YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

FILM CLIPS / A look inside Hollywood and the movies

Fantastic! It'll Be Bigger Than 'Boris & Natasha' and 'Brenda Starr'--Combined!

March 13, 1994|JUDY BRENNAN

It would take a superhero, it seems, to get Roger Corman's version of the Fantastic Four comic legends to the silver screen.

At a time when studios are scarfing up movie rights to comic-book characters like Spiderman and the X-Men, Corman's $2-million "The Fantastic Four" simply became a pawn in allowing German producer Bernd Eichinger and his Neue Constantine Films to hold on to film rights to the Marvel Comics' characters in hopes of making a $40-million-plus picture with bigger stars and a flashier director. Corman and Eichinger executive produced the smaller one.

And while it's not unusual for movies--particularly small-budget ones--to get shelved in Hollywood, what is unique is the hoopla surrounding this one.

Not only did the cast and crew pull money out of their own pockets to help bankroll this project, the actors and director Oley Sassone did the unheard of: They took it upon themselves to begin their own press campaign nationwide last summer, trumpeting the picture to thousands of comic fans through radio shows and comic trade press, signing autographs at comic bookstores and conventions around the country.

Charity galas were tied in with the planned premieres in Minneapolis and Nashville, benefiting facilities for critically ill children. Trailers began appearing in theaters; the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington--home of the Mall of America premiere--even declared the Jan. 19 world premiere date Fantastic Four Day.

But it was not to be. Eichinger paid $1 million to Corman and took the movie back in early January. It is now effectively shelved.

"Bernd had a deal with Marvel Comics and he was always planning to do a $40-million picture," Corman says. "But he couldn't complete the financing before his option ran out. He had to be in fiscal production on Jan. 1 or he would lose the rights. He said, 'How would you like to go into partnership with me and make a smaller-budget version?' We went into production two days before he would lose his option. I was glad for the money, but I'm disappointed that I won't get to release it."

While Corman says Eichinger told him that 20th Century Fox wanted the project with "Home Alone" director Chris Columbus attached, backing up an earlier report in the trade press, Fox and Columbus' agent say that neither are interested. Eichinger has no comment.

While it is uncommon to film a movie just to hang on to the rights and then shelve it, it is not that unusual to begin production and then pull the plug to satisfy contractual obligations.

"Losing this was a big disappointment," says Kendra Verbeten, director of the Children's Miracle Network in St. Paul, beneficiary of one gala. "It wasn't only the fund-raising aspect that we've lost, but a chance to have a mini-premiere with the actors, which would have been a thrill for these kids. When we heard that the film was canceled, my first question was, 'Hasn't it already been made?' If they were going to throw $2 million at a movie that will never be seen, I wish they would have thrown it our way."

Says the film's star, Alex Hyde-White, who plays Mr. Fantastic: "It afforded me a chance, as an actor, to find an audience. The problem was we went out on a limb, but the limb was sawed clean through behind us."

"If the picture never sees the light of day," he adds, "it's too bad. But at least I've got a nice Fantastic Four memorabilia collection."

Los Angeles Times Articles