The new Fantastic Four reboot died a horrible death at the box office, and there are still unanswered questions from the post-mortem.
Among them: What was the deleted scene that featured The Thing dive-bombing out of an airplane?
The movie has turned into a black eye for both studio 20th Century Fox and director Josh Trank, who battled relentlessly throughout production, and it did its own nosedive in its second weekend, earning just $8 million – or a fall of almost 70 percent from an already dismal opening. But factoring in ticket sales from overseas, where the public relations nightmare may have been less closely observed, the $120 million film has now earned more than $102 million.
That’s no cause for celebration, especially when tens of million in marketing costs are factored in, but it’s not quite the bloodbath the ugly studio/filmmaker feuding suggests.
Could there have been a good movie here? There was at least potential for an intriguing fight scene when The Thing leaps from an airplane for the sake of some “clobberin’ time.” After interviews with a dozen sources involved in the making of Fantastic Four, Entertainment Weekly has pieced together the sequence.
For what it’s worth, here is your SPOILER WARNING.
If you’ve seen it (and, yeah, that’s probably not many of you), you’ll note that near the middle of the film there is a sudden time-jump in the narrative.
This comes right after the heroes get their powers in a moment of chaos, destruction, and confusion. Reed Richards (played by Whiplash actor Miles Teller) and his team have just warped back to our time and space after embarking on a rogue visit to Planet Zero – a volatile world in another dimension that is literally pulsing with energy.
The trip was a fiasco: Victor Von Doom (played by Toby Kebbell, Koba from last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has been left behind after tumbling from a cliff into a molten pit of green plasma. Richards, Johnny Storm (Fruitvale Station’s Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, of Snowpiercer and Billy Elliott) are inundated with radiation waves as their podcraft warps back to our world, bringing enough of the energy with them to mutate not just them, but Sue Storm (House of Cards‘ Kate Mara) who is merely in the lab trying to help retrieve her friends.
Reed, badly battered in his space suit, is crawling across the floor after trying to free his trapped legs. He sees Johnny, apparently a corpse, burning in his capsule. There is a pile of orange rocks, and beneath them – or maybe within them – he can hear the voice of his old friend Ben whimpering for help. Then he looks back and realizes his legs never became unstuck from the rubble… they’re stretching like warm taffy.
After that, the team wakes up in a medical facility. The military has moved in and taken control of the situation. Richards goes fugitive, but the other three agree to serve the government as special ops soldiers. In the movie, we get a title card indicating a year has passed, then see a group of generals watching surveillance footage of the team – again, minus Mr. Fantastic – attacking tanks and taking out bad guys.
Critics have complained that the movie lacks action, and sources close to the project confirm that there was supposed to be a major fight sequence right in between.
That peculiar time-jump was always a part of the plan, and sources close to Trank say his idea was to race out of that disturbing accident scene and throw the audience into a major action sequence. Only after that would he play catch-up – explaining that the three were now unofficial super-soldiers working on behalf of the U.S. of A.
What we would have seen after that smash-cut to black was this:
A Chechen rebel camp in the wee hours of the night. There’s no explanation for where we are, but there are soldiers speaking a foreign language, and they are loading up some heavy-duty weaponry.
Crews are filling truck beds with the gear, preparing to mobilize – then a siren goes off. Everyone freezes, and one by one they turn their faces to the sky. A stealth bomber whispers by overhead, and a large object falls from it, streaking through the air at great speed.
The object – a bomb, a missile? – collides with the earth in the center of the camp, sending debris is all directions. The soldiers take cover, then tentatively emerge and walk toward the crater, where there is a giant pile of orange boulders.
Slowly, the rocks begin to move on their own, becoming arms, legs, a torso, a head …
This rock-figure lumbers out of the smoke, and the soldiers level their weapons – then open fire.
As The Thing lurches into view, bullets spark and ping off his impenetrable exterior.
Rather than some elegant, balletic action sequence, The Thing moves slowly and deliberately. He’s in no hurry. The storytelling goal was to show the futility of firepower against him as he casually demolishes the terrorists. It’s a blue-collar kind of heroism.
When it becomes clear this rock-beast cannot be stopped, the surviving Chechen rebels make a run for it – and that’s when a hail of gunfire finishes them off.
From the shadows of the surrounding forest, a team of Navy SEALS emerge with their guns drawn and smoking. The cavalry has arrived, but the enemy has already been subdued.
The film would then have shifted to a bird’s-eye view of the camp, an aerial shot showing waves of American soldiers flooding in to secure the base. Just when it appears the American soldiers may be ready to clash with the rock monster, The Thing gives them a solemn nod, and they clear a path. He lumbers past them, almost sadly, a heartsick warrior. Then he boards a large helicopter and is lifted away.
Only then does the movie cut to that conference room, where Tim Blake Nelson’s Dr. Allen is crowing to his military overlords about how this mutated team of scientists is helping do the heavy lifting for America’s rank-and-file soldiers.
You can see remnants of the deleted scene at the end of this trailer, and a shot of The Thing getting machine-gunned at 2:09.
Most of EW’s sources agree, with tiny variations, that this scene is what audiences were meant to see. But the reason it was only in the trailer, and not the finished film, is where opinions diverge.
Those close to Fox say Trank was indecisive, and couldn’t figure out if he needed the scene, going back and forth before finally deciding it wasn’t necessary. They cite it as another example of a director out-of-control, unsure of what he wants or how to execute it.
Others close to Trank say the filmmaker always wanted the sequence, but was forced to cut it when the studio pared back the budget at the start of production. They say Trank created a detailed previsualization of the scene – essentially, an animated version of what it should look like – that allows digital artists to begin creating effects.
Late in production, when Fox executives realized they had a comic-book movie in dire need of action, sources sympathetic to Trank say they agreed to finance the scene – but Trank was not allowed to participate in the filming. As a result, the crew returned with footage shot in documentary hand-held style – which didn’t match the previsualization, or the planned digital effects, and also clashed with the visual style of the rest of the movie.
At that point, according to sources close to Trank, the exasperated director chose to kill the scene entirely.
It’s impossible to tell who’s at fault, but there’s no denying the scene would have delivered a visceral jolt just as the movie’s pace was beginning to flag.
As for the trailer, someone decided the scene was good enough to sell the movie, but not good enough to make the final cut.
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