.

Bernd Eichinger (executive producer): Producer of Resident Evil and the new Fantastic Four movie! He's the mole!

Craig J. Nevius (writer): Wrote and directed the Black Scorpion TV series and the reality show Chasing Farrah.

Ian Trigger (Not Mole Man), Kat Green (Alicia): Nothin'.

Maybe they stole away together to some dank, underground hole, where they live, love, and listen to "Another One Bites the Dust."

Roger Corman (executive producer): 361 productions listed on IMDB, the latest of which are Bloodfist 2050 and Scorpius Gigantus. YEAH!!!

Oley Sassone (director): The Son of Sassoon (Vidal, stylist to the stars) continued on much the same path as the Fantastic Four bootleg, directing episodes of TV series Sentinel, Viper, Hercules, Xena, She Spies, and Mutant X. His hair is silky and luxuriant.

RevolutionSF's Joe Crowe can also cover his whole body in orange rocks. But he can only do it once.

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