June 8, 2007: Fantastic Four! Extended Edition!
(The image was looted without permission from the good folks at IGN Movies. My apologies, guys, it was just too good to pass up. Er… doesn’t this screencap make it look like an entirely different kind of movie?)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer opens in one short week. To get into the proper frame of mind, last night I watched the new-to-DVD Fantastic Four Extended Edition, which is twenty-six minutes longer than the original theatrical release. That’s twenty-six more minutes of general nitwittery. Twenty-six more minutes of the Thing’s self-pity and Von Doom’s strangely benign villainy. Twenty-six more minutes of Jessica Alba’s cleavage and Ioan Gruffudd's curious American accent.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Here’s a summary of the new footage:
1. There’s a wholly new opening credits sequence, consisting of moving line drawings of the characters against stark blocks of solid color. It’s like the Casino Royale credits, except for how it’s totally different. The sequence is pretty snazzy, really, and it’s an improvement over the original credit-free opening. I imagine the sequence was ditched because: a) it’s stylish and inventive, which might have created expectations the ensuing 100 minutes of cheerful nitwittery would have failed to fulfill, and b) it relates the whole plot from start to finish in two minutes' worth of sketches, thus negating the need for anyone to sit through the movie.
2. Straight after the credits, Reed and Ben stroll through the foyer of Von Doom Industries en route to their rendezvous with Victor. Ben harps on the sullen receptionist for not smiling at him. Oh, how I hate you, Ben Grimm. Receptionist jobs suck eggs; the poor woman doesn’t need some condescending ass chiding her for being insufficiently perky. She's probably making $7.25 an hour catering to guys like you all day. She doesn't have that much to smile about. Leave her alone.
That aside, the scene’s not bad. Von Doom Industries looks appropriately slick and high-tech, while Reed looks appropriately discombobulated about compromising his integrity by selling out to a big, soulless corporate conglomerate. Any similarities to Ioan Gruffudd’s career are entirely coincidental.
Ioan Gruffudd is foxy. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.
3. Post-solar flare, on Von Doom’s space station, there’s a tracking shot of our heroes lying in feeble, lifeless little heaps. I’m not sure why, but this scene gives me a warm, happy feeling. Quick thought, though: I would have expected the extended version to include some kind of footage of them going up in space in the first place. That's what really threw me when I first watched it in a theater: they're horsing around on Earth and then boom, next shot they're hanging out at Victor's space station. Space travel must be much less traumatic than I’d expect.
4. Victor’s medical center. Hey, look, it’s Reed's irradiated space plants! You know, the plants that were the whole reason they went into space? What, you’ve forgotten about that part? Yeah, me too. Anyway, here they are. Due to their exposure to the cosmic rays, the plants have evolved into pretty, colorful, cheerful flowers. Sort of like our heroes.
5. Sue and Victor have dinner at an elegant restaurant. Victor trots out the engagement ring and starts to propose again, and Sue (very nicely) saws off his legs at the kneecaps. They absolutely should have kept the scene; not only is it well-shot and well-lit (Alba and Julian McMahon both look all glowy and luminous), but it plugs up a gaping plot hole. In the original version, the nature of Sue and Victor's relationship is kept pretty foggy. For the first half of the movie, we’re led to believe they're a couple, and since they never break-up, we have no choice but to assume Sue is blatantly cheating on Victor with Reed. This scene makes it clear:
a) they're not dating,
b) they’ve never dated, and
c) Victor is off his egomaniacal rocker for proposing.
When Sue turns him down, Victor gets bitchy (which is less satisfying than getting evil, but McMahon does bitchy better than almost anyone, so I’m happy) and flounces off, but not before crushing a diamond ring to dust in his hands. (Fantastic Four has no shortage of Highly Symbolic Engagement Rings: there’s Ben’s ring which his dingbat fiancée gives back to him once he becomes hideously ugly, there’s Reed’s cruddy little gasket he gives to Sue when he proposes at the end, and there’s this one. In film school, we would have called it a motif and scribbled inane term papers about it).
6. Sue and Reed rummage around what looks like the Baxter Building's broom closet. Sue browbeats Reed for his clutter, then they get horizontal! Really! Okay, technically, Reed just protects Sue from being crushed by a falling shelf (Sue conveniently forgets she could use her own force-field power to protect herself), but still, it’s not entirely not hot. Rise of the Silver Surfer, the bar’s just been raised. If the sequel doesn’t include any scenes in which Reed and Sue pin each other to the floor, I’m going to be very disappointed.
7. Everybody loves a montage! Johnny and a succession of hot chicks share an elevator. He secretly heats up the elevator to get them to take off their clothes. Yuks ensue. Or not.
8. Ben glumly watches a video of a past birthday party, pre-transformation, and mopes about how hideous he’s become. Gee, that was fun. Thanks for including that.
9. Sue reads fan mail, then blathers on to Reed about how the fans love them. Reed ignores her.
10. The irradiated space plants make a second triumphant appearance! Reed nukes them in his cosmic ray chamber. They turn out all mutated and ugly, which gives Gruffudd an excuse to trot out his finest distraught-yet-resolved expression. Granted, this is not much of a scene, but it does make Reed’s subsequent "I'm all out of plants" line to explain to Sue why he’s using himself as a guinea pig less of a non-sequitur.
11. Sue and Reed get cozy at the planetarium, yakking on about their first date while people around them try to watch the Pink Floyd laser show in peace. This scene was replaced by the (very similar) Battery Park scene in the theatrical release. I have no idea why it was redone: the planetarium scene is much better. Sue and Reed are cute and affectionate and shy with each other, and Gruffudd and Alba have much better chemistry here than they did in the re-shoot. Perhaps this is because both were actually in the same shot together at the same time, as opposed to the Battery Park scene, which Gruffudd and Alba shot separately at two different times and IN TWO DIFFERENT COUNTRIES (Alba’s footage was shot in New York with a Gruffudd stand-in; Gruffudd’s was shot in Vancouver with a decoy Alba). Memo to producers: any time you can get your two romantic leads in the same shot, not to mention the same country, when filming a romantic scene, consider it a plus.
12. Reed morphs himself into Wolverine in the now totally superfluous Battery Park scene. This gag was a special feature on the first F4 DVD release (the non-special version) as well. It doesn’t get any better this time around. Gruffudd, honey, I don’t want to have to give you the "don’t be goofy" lecture again.
13. The Thing gets it on with Alicia. Why??? Kerry Washington is gorgeous and talented, but I had my fill of Alicia in the theatrical version, thank you. Alicia invites him in and, er, erotically brushes him all over with a paintbrush. It’s kind of like the famous Swayze/Moore pottery scene in Ghost, except without the part about it being outrageously sexy. When the Thing notices some ugly puppets, Alicia makes a reference to them belonging to her stepfather. Somebody out there in F4 fandom gets all excited at the Puppet Master reference.
14. Victor, in his limo, picks Johnny up off the street and plies him with champagne. And just as this has the potential to inspire some really great slash fiction, they ruin it: it turns out the limo is filled with women. Lots of scantily-clad women with plunging necklines and glistening cleavage. I'm a heterosexual female, and this is what I remember about this scene: breasts. The breasts distract attention from Victor and Johnny’s scintillating conversation about… merchandising opportunities. Oh, Victor. Does your evil know no limits?
15. Thing and Alicia again. God save us. They’re at a gallery exhibit of Alicia’s work, which consists entirely of… Thing sculptures. Yeah. Lots of Thing sculptures. Yeah, there’ll be a market for those. The Thing gets moody when he overhears two mean ladies talking about how Alicia's never going to be able to sell any of these. It may be catty, but it’s not wrong. The Thing storms out of the exhibit, leaving his blind girlfriend to fend for herself.
16. The Thing sits on a bench. Would it surprise you if I told you he was sulking? No? Yeah, he’s sulking. Victor’s sultry henchman Leonard (Leonard!) shows up in the limo and offers to take him back to the Baxter building. I love this whole subplot about Victor offering free limo rides to his nemeses. Evil! Evil! Impolite and evil!
17. Johnny does party tricks at a club, in flagrant violation of the fire code. Yes, there are attractive women in skimpy tops around. He chats up a hot blonde, scuffles with her boyfriend, makes an ass of himself, and gets dissed by the clubgoers. Having then reached an epiphany about Using His Powers Only For Good, Johnny looks soulful and introspective. Chris Evans, sweetie, no. I think the world of you, but please don't try to look soulful. Ever. You know how I'm always getting on Gruffudd's case about being goofy? Same principle applies here. I'll always admire you for your verve and aplomb in that scene where you walked around with a banana up your ass in Not Another Teen Movie, and you have many strengths as an actor, but looking soulful is not one of them.
That’s the rundown. Awesomeness, all of it.