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After years of trying to get on the big screen, Marvel Comic’s Fantastic Four has gone through so many alterations, directors, and production companies that the story behind how it got to be here in 2005 might actually make for the genesis of a decent super villain, or at least an annoying sidekick character like Herbie the robot. Alluding movie stardom over the years while other characters got their due and surviving what was sure to be an embarrassing, Roger Corman co-produced cheapie made and subsequently buried in the mid-90s, Marvel’s longest running team of heroes finally got thrust into the spotlight this past summer with a big budget production from Twentieth Century Fox and director Tim Story.

Fantastic Four
Brilliant research scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is running out of time and money with his latest endeavour, and in a last ditch effort seeks the help of industrialist and college rival, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) in procuring a place on Doom’s space station for his latest experiment involving the effects of cosmic radiation on DNA. Along for the ride are Reed’s friend and astronaut, Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), and two of Doom’s employees—hot-headed pilot Johnny Storm and his sister, scientist Susan Storm (Chris Evans and Jessica Alba), both of which complicate matters as Johnny once served under Grimm during his short and tumultuous stint with NASA, and Susan was once romantically linked with Richards, but is now Victor’s main squeeze.

Once on the space station and the experiment is underway, the cosmic storm so vital to Reed’s research arrives earlier than expected, catching all five with their proverbial and literal shields down. Miraculously, everyone survives the ordeal and after some time in quarantine back on Earth they soon realize that the cosmic storm that should have killed them all has changed their bodies’ on a molecular level, leaving them all with different, strange, new powers. Richards is able to stretch any part of his body and contort himself into virtually any shape, Sue can render herself invisible and generate force fields around her and others, Johnny can turn into a flame projecting human torch, and Ben finds himself mutated into a hulking, impenetrable, rock-like beast with brute strength. As the four become acquainted with their new superhuman abilities and learn to cope with them and the public at large, Victor undergoes a change or two of his own that could spell doom for the rest of the world with a capital ‘D’.

As the end credits began to roll on Fantastic Four, my initial thoughts reminded me of the feeling I had after seeing the first X-Men a few years back. As with that film, this one was a fairly underwhelming affair, one that felt like the folks behind it stepped up to the plate, and instead of going all out and swinging for the fences, decided to settle on hitting a sacrifice fly to deep right.

Fantastic Four
The main problem with Fantastic Four is that there seems to be a good half an hour missing from the third act—there’s a decent build-up but little to no payoff by the time you reach the end. Being the first in a proposed franchise for Fox, Fantastic Four is an origin story, so there’s a lot of character building and exposition that needs to get out of the way before more action-oriented aspects can unfold and carry any weight. Over the past several years, other comic book adaptations have featured the standard origin story and managed to tack on something more, such as Spider-Man and this past summer’s Batman Begins, but here you get plenty of exposition and little else besides. You get to see the characters learn all about their new abilities and go through some awkward phases in learning to control and how to best use their powers, but that’s about as far as the story here goes. Right around the eighty-five minute mark, I thought it was finally going to rev up the engines and strut its stuff with a few, big action set pieces, and for all too brief a time it does just that only to have the credits roll several minutes later.

Even if it didn’t meet my expectations of being an all out, action-packed extravaganza, the least it could have done was hold my interest with some good characters, but unfortunately it only manages to bat around .400 in that department. As Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba are both likeable and pleasant enough on screen, but in a movie that is overtly trying to be nothing more than a fun ride, their characters are a couple of the blandest and most uptight super heroes to ever grace the silver screen. Thankfully, the other half of the fantastic foursome, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis as the Human Torch and the Thing, make up for a lot of the shortcomings in the other two main protagonists. Both actors manage to have a lot of fun with their roles, and even though they get a leg up on the other actors by nabbing all of the best lines and action, they don’t drop the ball when the cameras turn their way and deliver a couple of great performances. As for the villain, a movie like this needs a good bad guy to act as a foil to our heroes, but as this incarnation of Dr. Doom, Julian McMahon comes off more as a guy going through a mid-life crisis who’s just lost his girl and career than the megalomaniac, super genius bent on world domination that the character is known for the world over.

So while the story and over half the characters would have benefited from a little more polish, there’s still some goods things running through the its veins. Both the computer generated and makeup effects are, for the most part, outstanding throughout and really help in pulling off the more fantastical elements of the story. Just like the characters themselves, the effects that really stand out from the rest are those used to not only bring to life the Human Torch and the Thing, but in keeping them believable as real people too. The movie is also pretty family-friendly for the most part, and as someone who lugged along a six year-old to see it in the theatre this past summer, I can safely say that the kids there that day enjoyed it much more than I did.

Fantastic Four
Overall, while there is a lot of room for improvement in the characterizations and story, Fantastic Four is about ninety minutes of harmless fluff that just ends up feeling like a setup for the bigger and better sequel that will no doubt hit multiplexes in about two years. It’s not the worst comic book adaptation I’ve ever seen, but its far from the best, which getting back to my comparison with X-Men, is exactly how I ultimately felt about Bryan Singer’s first outing into the mutant realm. Hopefully, the next Fantastic Four will take a few pointers from that film’s sequel and hit one out of the park.

Video


Fox Home Entertainment presents Fantastic Four on DVD with an anamorphically enhanced video transfer at its 2.35:1 theatrically exhibited aspect ratio and the results are excellent. The image is sharp and detailed, suffering from only the slightest grain and edge enhancement during some of the darker and more elaborate special effects shots respectively. The movie’s extensive colour palette comes off nicely in nearly every scene and bursts off the screen in others, while black levels are kept consistent throughout and give it a nice, solid look. Being a newly released film, there seems to be no artefacts due to dirt or other such debris on the source print, which results in a near pristine picture. Overall, this is a great video transfer and you’re going to be hard pressed this year to find one this good for a live-action picture not called Revenge of the Sith.

Audio


Fantastic Four is presented on DVD with the choice of a trio of audio tracks, including DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 in English and Dolby Surround in Spanish with optional English and Spanish subtitles, and the audio in this case comes off as well as the video. You should expect that given the fact this is a newly released, big budget action movie that the audio would give your surround sound setup a workout, and that is exactly what will happen when you pop the disc in your player. The disc features an aggressive and immersive mix that makes good use of all the available surround and LFE channels while keeping dialogue nice and crisp coming from the centre speaker. While both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are reference quality for their respective formats, the DTS track wins hands down and should be the track of choice for those that can take advantage of its less compressed audio. Overall, Fantastic Four simply sounds great, true believers.

Fantastic Four

Extras


Fantastic Four arrives on DVD with a host of supplemental goodies in tow, including a cast audio commentary, a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a video diary, trailers, and more, all of which on the surface hints at offering an in-depth look at what went on behind the cameras in making these larger than life heroes comes to life.

The first extra is an audio commentary with three members of the film’s principal cast, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, and Ioan Gruffudd. It should be noted that the copy of the DVD I received for review states on its packaging that the commentary also features co-stars Chris Evans and Julian McMahon, but if these two played a part in the track they must have been extremely low talkers as I didn’t hear one peep out of them nor are they addressed by any of the other participants. Getting back to the track as it is, however, there are plenty of anecdotes volleyed back and fourth between the actors as they share their on set experiences, and while the audio track is light and bubbly and a lot fun to listen to, I would have preferred a commentary that was a little bit more on the technical side of the filmmaking process seeing as this is a special effects laden movie. What would have definitely helped the track would have been if director Tim Story were to have joined his cast and offered up some insight that the actors weren’t privy to, but as it is the track is more fun than informative.

Next is a nearly twenty minute featurette, entitled ‘Fantastic Four Video Diary’, which was produced by Jessica Alba and has a running time of nearly twenty minutes. I was expecting a camcorder look behind the scenes of the picture’s shoot, but I was only half right. The piece chronicles the press tour that the actors took across the globe to promote the film, and culminates in its premiere in New York City. The featurette is enjoyable for what it is and offers a few candid moments with the film’s stars (memo to Ioan Gruffudd—next time remember not to drink the water in Mexico), but as far as offering anything useful pertaining to the actual making of it you’re best served looking elsewhere.

Next up is a series of three featurettes, the first being the five minute ‘Making of Fantastic Four,’ which is basically a feel good, promotional piece where everyone involved gets to pat each other on the back and smile for the cameras. As far as offering any detailed info on the making of the movie, this featurette doesn’t even scratch the surface and barely deserves to be called a making-of piece at all, especially when you consider some of the other feature length documentaries available with such films as Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins that really go behind the scenes of their respective pictures.

Fantastic Four
The next featurette of the trio is and eight minute piece produced by Fox Movie Channel, ‘Fantastic Four: Making a Scene’, which goes into detail on how the bridge sequence in the film was pulled off. The featurette is interesting enough and goes into some detail about this one effects sequence, but at eight minutes long is far too short to cover much ground and again feels like a fluff piece of promotional material, which as I remember seeing this on television over the summer, is exactly what it is.

The third and final of these behind-the-scenes featurettes, ‘Fantastic Four: Casting Session,’ is an eight minute piece that details how each member of the principal cast came to be hired onto the picture and their reasons for choosing to do it, and also throws Stan Lee into the mix to discuss each of the casting choices. This piece actually comes across as the best of the three, but that’s not really saying a whole lot given the competition.

Next on the shiny platter are three, brief deleted scenes that were wisely cut and consist primarily of dialogue scenes between Jessica Alba’s Sue Storm and Ioan Gruffudd’s Reed Richards, so there’s nothing too eye popping here that would warrant a second look. The disc also contains two music videos, "Everything Burns," performed by Ben Moody with Anastacia, and "Come On, Come In," performed by veteran rockers and one of my personal favourites, Velvet Revolver. I don’t really get into music videos too much, but as far as these types of things go they aren’t bad if not in a ‘let’s put videos on the disc to promote the soundtrack’ kind of way, and as it turns out, a spot for the Fantastic Four soundtrack is also available.

Rounding out the disc are the film’s theatrical teaser and trailer, along with a trailer for Marvel’s The Avengers animated series and an inside look featurette geared towards promoting Fox’s upcoming summer blockbuster, X-Men 3. I’ve noticed that in a lot of the advertising for the disc that this ‘Inside Look’ is one of the major features being pushed to the forefront, but all it amounts to is Marvel front man Avi Arad taking a couple of minutes to talk a bit about the upcoming movie and how huge it is going to be while clips from the previous X-Men movies are shown. So much for seeing something really cool or surprising in anticipation of next year’s sequel to one of the best comic book movies yet to be made.

Overall, the special features included in the package are a pretty disposable lot and, although they promise some substance with important sounding titles, never really do give much of an insight or look into the making of Fantastic Four. Based on what's presented here, it isn’t hard to sniff out another version of this movie coming around the bend in a few months’ time, especially since region two is already getting a more feature packed, two-disc version around the same time this offering is being released in North America.

Fantastic Four

Overall


While I found Fantastic Four to be primarily light weight and pretty underwhelming as far as more recent comic book adaptations go, the movie does a nice job of both setting up the next film and knowing its target audience enough to be kid friendly entertainment, with the exception of one or two out of place, gratuitously violent scenes that alone warrant the PG-13 rating. Fox Home Entertainment’s treatment of the movie on DVD features great audio and video that are worthy of consideration next time you’re searching for a disc to show off the home theatre, but the special features aren’t nearly fantastic enough to put the package over the top as a whole. Overall, unless you just can’t wait to get your hands on one of this summer’s biggest hits on DVD, a rental of the title will do fine until the inevitable release of the two-disc special edition that’s been released in region two hits region one shores and shelves sometime next year.


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