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I remember a Fantastic Four movie that wasn’t all that fantastic.

By Bert Ehrmann
2005-07-25 — I've seen the Fantastic Four movie, but probably not the one you're thinking of. Sometime in the early 1990's, a Fantastic Four movie was shot and never released ­ a rarity in an industry that will do almost anything to recoup an investment. The movie was promoted in specialty magazines, and fans waited for a release date that would never come, wondering whether they’d ever get to see this movie.

Unfortunately, many of them did.

Fantastic Four (1994) 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 the movie follows that of the comic book (which is also the inspiration of the 2005 version): 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 “The Jeweler.” However, the film's budget dictated that the powers were less "super" and more "awful."

Effects for the never-released Fantastic Four 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 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, the producers hired schlock-producer Roger Corman to film his own version of Fantastic Four for a reported $1.5 million, thus fulfilling their contractual obligations. Apparently, there was nothing in the contract about the movie being released, only it getting made.

Then, the producers working with Chris Columbus on his version of the movie saw how awful a $1.5 million version of Fantastic Four looked and decided that rather than letting the general public see a very bad Fantastic Four, and potentially hurting their own big-budget franchise, they would pay the producers of the never-released Fantastic Four to keep the movie under wraps and, well, 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 “never-released” movie? The answer ­ the power of bootleg.

Sometime in the late 1990s a print of the movie was leaked to the public and 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 copy on VHS. The copy I saw looked to be a dub of a dub of a dub on VHS. It was watchable, but just barely.

Trust me when I say that the never-released version of Fantastic Four is just as awful as I describe ­ don’t dare try watching it for yourself. It’s definitely a movie only a movie-lover would search out, let alone sit though. And then, after watching, be forced to question their love of movies in the first place.

Which proves the point ­ just because you can see something, doesn’t mean that you should see something.