17 May 2011

"Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" DVD

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher with Lawrence Fishburne as the voice of the Silver Surfer
Story by John Turman and Mark Frost
Screenplay by Don Payne and Mark Frost
Directed by Tim Story
DVD Release Date: 2 October 2007
List Price: $14.98
92 Minutes

I wasn't dissatisfied by Fantastic Four, but I was disappointed by it enough that I passed on seeing Rise of the Silver Surfer when it hit theaters in 2007.  Then, on Black Friday 2008 Walmart had the DVD on sale for $6 in a gift set including "The Ultimate Guide," a pocket-sized intro to the FF and their world and I indulged.  I only like to review DVDs once I've watched every bonus feature and it wasn't until last night that I finally made it to the second of the two commentary tracks.

The Film
Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, is en route to munch on Earth and has dispatched his herald, the Silver Surfer, to prep the planet.  The Fantastic Four, busy trying to stage the wedding between Reed Richards (Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Alba), are approached by the military (led by Braugher) to help understand what is happening and to stop it.  In short, a standard superhero story.

It's a shame that these two Fantastic Four features will largely be consigned to the scrap heap of "Almost Weres" because there were a lot of elements that I think they got right.  The casting of Alba, Evans and especially Chiklis worked great.  Does anyone believe Alba is a scientist?  No, but we do believe she's a good-natured woman expressing a lot of patience around those three guys.  I was least impressed by Ioan Gruffudd in the first film; he's stronger here, but still falls short of being Mr. Fantastic for me.

I don't judge special effects based on what is current, but I do evaluate them based on what were the standards of the time of production and this is one area where Rise of the Silver Surfer isn't just deficient; it outright fails.  Produced in 2007, there was no excuse for a big budget comic book superhero movie to look like it was made in 1994.  In his commentary track, director Tim Story scarcely acknowledges anything about the effects but in the unadvertised second commentary track, editors William Hoy and Peter S. Elliot unrelentingly point out instances where the visual effects company fell short.  Some shots are embarrassing; many others, we learn, were never even usable in the final cut.

Every story is defined by its conflict, which means that the antagonists must be imposing and dynamic.  Though we "see" Galactus, we are never shown him in a recognizable form.  We feel cheated, and rightly so.  This is one of the most iconic characters in the Fantastic Four mythology; of comic books at large, really.  If he's to be used in a film, we're entitled to see him.  In the commentary tracks, we learn that plans by Fox to produce a Silver Surfer spin-off film discouraged the filmmakers from creating a look for the character that would be inherited by that subsequent film.  Ironically, the dismal performance by this film led to the cancellation of the spin-off...and had Galactus been properly handled here, this film may have succeeded.  Then again, the visual effects company clearly was in over its head as it was and maybe it's best that they weren't even asked to deliver something as grand as Galactus.

The other problem in both films is Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom.  McMahon is a fine actor, and I cannot fault him for material he didn't write, but there is no gravitas to his performance.  Doom is little more than a snotty opportunist than an actual villain.  In fact, this film would have benefited strongly from his omission entirely.

Fox gave us a flipper disc, with the widescreen presentation on one side and the pan & scan edit on the other.  By 2007 Blu-ray and HD-DVD had entered the market, but here was Fox still trying to pander to the pan & scan/"full screen" demographic.  The package names only the commentary track by Tim Story as the lone special feature, which is particularly odd since there is, in fact, a second commentary (though, given the unflattering nature of those remarks I can understand why someone at Fox felt it prudent not to advertise it).  In Story's commentary he mentions a few deleted scenes that should be available to you, the DVD owner, but they are not included.  For those, you must consult "The Power Cosmic Edition" DVD (or the HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc releases).

The Recommendation
I honestly would not recommend this DVD.  Interested fans should really seek out the Blu-ray Disc release (or, at least, the 2-disc "Power Cosmic Edition" DVD) for the additional content.  It's hard for me to imagine that many fans who would want this in their library at all would be content with such a skimpy release when there are fuller alternatives on the market.

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