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The Fantastic Four—the Human Torch, the Invisible Woman, the Thing, and Mr. Fantastic—are all back, and this time they face the very end of the world. A mysterious being comes to Earth flying atop a silver surfboard, and immediately begins to effect the environment. Our heroes must team up with the military and their sworn enemy Dr. Victor Von Doom to stop the Silver Surfer before his master, Galactus, makes his way across the universe and devours our world.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Power Cosmic Edition
The first theatrically released Fantastic Four film wasn’t too hot. I didn’t despise it or anything, but it was certainly underwhelming. Much of my opinion on the film is based in the fact that I have almost zero investment in the characters. X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman were my bag, and those films had expectations to live up to. Hulk, Superman, Daredevil, The Punisher, and Fantastic Four were more or less under my radar for most of my life, which probably has something to do with me not hating any of the characters’ newer features even when fervent fans cried foul (though I still say Ang Lee’s Hulk was magnificent). I do appreciate the team’s spot in comic book history, and love some of the characters they’ve inspired, like the Incredible family (from the Pixar feature, which was a much better Fantastic Four movie), and the Impossible Family (as seen in The Venture Bros.).

The Silver Surfer is another character I had little interest in thematically. Like Ghost Rider he’s about 90% cool imagery, and works best as a supporting or guest character. The folks at Sony obviously didn’t get the memo when they made Ghost Rider into a stand alone feature, but Fox and the folks at Marvel were clearly clever enough knew that a silver coated space man on a surf board, with vaguely defined super powers, and a two sentence back story probably wasn’t going to hold his own film. There was brief talk of a David O. Russell adaptation, which given the directors Buddhist background and disinterest in mainstream cinema may’ve produced the 2001 of comic book adaptations, but realistically I think the studios took the correct course of action.

When it was first announced that the Surfer would be making his big screen debut in the Fantastic Four sequel I was excited at the prospect. Cross-over stories are the next logical step in super hero motion pictures, not to mention the fact that the Surfer did make his first appearance in a Fantastic Four comic. At this point we’ve used up all the big names in the industry and most of the little names aren’t really worthy of their own productions (sorry MODOK and Alpha Force fans). It was a pleasant surprise to see Fox and Marvel taking the initiative so early in the latest comic book cycle. The Fantastic Four’s charm was all but exhausted in the first feature, and splitting their follow-up film with another character was a good move in general. Bryan Singer’s X-men films set up a constant and evolving storyline, Fantastic Four was a standalone with a concrete beginning, middle and end. If the people behind the Fantastic Four didn’t shoot for the stars (so to speak) in the second feature, the series would’ve been stuck in the mud right off the bat.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Power Cosmic Edition
The seeds were planted for a fine follow up feature, and given Fox’s super hero legacy it was easy enough to hope for a better film than the first. When Fox produced X-Men, Daredevil and the first Fantastic Four, they produced ninety-minute spectacles that didn’t cost them too much money. All three films are basically long trailers for part two. Fox was dipping its toes in the water, testing the temperature, and decided whether they wanted to proceed with each property. I don’t like the process, but I can’t deny it’s perfectly logical. In the case of X-Men 2 the studio’s loosened grip produced a better and more finely crafted film (my personal favourite among super hero flicks). I assumed that the botched production of X-Men 3 was due more to Singer’s leaving and the Fox exec’s asinine need to beat his Superman film to theatres. I had hoped that they’d open up the Fantastic Four universe to more sophisticated story telling on a broader canvas.

It turns out that X-Men 2 was a fluke, and that Fox has no interest in making sophisticated super hero movies. They want short, tight, crowd pleasing special effects movies. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer takes a plot as epic as the end of the world, and makes a ninety-two minute comedy out of it. The audience is left with no reason to give a damn about any of the characters, no time to be afraid of the prospect of the world being eaten by galactic spores, and a few of the most obviously tacked-on, designed-in-committee action sequences in recent memory. Sometimes a joke or visual will work, but there’s zero suspense or gravity, and the movie ends as if there was a Fox exec counting reels and shaking his head at the prospect of five more minutes of film time.

There’s nothing wrong with making light-hearted comic book movies, and frankly I resent the fact that everything has to be as dark as Batman Begins to get fan boy acclaim these days. I’m rooting for next summer’s Iron Man for that very reason. The problem is that FF:RotSS is the same brand of fluffy entertainment that insulted children back in the 1970s and ‘80s (I’m sorry, but Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was a horrible show). It’s obsolete entertainment, and based on its derisory returns (compared to the first film) I’m not the only one that thinks so.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Power Cosmic Edition
I’m not sure if the blame lies on any particular shoulders either. Director Tim Story has definitely improved, and there are a few moments of genuine visual inspiration, but I’m still not clear on why he was hired for the job at all. He’s no Sam Raimi, Brian Singer, or Ang Lee. He’s not even a Brett Ratner, but he does his job and doesn’t drop the ball, though a few shots on net would’ve been nice (even an air-ball would be adequate).

The writers, based on their credentials and how strictly they adhered to the original ‘60s comic, seem to have been hired for their comedy aspects alone. Some immediacy would’ve been nice, even a little additional character development, you know, more beyond what was already established beyond the first film.

The actors are the film’s strongest asset with one very, very, very obvious exception—Jessica Alba, who’s probably the single largest black hole in the film, which is filled with many (both literally and figuratively speaking). And just in case we didn’t notice how vapid she is the filmmakers Aryan her up this time around, making her look as porcelain as she acts. Sadder than Alba’s continuing success in Hollywood is the fact that Doug Jones is thoroughly screwed out of any real credit for his work as the Silver Surfer. The editors mention the fact that Lawrence Fishburne’s line delivery as the voice of the Surfer is almost identical to Jones’, begging the question, “Why did they even bother hiring the poor guy?”.

But you know what? No matter how stupid the movie thinks I am, no matter how little suspense or immediacy it has, watching a silver man on a surfboard fight a man on fire is cool enough to pique my interest, at least a little bit. In the end FF:RotSS is on an even keel with Fox’s last Marvel release, X-Men 3. Both films are just interesting enough to make me pine for what might have been. I’d say better luck next time. Maybe Alex Proyas proposed Surfer follow-up will fare better.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Power Cosmic Edition

Video


When you put $130 million dollars into a movie it better look good on DVD, and this one does. Compression artefacts are minimal, edge enhancement is absent, and grain is quite fine. Details are sharp, to such a degree that some of the special effects sometimes show their weaknesses. Colours are eclectic and bright, and there’s very little cross-colouration or bleeding. There is a sequence towards the end of the film where the Fantastic Four take on a Super-Doom over China that’s quite dark, but it’s mentioned on the commentary as an issue with the original film so I suppose it’s not the fault of the disc.

Audio


Again, $130 million can buy a lot, and that includes a fine Dolby Digital 5.1 track. As expected the action is bombastic, the dialogue clear, and the score rich. The Surfer zips from the back channels to the front while the LFE throbs, Johnny Storm crackles and burns into every speaker when he ‘flames on’, and The Thing’s voice booms without losing definition. There are a few cases of shoddy mixing (Johnny’s voice is way to loud during the Surfer chase), but everything is rather state of the art and effectively noisy.

The film benefits greatly from John Ottman’s majestic and commanding score. This is Ottman’s fourth super hero score, and though I’m still more partial to his work on X-Men 2, I’m very impressed by his ability to avoid repeating himself too much. This particular score adds much needed weight to some of the film’s more intense sequences without dropping the film’s overall whimsical feel.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Power Cosmic Edition

Extras


Disc one features two audio commentaries, one with director Tim Story, the other with producer Avi Arad, writer Don Payne and film editors Peter S. Elliot and William Hoy. I didn’t have the time to sit through both tracks in their entirety, and ended up switching between them during my third viewing of the film. My reading of the tracks is based on these bits and pieces. Everyone except Arad (who only fills a couple minutes here and there, including a positively retarded comparison between Galactus eating the world and terrorism) is full of vague regret. Story keeps using the word ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, which sends up all kinds of flags. ‘We’ were going to do blank, but ‘we’ decided to do blank, though ‘I’ would’ve rather done blank, comes up a lot. He’s pretty giddy overall, but is always clear on what he wanted to do differently.

The producer/writer/editor commentary is a mash up, and features less blank space than Story’s solo track. The editors snidely point out error after error—“This background plate is obviously not New York”, “It’s never clear why Dr. Doom comes back to life”, “We really didn’t think that special effect was going to make the final film”, etc. Writer Don Payne has the most regret, and lets us in on a script with better pacing, more character development, and better explanations behind various plot developments. The one good thing that seems to have come out of the constant studio interference is the increase of the Surfer’s presence, but making a movie in committee is almost always a bad idea.

Disc two starts with extended scenes, which I was excited about, considering how scatter-brained and obviously retooled the theatrical release was. Unfortunately, the scenes add up to only a few minutes, and none of them have a place in the final cut. Most of the deleted stuff takes place before the Surfer shows up, and is unimportant to the film the studio ended up wanting to make. The extended credits are neat, but look a little too much like those at the beginning of Superman Returns, which Story neglects to notice in his commentary. I’m reasonably sure, based on the theatrical commentary, that there’s a lot more deleted information being held for a future release.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Power Cosmic Edition
For sheer length the making of documentary, entitled ‘Family Bonds’, is the way to go. This one of those top-to-bottom, fly-on-the-wall affairs that covers the entirety of the pre-production and productions in about forty-five minutes. It moves briskly and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The doc more or less lays out the cause of all the film’s problems like a smorgasbord—extremely strict shooting schedules, too many studio notes, not enough money, too many directors (Tim Story comes off as a head assistant director at best) and a looming release date. There’s obviously no clear vision to the film, and too much is being made up on the spot. Everyone seems to be having a decent time at least.

Before you go wondering about the missing post-production information I’ll direct your attention to the ‘featurettes’ menu. ‘The Power Cosmic’ covers the Silver Surfer process, from concept to final animation (though curiously it skips over Lawrence Fishburne entirely). Thanks to Weta Digital’s technological advances made with Gollum on Lord of the Rings the on-set motion capture process is nearly child’s play. The featurette isn’t entirely clear on Weta’s total contribution to the film (there were several effects houses utilized), but it appears that they were at the very least responsible for the Surfer. The evolution of the process is incredible, and the entirety of Doug Jones’ performance can now be captured without cumbersome mo-cap camera set-ups. Re-doing the entire performance digitally (minus a few scenes of the Surfer without his powers) seems like overkill to me, and I don’t think the digital mouth works at all, but the final product is mostly impressive.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Power Cosmic Edition
‘FantastiCar: State of the Art’ covers the design and construction of the silly looking vehicle the Fantastic Four fly around at the end of the film. It’s interesting from the standpoint that machines do almost all the work these days, making the design to completion process much shorter, and needed only a handful of computer jockeys to do most of the work. On the plus side this kind of thing will keep movie production costs down, which is nice considering how ridiculous the prices have soared over the past few decades, but the down side is, of course, that fewer workers will be needed and hired in Hollywood in years to come.

I’m not sure what the MSRP is on this guy, but if you’re someone that liked the film enough to buy it, the ‘Comic Book Origins of The Silver Surfer’ featurette is worth the price of the double disc set. The mini-doc runs almost forty minutes, and really digs into the character’s history. You’ve probably seen similar featurettes on other Marvel DVD releases—the ones that cover each major creative team in charge of the property over the years, and the character’s place in popular culture. The most interesting aspects of the Surfer’s popularity are also the most obvious. He was visually quite popular in the ‘60s (apparently the number one selling black-light poster), but his comics never sold, at least not until the 1980s when Marvel finally figured out what to do with him. This featurette is filled with beautiful artwork and engaging interviews.

The featurettes are completed with one oddly called ‘Character Design With Spectral Motion’, which is all about the new Thing suit, which is better looking, and apparently more comfortable for actor Michael Chiklis to wear, and another entitled ‘Scoring the Fantastic’, all about John Ottoman’s soundtrack. The rest of the disc is finished off by a series of galleries, including one labelled ‘Interactive FantastiCar’, which isn’t really all that interactive, and trailers.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Power Cosmic Edition

Overall


Dear Twentieth Century Fox and Producer Avi Arad,

Please stop micro-managing your comic book films. Just because Aang Lee’s Hulk didn’t work for some people, and just because Bryan Singer ditched you guys to make Superman Returns doesn’t mean you can’t trust creative types. Please try to make good movies rather than passable movies fine-tuned to make the most money. I promise the process will be rewarding, really.

Sincerely,

Gabe Powers

PS: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is decent in parts, awful in others, but I appreciate some of the effort. The DVD is pretty sharp, with high end A/V and some great extra features.


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