Dave Bullock Suicide SquadPosted on August 1st, 2015 | By: Bert Ehrmann
On this date in 2002...Signs premiers in theaters.
As if keeping your yard clean and your house neat can save it from atomic doom.
By Ed Emshwiller in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the Starship Soldier story. I believe this was the first piece of Starship Troopers art ever created.
Note – this is an updated version of an article that was originally published in 2005.
I’ve seen the Fantastic Four movie, but it’s probably not one of the ones you’re thinking of. Set to be released in 1994 this Fantastic Four movie was shot, completed with special effects yet never officially released, a rarity in an industry that will do almost anything to recoup an investment. Before its release, Fantastic Four ’94 was promoted in specialty magazines like Cinescape and Comics Scene so the movie was well known by fans and insiders. Yet as the years past and we waited for a release date that would never come many wondered if they’d ever get to see this film.
Unfortunately, some of us would.
Fantastic Four ’94 starred a group of b-list and no name actors who would go onto such things as The Truth About Beef Jerky (2002) and The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All (1999). The plot of Fantastic Four ’94 follows that of the comic book which is essentially also the plot for all the modern Fantastic Four movies too: four friends are bombarded with cosmic rays during a scientific trip into space that causes them to develop superpowers. With these powers, they must do battle with the evil “Doctor Doom” and movie-only villain “The Jeweler.” However, the budget of Fantastic Four ’94 dictated that the powers were less “super” and more “awful.”
Reportedly made on a $1.5 million dollar budget — to put that number in perspective, if industry reports are to be believed $1.5 million is about what it cost the creators of the latest Fantastic Four movie to produce about one MINUTE of film — effects for Fantastic Four ’94 ranged from good — The Thing suit looked decent enough — to very bad — Johnny Storm has the ability to ignite his entire body in flame and fly, but he never does this until the end of the movie in an awful CGI shot used to close-out the story. Mr. Fantastic’s ability to stretch any part of his body is achieved via quick cuts — he reaches out his arm and the movie cuts to the actor wearing an arm-lengthening prostheses — while The Invisible Girl simply vanishes from the screen leaving no trace, arguably the most effective visual effect in the movie and probably most cost-saving.
Rumors abound as to the reasoning behind just why Fantastic Four ’94 was never released. In the book The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, author David Hughes suggests that the movie’s producers were contractually obligated to deliver a Fantastic Four movie by a certain date or the property would revert back to its owner and they would loose all rights to any future Fantastic Four movies. Realizing that director Chris Columbus (the first two Harry Potter movies) was in the process of developing his own big-budget version of Fantastic Four, and eyeing a piece of that film’s grosses since they owned the rights to any film versions, the producers hired schlock-king Roger Corman to film his own version of Fantastic Four for that $1.5 million, thus fulfilling their contractual obligations. Apparently, there was nothing in the contract about their Fantastic Four movie being released, only it getting made.
It’s also rumored that after the producers working with Chris Columbus on his version of the movie saw how awful Corman’s version of Fantastic Four looked they decided that rather there being any chance the movie would be released and general public see a very bad Fantastic Four movie, and potentially hurting their own big-budget franchise, they would pay the producers of Fantastic Four ’94 to keep the movie under wraps and never release it.
Rumors also suggest that this was the intention of the producers of the never-released version of Fantastic Four all along.
So how did I, and thousands of other comic book fans worldwide, get to see a movie that was never released to the public in any format? The answer; the power of bootleg.
Sometime in the late 1990s a print of Fantastic Four ’94 was accidentally (or perhaps intentionally) leaked to the public and this made its way onto the comic book convention circuit. Suddenly, dealers across the country were making copies of this never-released movie and selling it themselves at $20 a dub on VHS. The tape I saw of Fantastic Four ’94 looked to be a dub of a copy of a copy on VHS. It was watchable, but just barely.
Trust me when I say that the never-released version of Fantastic Four ’94 is just as awful as I describe. The whole production seems cheap and quickly thrown together like you’d expect for a $1.5 million dollar Corman movie. And I’m not slamming Corman, I think that some of his movies attain a weird sort of greatness where his films transcend their limitations and become something other than a forgettable low-budget film.
While in retrospect Fantastic Four ’94 didn’t hurt any upcoming Fantastic Four movies with its awfulness as the producers feared — the next Fantastic Four movie wouldn’t be released until 2005 and would be awful in its own way — Fantastic Four ’94 release would’ve done nothing to help the superhero movie brand. But it’s not like releasing it would’ve hurt that brand either.
The time period that Fantastic Four ’94 would’ve been released into theaters was not a good time for comic book movies to begin with as there was a whole string of disappointing films from Batman & Robin (1997), Judge Dredd (1995), Tank Girl (1995), Spawn (1997) and Steel (1997) to name a few. So it’s not like releasing Fantastic Four ’94 into this mix would’ve spelled the doom for comic book movies as we know it.
I wouldn’t call Fantastic Four ’94 a “lost classic” by any means. It’s certainly one of those rare “lost” movies that for whatever reason is simply unavailable to the public. But having watched parts of it again with its low-grade made-for-TV movie aesthetics it’s not a great loss to our cultural archive that more people haven’t seen it.
I think Fantastic Four ’94 best fits with films like Captain America 1990 and The Punisher 1989. Those movies too are just as bad as Fantastic Four ’94 yet those films were released. While those two films are available on home video while Fantastic Four ’94 is not, it’s not like many people outside the fan community have seen those movies either which isn’t a bad thing.
The 1998 movie Godzilla was on TV the other day, I watched a bit of it and was instantly transported back to that summer when I first saw that movie. I remembered how much hype Godzilla had, the ads for the movie and the theater I saw it in too. I started thinking how many movies from ’98 affect me that way. It’s not like Godzilla is a great movie, but everytime I see it or another flick from that year I’m taken back to ’98.
I suppose the reason I keep coming back to the films of the summer of ’98 again and again was that it was the first year that I really started going to the movies. I’d been interested in films since I was little — I used to clip ads for movies from our local paper and my grandparents took myself and my brother to loads of films growing up — but ’98 was the first year I really had the means to start going to movies myself.
I think there’s also a few other reasons ’98 sticks in my mind.
It was one of the first years that movies started to be advertised via the web — which doesn’t sound like a big deal today but back then it was revolutionary. Before the internet if you wanted to see movie trailers you had to go to the movies or sometimes TV programs like Entertainment Tonight would air them too. But if you missed ET or didn’t have the cash to catch a film you were mostly out of luck.
(I’m embarrassed to admit that I used to tape Entertainment Tonight when they were doing their big summer movie preview show just so I could see all the trailers for a summer season. I think I might still have a few of those tapes floating around somewhere.)
You could also read specialty magazines like Cinescape or Premiere that would also cover upcoming movies in order to ‘be in the know’ of what was upcoming as well. But these magazines never had that much information on any one film, they couldn’t when they were covering loads of films being released, and they didn’t cover every movie either.
But when the internet came along and movie studios started marketing their films online all this became redundant. Those early movie websites would house (tiny) copies of movie trailers and would also have galleries of photos. And in ’98 even these few things were all very new and very cool.
I remember being particularly excited and influenced over the website for the movie Deep Impact and I also remember playing Godzilla’s roar to a professor in college via its site when that debuted online.
I also think ’98 sticks since movies started being released on DVD at an affordable price around this time too. I remember that the movie Lost in Space, an ’98 alumni, was included along with early DVD players and the first DVD I ever bought was for Deep Impact. And these movies were some of the first DVDs to include things like alternate scenes and commentaries that were unheard of before then.
So not only was it that I was seeing these movies in theaters I was also able to then watch them a few months later over and over again and again on DVD and learning new things about them in the process.
1998 was also the time that I’d launched my own website where I started following movies online. I still have early copies of that site where I was covering films like Ronin and Star Trek: Insurrection. I was so into movies and the web that I also made a fan-site for the movie Deep Impact where I copied screen grabs from the trailer that featured deleted scenes.
I think that’s why whenever I catch a movie from ’98 playing on TV my mind immediately goes back to that time period when everything movie was new and exciting to me. When it seemed like anything was possible with films and the whole world of entertainment was changing in front of my eyes from how they were marketed to how they were played once they were out of the theater. It’s a weird sort of nostalgia I have for ’98 that I don’t really have for other years before or since.
1999 was a great year for movies with everything from The Matrix to The Sixth Sense to Fight Club. And while Fight Club might be one of my favorite movies of all time, when I watch that movie again it’s not one that in my mind I associate it with ’99 like I do with the films of ’98. It’s just a great movie.
And it’s not like I saw any more movies in ’98 than in subsequent years. I saw loads of movies in the theater for about a decade after ’98, but that’s the only year that really sticks with me.
Of all the movies I saw in the theater that year there’s really only a few that I didn’t care for — Lost in Space, Soldier and The Big Lebowski, and it didn’t take me long to come around to see the greatness of Lebowski. The rest from Ronin to Saving Private Ryan to The Truman Show and more are all still solid/great movies. And I think it helps with ’98 too that there were a wide variety of movies that year. Everything from war movies like Private Ryan, sci-fi Armageddon and The X-Files and comedies like Lebowski and There’s Something About Mary too.
Even the movies that were of similar theme were different from one and other and are all still mostly good flicks.
Looking back now at some of those ’98 movies it’s humorous how some have aged. One of the plot points in Deep Impact is that the US government takes over the phone lines and calls the home phones of people who have been selected to be hidden away in bunkers around the country in order to survive an Earth vs comet collision. Now in 2015 who has home phones? And in Godzilla, the island of Manhattan is evacuated in a single day when the big green meanie attacks the city and claims it as his own. But real disasters like with Katrina and Superstorm Sandy showed it’s impossible to believe that many people could have been moved that far in that short of time under those circumstances.
As I look around my office I notice little bits of ’98 I still have today. I have things like “making of” books for Visions of Armageddon and a book for Saving Private Ryan too. I also have magazines from that year for Godzilla and The X-Files somewhere in my stack of old magazines and movie posters for Deep Impact, The X-Files, Armageddon, Saving Private Ryan, Lost in Space, Ronin, and The Truman Show hidden away too.
It wouldn’t surprise me if 17 years from now I’ve still got all that stuff from ’98 with me too.
The Big Lebowski (3/6)
I was one of the few people in the world to see this movie when it originally premiered in theaters (it made just $17 million in its original run) and I have to admit that I didn’t get the film. It wasn’t until years later when I heard/read that The Big Lebowski was just a detective movie with a twist that I finally got it and loved it. Grade: A
Lost in Space (4/3)
Lost in Space has an interesting first and second act but falls apart when the movie grinds to a halt in its third act. I think the creators of Lost in Space were trying to make it so that the crew of the Jupiter II would go on several adventures during the movie like they did in the 1960s TV series. Instead it made the movie a disjointed mess. Grade: D
Deep Impact (5/7)
I think I was most excited about this movie the summer of 1998 than any other film. I would go to its website on a daily basis to check for changes, downloaded trailers and even developed a fan site of my own. Grade B-
The excitement surrounding Godzilla was enormous and ultimately bigger than the green-baddie himself. There was no way Godzilla could ever live up to its own hype machine and today is considered a failure even though it made nearly $380 million at the box office. Grade C+
The Truman Show (6/5)
To say that The Truman Show was prescient wouldn’t be an understatement. While MTV’s Real World had already been on the air for six years when The Truman Show was released, I remember at the time how interesting this movie was where a man’s life was filmed by cameras, broadcast to the nation and was one of the highest rated shows on TV. Of course in just a few years this would be all the rage with series like Big Brother and Survivor to the point where now it seems like every cable channel has their own version of The Truman Show and it’s just another ordinary entertainment option. Grade A
The X-Files (6/19)
I remember at the time thinking that The X-Files was a good movie but wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I wanted some answers the TV series had spent the last five years asking but didn’t really receive any via the movie. And looking back on The X-Files now I’m not sure it works for those who weren’t already familiar with the show. Still, I don’t think there’s been a TV series since to be popular enough to have a movie happen in the middle of the series run and that says something about the power The X-Files had in ’98. Grade B
The AC/DC to the James Taylor of Deep Impact, Armageddon was a bombastic thrill-ride that I remember liking a lot in the theater when I first saw it. But watching it again the first time on VHS that fall I was struck on how the movie only really worked the first time through. When you know where all the twists and turns are in Armageddon there’s really nothing to go back and enjoy with the film and instead of being exciting Armageddon turns to one big slog. Grade C
The Mask of Zorro (7/17)
This was another one I was surprised by how much it worked for me when I saw it. And I’ve seen The Mask of Zorro several times since and still think it’s a good flick. Grade B
Saving Private Ryan (7/24)
What can I say about Saving Private Ryan that hasn’t been said many times before? It’s the best movie of 1998 and is probably the best war movie ever. Grade A+
Ronin is a nice hidden gem that I don’t think has ever got its fair due. This spy movie that isn’t like any other spy movie I’ve ever seen takes place in the weird time after the Cold War ended when various undercover operatives found themselves out of work and would put their services up to the highest bidder. Grade A
Soldier is a mostly forgotten low-budget sci-fi movie that starred Kurt Russell that probably deserves to be totally forgotten. I remember seeing the trailer for this one and thinking “cool” but leaving the movie and being not quite sure why they seemed to have cut out all the scenes from the trailer that made me want to see the movie in the first place. I remember part of the marketing for Soldier being that it took place in the same fictional universe as Blade Runner. It’s like the quote from MST3K about the movie Village of the Giants that’s based on the H.G. Wells book The Food of the Gods; “Based on? In that they’re both in English.” Grade D-