Fantastic Four Review (Blu-ray)

Until Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment confirmed X-Men: The Last Stand would join the studio’s first Blu-ray Disc wave, comic fans either fortunate enough to snag a Playstation 3 or financially capable of picking up a standalone Blu-ray Disc player frowned upon the prospect of Fantastic Four being the inaugural high-def Marvel film released by Fox. On the contrary, I smiled in anticipation of taking this campy yet highly enjoyable superhero adventure for a high definition spin.

I fall into a camp whose experience with “Fantastic Four” doesn’t draw comparisons to darker, more serious comic interpretations found in Spider-Man, Batman Begins and X-Men. This camp, which is solely responsible for the sequel currently in production, is willing to kick back and enjoy a lighthearted adventure without real-world doom and gloom, dark shadows and ominous overtures. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy those darker films; in fact, I find them superior on a number of levels. But Fantastic Four works on a juvenile level of enjoyment even adult brains are more than capable of reverting to from time to time.

Only when the writers cross the line between campy fun and laziness does Fantastic Four turn from fantastic visual entertainment to second-rate filmmaking. For example, when the foursome experience their coming out rescue on a New York bridge, the writers fudged in a sequence where Sue Storm takes off her clothes to get her friends through a massive crowd of onlookers, only to accidentally become visible in her undies. As much as I’m all for Jessica Alba shedding layers of clothing, the scene is otherwise a train wreck as her character’s actions have nothing to do with getting her friends through the crowd ” especially when The Thing’s fiancée magically appears at the front of the crowd just in time to throw away her engagement ring. These are only a couple in a series of unforgivable writing slipups not welcome in even a comic book film.

Poor filmmaking decisions aside, Fantastic Four sticks to its tonal guns and delivers a fun, comical comic film along the lines of the original Christopher Reeves Superman. I had fun watching it, and I’m sure the cast and crew had fun making it. Now with a wrapped film under their belt, the cast and crew should be more experienced and ready to up the chemistry a notch with the arrival of a new character that will fit perfectly into the Fantastic Four lighthearted universe, the Silver Surfer.

Fox’s MPEG-2 18 mbps 1080p Blu-ray Disc presentation of Fantastic Four gets off to a bumpy start early on with some noticeable blurriness, but then quickly sheds this nuisance and stays sharp throughout the rest of the film. The colors and clarity all trump what I found to already be a respectable standard DVD transfer, and the DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio, although currently only playable at a lossy 1.5 mbps, is still nothing short of room rocking. Surrounds provide an enveloping 360 degree sensation when Human Torch takes flight, and .LFE rumbles with authority as the team dukes it out with Dr. Doom.

Although the standard DVD was loaded with a healthy serving of supplemental materials, this Blu-ray Disc release has been trimmed down to a lone Audio Commentary with Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon. As expected, Chiklis has all the best lines and even Jessica Alba shows she’s having a ton of fun playing Sue Storm. I guess if only one extra could be included, perhaps due to space limitations created by Fox authoring the film on a BD-25 disc with MPEG-2 compression, this was the one to go with.

The arrival of next Summer’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer opens an opportunity for Fox to re-issue Fantastic Four on a BD-50 disc with high definition extras. I can’t see into a crystal ball to say one way or the other whether this will happen or not, but I can say this first issue on Blu-ray Disc hits relatively high marks in every area except extra features and makes for a solid purchase or rental now. First-timers should find Fantastic Four is the perfect comic anti-venom to the more graphic Constantine and Batman Begins high-def releases already available.

– Dan Bradley

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