It’s clear watching Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer that Tim Story and company spent lots of time on the Silver Surfer and little gags for the Four’s powers, and not so much time on the actual story.
The result is a shiny hunk of refuse. There are holes all over the place, and once again the filmmakers have failed to present characters and conflicts the audience will actually care about. The world’s going to end? Big deal. On the bright side, while the film sucks, this 2-Disc Power Cosmic Edition DVD set is pretty fantastic.
Rise of the Silver Surfer picks up where the original film left off, though it’s clear some time has passed since the Fantastic Four defeated Dr. Victor Von Doom and left him solidified as some sort of metal statue. The Four have been busy being famous and doing various unexplained superhero-type stuff, while at the same time Reed Richards and Susan Storm have been trying to plan their wedding. Apparently it’s tough to get hitched when you keep having to put your life on hold to save mankind from destruction.
Just when the wedding appears to be a sure thing, something mysterious enters Earth’s atmosphere and starts mucking about the globe. Wherever it flies, weird things happen – water freezes over, power goes out, stuff like that. Oh, and it just happens to fly past where Dr. Doom is standing dormant in his lair, and brings him back to life. How this happens is never explained, like it’s not a key bit of information. Anyway, we know the thing flying around is the Silver Surfer, but the Four and some concerned U.S. military folks don’t have a clue. They want Reed to build a cool-looking machine to help them solve the mystery. Reed, stepping way out of character, declines, citing his preference to worry about wedding plans instead of investigating a cosmic mystery.
But Reed can’t resist temptation. On the sly, he builds the fancy machine, and he uses his PDA to monitor a disturbance it detected right in the middle of the wedding ceremony. The disturbance crashes their party, giving the Four no choice but to take action to stop the Surfer and save the world from impending doom, not to mention Dr. Doom, who picked right up with his plans for world-domination.
By far, the best thing about Rise of the Silver Surfer is the title character. He’s all CGI – based on the performance of Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth) – and voiced by Laurence Fishburne. The Silver Surfer looks really cool, sounds great and exudes charisma. Unfortunately, the character doesn’t have a chance to display any of the existential depth attributed to the comic book version. Perhaps that will come in the inevitable third Fantastic Four film.
It’s all downhill from there. Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm prove to be secondary highlights, as the characters embrace the intended campy feel of the franchise, but Richard and Susan and the whole domestic business with the wedding just don’t play well. Dr. Doom is worse, as Julian McMahon does lots of sneering but his very presence in the story is completely undermined by his unexplained fly-by revival. Plus, he doesn’t get up to any effective mischief.
We can’t forget the biggest villain of all. Galactus, whose world-ending arrival is heralded by the Silver Surfer, has been re-imagined from his giant robot form in the comic books. In the film, he’s represented by a dark, roiling cloud of cosmic energy. It’s pretty cool, but the seriousness of the threat of Galactus eating Earth just never feels dangerous since it’s juxtaposed with the silliness of our main characters. As a result, the film’s climax is decidedly ho-hum.
So Rise of the Silver Surfer is another problematic effort by director Tim Story. How’s the DVD set?
Please note: this review is based on a promotional copy of the film, not the actual retail version. Video and audio quality may vary.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – Power Cosmic Edition is a two-disc release, with the film on disc one and most of the special features on disc two. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. While I expect that the retail version’s transfer will be top-notch, I can’t promise you it won’t be plagued with the same compression issues as my screener copy. There’s plenty of pixilation on fast motion shots, and way too much grain on lighter spots. Ignoring these problems, the colours are nice and vibrant, and the Silver Surfer is pleasingly shiny. There are also some perfect moments, where all of the video quality stars are aligned. Let’s hope those win out in the final copies.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and there are no problems here. Rise of the Silver Surfer may have its issues as a film, but as an aural experience it’ll give your system a full-body workout. All of the goodies are here, with great low-end, lots of directional effects on the surround channels and a well-articulated score. Levels are also managed nicely, as the dialogue never gets lost in the mix. This is one audio track that’s sure to please.
Audio is also available in French and Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0. Subtitles are offered in English, French, and Spanish.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – 2-disc Power Cosmic Edition offers a slate of bonus material four times better than your average release. Just like on the Fantastic Four DVD, the stuff about the comics behind the movies is the undeniable highlight. Here’s the breakdown:
- Two Audio Commentaries: one by director Tim Story, and another by producer Avi Arad, writer Don Payne and film editors Peter S. Elliot and William Hoy. Story seems to spend a lot of time trying to justify his choices, and making excuses for the way things turned out without actually admitting there are problems. The gentlemen on the second track, however, are surprisingly honest, even to the point of explicitly admitting to mistakes in the film. Theirs is the better track, hands down.
- Extended/Deleted Scenes: with optional commentary by Tim Story, these scenes offer a little of what might have been and what thankfully never was. You’ll see more lame gags that Story loves so much, and an extended opening credits sequence. Wait until the next FF film is released, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing this stuff in an extended cut.
- Family Bonds – Making of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: at about 40 minutes, this a pretty good documentary-style featurette. From preproduction to shooting and final visual effects, this piece takes viewers along for the filmmaking journey. There’s definitely some cool stuff in here, but also too much filler.
- Sentinel of the Spaceways – Comic Book Origins of The Silver Surfer: this is the best extra on the disc. Around 40 minutes in length, and all about The Silver Surfer. You’ll meet the writers and artists who’ve made an impact on the character since Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s initial creation, and hear them discuss the character in fascinating depth. After watching this, I want to see a Silver Surfer film, but directed by someone other than Tim Story, thanks.
- The FantastiCar – State of the Art: this is a 10-minute featurette about the design, modeling and effects of Reed Richards’ invention, the Fantastic Four car. Prepare to get technical with the guys behind the computer-generated modeling process.
- The Power Cosmic: clocking in around 15 minutes, this one’s all about the film’s special effects, and the people who worked hard to make them believable. Much attention is paid to The Silver Surfer, seeing as he’s the most critical effect of the entire production.
- Character Design With Spectral Motion: about 10 minutes on the techniques used to create The Silver Surfer, and to demonstrate Fantastic Four’s powers. Pretty neat stuff.
- Scoring the Fantastic: this is your standard score featurette, which runs the usual four minutes. Listen to composer John Ottman (Superman Returns) discuss his work, while watching clips of the orchestra at work.
- Interactive FantastiCar: don’t let this title get you excited. This is only a series of concept art still images, which you can cycle through to view the car at every angle.
- Theatrical Trailers: there’s a whole whack of trailers in this gallery, including four for this film and a few for the X-Men movies.
- Still Galleries: a bunch of still photos divided into three categories: behind the scenes, characters and concept art.
Rise of the Silver Surfer may be a bad film, but this 2-disc DVD is fantastic. Or it will be, provided Fox improves on their screener discs’ video quality before the retail version hits on October 2. If you opt for the single-disc release, you’ll still get the commentary tracks, but you’ll miss out on all of the featurettes, including a fascinating look at the evolution of The Silver Surfer. That piece alone makes this one worth buying.
- iFMagazine.com presents an exclusive interview with Doug Jones, Silver Surfer extraordinaire.
- Creative Screenwriting offers up a podcast Q&A with Tim Story and Don Payne.
- Canadian Cinephile review agrees that Rise of the Silver Surfer has issues.