Although it was derided by critics and die-hard comic fans alike as one of the worst Hollywood adaptations ever, 2005's 'Fantastic Four' hit the bull's-eye with the mainstream, grossing over $325 million worldwide.
Not being much of a comic book fan, I personally enjoyed 'Fantastic Four' quite a bit. Of course, I was the film's target audience -- the kind of clueless moviegoer too ignorant of the comic's origin to realize that it was a bastardization. Still, taken on its own terms 'Fantastic Four' was lighthearted, dim-witted fun, and a refreshing change of pace from all the morose comic book adaptations of late. Don't get me wrong, I love 'Batman Begins,' but do all superheroes have to be manic-depressive, anti-social, borderline suicidal freak shows?
Two year later, the franchise returned to movie theaters with 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Silver'. As the film opens, not much has changed for our fantastic foursome. Rubbery Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is now engaged to Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), but the quartet's fame threatens to make mincemeat of their wedding day. That's not a problem for the Human Torch (Chris Evans), who soaks up the adulation, prancing about like the Britney Spears of superheroes. Meanwhile, the Thing (Michael Chiklis) is still making goo-goo eyes with his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington).
Von Doom (Julian McMahon, sleepwalking) also returns, and suspiciously, is initially all chummy with the Four. Of course, it doesn't take long for him to get back to his old tricks, as suddenly he's crossed paths with a messenger of the great universe-destroying Galactus, in the form of the Silver Surfer, who's out to gobble up our planet without remorse. The two hit it off in all the wrong ways, and needless to say, the fate of the world now once again hangs in the balance -- and only the Fantastic Four can save us.
The ultra-PG tone aside, the only thing new about 'Rise of the Silver Surfer' is the character referenced in the title, and it's here that the sequel suffers most. While McMahon's Doom was certainly not the greatest villain in comic book movie history, the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne, and acted by motion capture performer Doug Jones) plays like a ten-years-too-late retread of the T-1000 in 'Terminator 2.' Simply put, the whole silver morphing guy thing is so 1992. To be fair, that the character's allegiances will switch between good and evil throughout the movie does allow for a few narrative curve balls, but 'Rise of the Silver Surfer' could have used some added menace.
On the bright side, there is enough happening in 'Silver Surfer' to keep things humming along. The best thing about both 'Fantastic Four' flicks is that they never forget that their titular superheroes are the stars of the show. The byplay between the leads is lively and genuine, and the cast continues to bring a real fire and spirit to their roles. (Sure, Alba and Evans are hardly master thespians, but because these flicks are so wafer-thin, it doesn't really matter.) The use of each of the Four's powers is also well-integrated into the script, with everyone getting at least one big moment, so none of the leads really outshine the others. There are a couple of nifty action sequences, and running a brisk 92 minutes, the movie never outstays its welcome.
Even more dumbed down and family-friendly than the first, serious-minded comic book fans will hate 'Silver Surfer,' and right they should. However, if the comic book genre is going to survive beyond yesterday's box office fad, then it needs to pull in more than just the testosterone-fueled crowd that lined up for '300.' There's room for family-friendly fare in the comic book world, too, and on that level, 'Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer' fits the bill quite nicely.
Following a six month drought, 'Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer' is one of two Fox Blu-ray releases this week (the second is the catalog title, 'The Day After Tomorrow'). Needless to say, expectations are high for the studio's return, but based on this transfer alone, I will revel unapologetically in a cliche and declare that they are back and better than ever. Although I thought the video quality of the original 'Fantastic Four' was pretty good to occasionally great, 'Silver Surfer' is even better -- the movie's visual design, and this transfer are simply superior.
Fox bestows 'Silver Surfer' with a BD-50 dual-layer disc (versus the wimpy BD-25 for 'Fantastic Four'), and presents the film in 2.35:1 widescreen and 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video. The image is uniformly excellent. The source is absolutely pristine, with excellent deep blacks and perky contrast that doesn't go overboard. I found the sequel's cinematography more colorful and eye-popping than the original, and the expansive palette is vividly reproduced here. Primaries are especially vibrant, from the velvety blues of the Fantastic Four's costumes, to the very comic book-like production design that's awash in smooth pinks, greens and oranges. Though hues were a bit fuzzy on the original 'Fantastic Four,' that's not a problem here -- the image is rock solid and free of noise or smearing.
Detail is also a step up. The image is almost always three-dimensional, and even the many wide shots (flush with CGI) retain a sharpness and depth that is among the best high-def I've seen lately. I'm also happy to see that Fox has embraced the AVC MPEG-4 codec on what appears to be most if not all of its freshly-announced Blu-ray titles. Compression is rock solid, with no real artifacts to speak of. The image is also nicely free from any noticeable edge enhancement, for a sharp but smooth look.
I did note a couple of deficiencies that prevent me from giving 'Silver Surfer' a perfect five-star video rating. First off, shadow detail is sometimes flat -- the darkest interior scenes don't hold up, with depth flattening out. I also noticed a bit of noise, and since the source is otherwise largely free of grain, it's doubly distracting. Still, these are minor issues in what is a pretty fantastic return for Fox.
Fox continues to support the DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio format, and we get a very nice 5.1 surround track here at 48kHz/24-bit/6.9mbps. Unfortunately, we are just on the verge of finally being able to upgrade our review system with DTS-HD decoding, so as of this writing I was only able to extract the 1.5mbps DTS "core" from this track. Still, even at a reduced bitrate, 'Rise of the Silver Surfer' still sounds pretty terrific.
Surrounds are wonderfully aggressive, from the seamless imaging as the "trail" of the Human Torch whizzes all around the soundfield, to the nifty metallic vibrations that accompany the arrival of the Silver Surfer. The clarity and depth of discrete sounds are excellent, and sounds are directed to specific channels with excellent accuracy.
Dynamics are also killer, featuring an intense low bass that sent my subwoofer into a near frenzy -- the centerpiece "ferris wheel" rescue scene is destined to be my new favorite piece of demo material. Likewise, general fidelity of the rest of the spectrum has that incredibly clean, distinctly real presence that only the best Hollywood blockbuster can buy. I did find dialogue was sometimes obscured -- the loudest action scenes were overwhelming a bit in the fronts, and some of the male voices (particularly Julian McMahon as Doom, and Laurence Fishburne as the Silver Surfer) felt flat and indistinct. But aside from the minor annoyance of having to reach for my remote's volume control two or three times, I have no complaints.
Fox has taken a lot of heat for the lack of supplements on their earlier Blu-ray releases, but judging by 'The Rise of the Silver Surfer,' they seem to have taken the criticisms to heart. This one is loaded with extras, and fans worried about missing out on any of the DVD extras need not worry -- it's all here. What's more, Fox has nicely formatted most of the video-based material in 16:9 widescreen and 1080i/MPEG-2 video (although as with most packages of this sort, some of the sources are clearly 480 blow-ups).
Things kick off with two audio commentaries. The first is a solo track with director Tim Story, while the second is a group chat with producer Avi Arad, screenwriter Don Payne, and editors Peter S. Elliot and William Hoy. I found the latter to be surprisingly lightweight, at least considering the number of participants. Arad gives a good conceptual overview of Marvel's expectations from the sequel, but the rest of the track is marred by lapses of silence, surface comments on character and story you could get just by watching the movie, and banal editing comments. The solo track with Tim Story is much better, with the director discussing the overall development and refinement of the film's tone in great detail, particularly the "family direction." Story also offers some interesting commentary about the staging of the mammoth action scenes, and balancing the actors’ demands for "meatier" challenges with the often restrictive demands of a comic book adaptation. If you only listen to only one of these tracks, then make it this one.
Next, we have a good deal of documentary and featurette material. "Family Bonds: The Making of 'Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer'" (46 minutes) is divided into two parts -- "Pre-Production" and "Post-Production." The majority of the on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage used in the subsequent featurettes can be traced back to here. All of the expected participants chime in, including director Story, producer Arad, the tech folks, and of course the "Fantastic Four" themselves (plus Julian McMahon, if only to lend some shtick-y menace). I found the "Pre-Production" segment to be too much of a recap. Once you've seen the movie, most of this feels redundant. There is, however, a good deal of cool video diary-esque footage in both parts of the doc, including an ultimate geek moment for Story when he first sees the Fantasticar, and Ioan Gruffudd's amusing memories of the film's silly dance sequence.
The effects are dissected even further in three additional featurettes that will probably be the main attraction for fans of the film. "Character Design with Spectral Motion" (12 minutes) takes us on a guided tour of how poor Michael Chiklis was squeezed into that suit everyday (usually over the course of five hours!). "The Fantasticar: State Of The Art" (11 minutes) deconstructs the design of the Fantasticar, including effort to modernize its appearance. "The Power Cosmic" (14 minutes) examines the technology behind Silver Surfer himself.
Stepping away from the effects, there is also the short "Scoring the 'Fantastic Four'" (5 minutes), which pays a visit with composer John Ottman. There's nothing here you haven't already seen in other scoring featurettes on DVDs, but there is some nice footage of the film's scoring sessions, and Ottman has always been a very likable and chatty composer.
Among the featurettes, my favorite was "Sentinel of the Spaceways: Comic Book Origins of The Silver Surfer," which is a documentary in itself at 39 minutes. Knowing next to nothing about the Fantastic Four comic book series, I found this one fascinating. Stan Lee contributes the bulk of the information here (along with various comic historians), and this is a very comprehensive but breezy overview that got me up to speed on the origin of the character, his place in the Fantastic Four mythos, and how he ranks in the comic book the pantheon. This one's very well-edited, too, with lots of neat comic book covers and panels from the past. Truly the highlight.
The only real disappointments in this package are the Deleted/Extended Scenes, which are not presented in HD and look kind of crappy. Of all the scenes, only one is a keeper (and should have been left in the film); the Human Torch visits a toy shop and realizes that the Thing merchandise is selling better than his. Cute. (Optional commentary by director Tim Story is available for these scenes.)
The last major extra is a Galleries section. There are roughly five dozen images, spread out over three sections: "Behind the Scenes," "Characters," and "Concept Art." The publicity and production stills are standard-issue, but the character and concept art sections are interesting enough that I wished for more.
Rounding things out are a few theatrical trailers for 'Fantastic Four' and upcoming Fox biggies like 'The Simpsons Movie' and 'Live Free or Die Hard.' All the trailers are presented in full 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video, and look smashing.
'Rise of the Silver Surfer' is no 'Batman Begins,' but if you're willing to take it for what it is -- a frothy, family flick -- it's largely entertaining. As a Blu-ray release, this one's excellent, delivering a fantastic transfer and soundtrack plus a ton of supplements. There are even a couple of exclusive interactive games. After a six month Blu-ray sabbatical, Fox is back and better than ever.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.