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The House in the Middle

As if keeping your yard clean and your house neat can save it from atomic doom.

Starship Troopers 1950s magazine illustration

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.


Starship Troopers 1990s book cover illustration


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

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.

Fantastic Four ’94 is not one of those films.

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.