Forgiven, Not Four-gotten – Recalling Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four

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Here’s a film that doesn’t quite fit into our “Great Unmade” slot, yet, unless you have a bootleg copy, or catch it on YouTube, you’ll never see this unloved, bastard offspring of the Marvel universe. Seemingly Doomed (pun intended) from the start, Roger Corman’s Concorde-New horizons Pictures was tasked by rights holders Neue Constantin Films, to turn out a Fantastic Four film in record time in order to prevent the rights slipping back to Marvel. But did they ever intend to release it? Or did they call “clobberin’ time” on the cut price comic book heroes?

It was 1992. Corman stated “Bernd Eichinger, the German producer, had the rights to the Fantastic Four and he was going to make it on about $40 million but couldn’t raise the money and his option was going to run out in three months. If he didn’t start the picture, he would lose his option. So he came to me and said “I didn’t get my $40 million. How much can you cut this budget to and let’s make it together at your studio.” So we figured out a budget and we cut it from $40 million to $1.4 million and made it.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=fVLqs9MrGbw

Production began on December 28 1992, three days before the rights expired, and Corman’s director, Oley Sassone wrapped in twenty five days – days where cast and crew worked up to a punishing twenty hours. Everyone on board believed in what they were doing, and were greatly enthused. Sassone said, “Having the opportunity to bring these mythological characters to life is great. Stan (Lee) and Marvel made them a legend and it was like being handed gold.”  But did Eichinger, once he got the funding he needed, bury it ?

The cast certainly got into their roles. Interviews show their enthusiasm even now is undimmed. Alex Hyde-White, grandson of Wilfred Hyde-White, played Reed Richards, the father figure of The Fantastic Four. He recalls the practical effects:

“The way the arm extends is a real trick. When I get ready to throw a punch to Dr Doom, I have the plaster cast on my shoulder that is rigged to a hydraulic. My real arm is at my side, sort of gripped back, and controls this arm that extends and holds it in place. So after six or twelve takes of this, it’s pretty heavy and really cinched tight.”

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Joseph Culp played the villain and former friend, Victor / Dr Doom. He thought deeply on his motivation:

Dr Doom is a very operatic character-a glorious tyrant king…a narcissist to the extreme. I believe he is completely scarred and mutilated. Being such a brilliant scientist, he could certainly reconstruct his face but chose to keep hism scars as a living testament to his vengeance on the world and specifically, Richards.”

Michael Bailey Smith played Ben Grimm, but his alter ego, The Thing, was played by another actor /stunt performer, Carl Ciarfalio. His entire body was cast for a practical costume, a process duplicated for Michael Chiklis in the 2005, “proper” version. Although Corman’s budget didn’t stretch to a coolant undersuit for Smith, who wore 15 pounds of rubber suit every day.

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When Johnny Storm (Jay Underwood) converts to The Human Torch, he becomes a completely animated element. Rebecca Staab rounds out the group as Sue Storm / Invisible Woman.

Roger Corman recalls:

“We were going to distribute it but he (Eichinger) had a clause in his contract that he could buy me out at a rather substantial profit for me any time up to ninety days after the picture was completed. During that time he raised his $40 million. He bought the picture out from me (and went on to remake it with 20th Century Fox)”.

Was the Corman version ever a serious consideration? Eichinger said:

It was not our intention to make a B-movie, that’s for sure, but when the movie was there, we wanted to release it. Avi (Arad, head of Marvel Pictures) calls me up and says, ‘Listen, I think what you did was great. It shows your enthusiasm for the movie and the property. I understand that you have invested so-and-so much and Roger has invested so-and-so much. Let’s do a deal.’ Because he really didn’t like the idea that a small movie was coming out and maybe ruining the franchise. So he says to me that he wants to give me back the money that we spent on the movie and that we should not release it.”

Rebecca Staab’s reaction on hearing of Fox’s Fantastic Four movie coming out was “That’s when it feels like a dagger in your gut. That’s our movie!” Especially after the cast had selflessly promoted Corman’s film out of their own pockets before they were made aware it wouldn’t be released.

Director Sassone worked around budgetary constraints by concentrating on character rather than spectacle. If the main cast aquit themselves reasonably well with cheesy dialogue and wobbly sets, he should have worked harder with the supporting cast – especially the band of tramps / gypsies Ben Grimm falls in with at one point.

“I kept trying to just tell a good story and there were a couple of universal themes in the script: good vs. evil, betrayal, loyalty, The Thing’s internal struggle with dealing with being “different,” ugly, an oddity. How many people can identify with that?

When he feels unloved and abandoned by his comrades, he tries to lose himself in the underbelly of the city. And no matter how hard he tries to make people see him through his eyes, he’s still a scary, freak of nature. I thought of The Elephant Man, when we were shooting, in that brilliant sequence when he’s being chased until cornered in the public toilet and decries, “I am not an animal!!” Ben Grimm does eventually find solace among all of the misfits and dregs of society.”

How come the film is actually completed, with visual effects and music score, the whole works? Surely that couldn’t have been done in three weeks? Sassone explained:

“Long after we finished shooting, we kept the post production alive under the radar. Our producer was gone by this time and a group called Mr. Film and my editor (Glenn Garland) and the post supervisor (Jan at Concorde) kept processing our elements. I was on another movie and Glenn was cutting that one as well. Everyday during the post production of the other movie, we’d use the flatbed to keep cutting in the visual effects elements of the FF. I think we finally locked the picture almost a year later. I don’t think, in fact I’m quite sure, Constantin did not know this was happening. They probably, at this point, had satisfied the stipulations in their contract which was to get it into production, but not necessarily have a finished movie. I’d love to know exactly what it said but I’m sure they were all surprised to see a finished movie.”

The score, which is pretty good, was recorded by David and Eric Wurst with a 48 piece orchestra at Capitol Records, Again, they chipped in some of their own money.

Now a new documentary baring all on the story is being produced by Mark Sikes, Roger Corman’s casting guy, and director Marty Langford. The documentary, Doomed! The Untold Story Of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four will feature contributions from many of the players involved. It is being crowdfunded through  indiegogo and we have the trailer below.

Originally posted 2014-01-23 13:45:51. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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