HD DVD
Worth a Look
3.5 stars
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth a Look

Fantastic Four (2004) (German Import)

Street Date:
August 20th, 2007
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
April 10th, 2008
Movie Release Year:
2004
Studio:
Constantin Film
Length:
104 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG
Release Country
Germany

Editor's Notes

This is a review of the German HD DVD release of 'Fantastic Four.' Non format-specific portions of this review were previously published in regard to the domestic Blu-ray release of 'Fantastic Four.' (For more information about importing HD DVD discs, visit the HD DVD imports thread in our forums area.)

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Call me a heretic, but I actually liked 'Fantastic Four.' Having missed the film when it hit theaters last year, it wasn't until I sat down for this Blu-ray review that I became aware of how much the film seems to be hated by hardcore comic book movie fans -- at least if you read the IMDB and web reviewers. Perhaps it is the film's more winking tone, or its overly photogenic actors, or the somewhat spotty effects, but no one seemed to like 'Fantastic Four' much. I found it a perfectly fine, fun ride -- the kind of lighthearted superhero movie they don't seem to make much anymore, at least not in this ultra-serious era when the phrase "comic book" has been replaced by the far more PC "graphic novel."

In case you are one of the three or four people unfamiliar with the original 'Fantastic Four,' it is a pretty standard comic scenario. During what is supposed to be a benign space exploration mission, five scientists are genetically altered by cosmic rays. Leader and inventor Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud) is suddenly able to bend his body in amazing ways. Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) gains the power of invisibility, while her younger brother Johnny (Chris Evans) can control fire, even turning his entire torso into a human fireball. And mild-mannered pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) is turned into a super-strong rock creature. Together, Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing become the Fantastic Four -- and instant media stars. Which is good news for the world, as the fifth member of the team, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) has turned to the dark side, reinventing himself as the diabolical Dr. Doom. Can the Fantastic Four defeat Doom and save the day?

I think the reason 'Fantastic Four' may not have been fully embraced by the fan community is because unlike such recent comic book efforts as the 'X-Men' and 'Spider-Man' series, 'Batman Begins' and 'Superman Returns,' it is not particularly dark or serious. Though not a parody nor intentionally campy, 'Fantastic Four' does have a light-hearted tone, with its most broad moments akin to the slapstick excesses of the original 'Superman: The Movie' and the theatrical version of 'Superman II.' That means 'Fantastic Four' also skews a bit younger in appeal, which would explain why the film was such a hit with tween viewers upon its release, but was largely dismissed by older fans.

I found the approach refreshing. Quite frankly, I'd much rather watch a goofy and cheerful film like 'Fantastic Four' than the dour and pretentious mishmash that was 'Superman Returns.' It is also a pleasure to see a comic book film where, for once, the superheroes are not totally tortured souls, and are actually given a few precious moments in which to enjoy their newfound powers. 'Fantastic Four' is hardly as satiric as the old "Batman" television series, but in spirit, they are close cousins. And the good-looking cast didn't bother me, either. Alba and Evans may not give Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep a run for their money, but they both look good in their skin-tight uniforms -- and if I were a superhero, I certainly wouldn't want to be ugly.

Having said all that, 'Fantastic Four' is not a great movie. Perhaps it is not even a good one. All the soap-opera melodrama (Reed and Sue's growing love affair, Johnny's cocky K-Fed routine, Ben's sentimental fling with a blind newspaper reporter) is not very believable. I also felt Dr. Doom could have been a bit scarier, and his formulaic plot to take over the world (or whatever) is admittedly uninspired and forgettable. Still, I find it hard to hate a film as silly and innocuous as 'Fantastic Four.' I guess I'm one of the few (at least in my generation), but I'm actually looking forward to the upcoming sequel.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Fantastic Four' comes to HD DVD in Germany via Constantin Films. It uses the same source as Fox's domestic Blu-ray release, right down to the 1080p/MPEG-2 encode (at 2.35:1). Although I remember being impressed with the picture quality of 'Fantastic Four' back when the Blu-ray was first released, I must say that a fresh AVC MPEG-4 or VC-1 encode would be preferred. Still, this is good-looking movie, and it has plenty of moments of great high-def.

As with the Blu-ray, the source material is in excellent shape, with not a visible speck of dirt or the like. Blacks are perfect throughout, and is contrast consistent across the entire grayscale. Detail is quite strong, with a nice sense of depth, even in long shots. Colors are bright but natural, with excellent saturation and very pleasing fleshtones.

Like the Blu-ray, however, I found this HD DVD to suffer from an edgy quality, with some halos visible and occasional jitter. There is some noise present (sometimes excessively so), which can be distracting. Again, I wish Fox/Constantin (or someone) would go back and retransfer this, but I guess we'll have to wait for a new domestic double-dip for that luxury.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The Fox Blu-ray of 'Fantastic Four' includes a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track, but Constantin includes only DTS-HD High-Resolution 5.1 Surround options (both 1.5mbps) in English and German. (A Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix and German subtitles are also provided.) While the lack of DTS-MA is a disappointment, what we do get certainly compares to the best DTS-HD High-Resolution tracks I've heard.

High-res audio or not, 'Fantastic Four' enjoys very lively sound design, with the kind of whiz-bang fun you'd expect from a big-budget comic book flick. Dynamics are quite good, with healthy frequency response, from strong and clear highs to deep low bass. The subwoofer does not truly crank, but I remain impressed how the low end extends beyond just loud sound effects to the score and even the Thing's more intense growls. Surround use is pretty active and engaging, with the bridge attack and the Doctor Doom battle sequences standing out as true highlights. Granted, the mix never quite achieves a true 360-degree soundfield type of effect, but imaging is immersive. Dialogue is also nicely balanced, with no volume level problems. This is not a reference mix, but still pretty sharp for what it is.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

The domestic Blu-ray of 'Fantastic Four' was pretty supplement-poor, which is the one area where this German HD DVD import excels. The extra package is much more fleshed out, providing a full-length documentary and deleted scenes, amongst other goodies. (However, all the bonus features are presented in rather dodgy 480i/MPEG-2 video only, with optional German subtitles on all the video-based materials.)

  • Audio Commentary - Stars Michael Chiklis, Ioan Gruffud and Jessica Alba sit down for a chat, and I was really quite surprised with this one. Often actor tracks can drag or turn into mutual admiration societies, and while there is some of that here, it is a very lively conversation nonetheless. Chiklis definitely leads this track, acting as both interviewer and cheerleader at the same time. There is a wealth of fun info divulged, from working with the complicated special effects (in particular the Thing's gigantic latex suit), to various alternate scenes and takes that didn't make it into the finished film. And though Chris Evans, aka the Human Torch, is absent, his castmates waste no time in having a bit of (good-natured) fun at his expense. Even Alba's sometimes chirpy and seemingly air-headed comments ("Like, there really is a lot of talent up in Vancouver!") come off as endearing instead of annoying. A genuinely good listen.
  • Documentary: "Heroes Are Born" (SD, 97 minutes) - As much as I liked the commentary, this doc is even better. Sure, it sometimes has an EPK-feel, but the sheer depth of content propels it far beyond the usual extended commercial. There is a ton of on-set footage and cast & crew interviews (including the four main stars, plus director Tim Story, Marvel's Stan Lee, and more), and the editing is so well-paced that I wasn't bored for a moment. Sometimes, I watch a making-of like this for a movie I thought was only average, and it makes me like the flick more -- "Heroes Are Born" is one such doc.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 24 minutes) - There are 12 scenes in all, culled from two previous standard-def DVD editions of 'Fantastic Four' (Fox has released the film in both a theatrical and extended cut). The material here is pretty good, adding some depth to the main characters (particularly the Thing's difficulties in adjusting to his new body, and the budding Alba/Gruffud romance). Nothing here is essential, but these are worth a watch for diehard F4 fans.
  • Music Videos (SD) - Two clips are provided, for "Everything Burns" by Ben Moody & Anastacia, and "Come On, Come In" by Velvet Revolver. The quality is mediocre.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

As with the domestic Blu-ray, there are no high-def exclusives.

Final Thoughts

'Fantastic Four' was disliked by many, but it made a ton of money at the box office. I quite enjoyed it, and found it a nice respite from the more pretentious comic book movies that have come out as of late. This German import HD DVD release is a tough one. The video is on par with Fox's domestic Blu-ray release, but the audio lacks the DTS-HD MA option. However, the supplements are far superior here, so this HD DVD is worth considering depending on what's important to you. If you think you'll be satisfied with a DTS-HD High-Resolution track only, plus improved supplements, I say it's worth a look.

Technical Specs

  • HD DVD
  • HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG-2
  • 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD High-Resolution 5.1 Surround (1.5mbps)
  • German DTS-HD High-Resolution 5.1 Surround (1.5mbps)
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (192kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • German Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Documentary
  • Music Videos

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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