- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2007

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs (compatible with DVD-ROM-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

‘Fantastic Four: Extended Cut’ (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, $26.98)

The first Fantastic Four film was a mediocre outing at best that fell deep into the shadows of such excellent comic-book-themed blockbusters of 2005 as “Sin City” and “Batman Begins.”

This DVD set almost turns the movie into a contender thanks to an extended cut that, despite some sloppy redundancy, adds 20 minutes and offers a much deeper and funnier take on the four individuals — Sue (Invisible Girl) Storm, Ben (the Thing) Grimm, Reed (Mr. Fantastic) Richards and Johnny (the Human Torch) Storm — who would become the world’s greatest superhero family.

For 125 minutes, viewers can really appreciate the eccentricities and struggles of the accidentally irradiated heroes and villain Victor Von Doom through plenty of extra character-development scenes. Especially humorous is Johnny’s warm encounter in the elevator with some ladies, and especially important is the extended footage of the developing relationship between Ben and the blind Alicia Masters.

The slop comes with an evening out between Reed and Sue that has them visit spots frequented when they were dating in college. Very similar dialogue is delivered in a couple of the scenes, which makes me think either director Tim Story had nothing to do with the extended cut (I can’t believe a professional would let that slip through) or there was a rush to get the DVD out before the new film “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.”

Still, this family-friendly extended Fantastic Four gels much better than the original (which also can be watched on the first disc) and is well worth a look, as the movie now is not just an exercise in special effects.

Best extra: I would skip the film initially, skip the three (that’s right, three) optional commentary tracks stuffed into the first disc (heck, even the DVD collector’s edition of “Citizen Kane” didn’t have that much commentary) and stretch over to a pair of wonderful comic-book documentaries found on the second disc.

First, “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” offers an unbelievable 60-minute look at the 40-year-plus history of the Fantastic Four in sequential art through an avalanche of illustrated collages and memories from some of the team’s greatest Marvel creators.

To watch Joe Sinnott, an inker on the FF book for 20 years, reminisce, or Stan Lee discuss the origins of the FF and his former partner Jack Kirby’s introduction of the Silver Surfer, or writer Mark Waid, the human encyclopedia of sequential art, explain why the Fantastic Four is so popular, will be unforgettable for fans.

Next, “Jack Kirby, Storyteller” pays tribute to the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, X-Men and Captain America by loading the screen with his work and memories from some famed admirers.

The 60-minute effort explores the amazing artist’s ability to invest the pop-art pages for more 40 years with not only a unique style, one revered to this day, but revolutionary ideas. Such legends as Neal Adams, Alex Ross, John Romita, Jeph Loeb, Walt Simonson, Bruce Timm and the reclusive Barry Windsor-Smith talk about Mr. Kirby’s unforgettable impact on the industry.

I cannot gush enough about how great it is to see these types of presentations attached to a comic-book-movie DVD release. The pair of documentaries is truly fantastic and required viewing for any new comic-book reader.

Read all about it: Fox throws a bone to fans with an $8.50 coupon in the DVD package to see the latest FF film, “Rise of the Silver Surfer.” I suggest fans use the money saved for the film, cut out the popcorn and buy the black-and-white trade paperback “Essential Fantastic Four, Volume 3” ($16.99) to enjoy more than 500 pages of Lee-Kirby brilliance as they introduce legends such as Galactus, the Silver Surfer and Black Panther.

‘Ghost Rider: Extended Cut’ (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, not rated, $34.95)

Marvel’s sequential-art adventures of Johnny Blaze and his flaming alter ego were adapted and released earlier this year in a major film starring Nicholas Cage. A double-disc DVD set arrives to extend the theatrical story and give fans a healthy dose of fiery extras.

Unfortunately, director Mark Steven Johnson spent too much time trying to style the film as a modern-day Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western and not enough time tending to the business of making the limited action sequences exciting and crafting Mr. Cage’s performance to be less of a dunderheaded sleepwalk.

Most painful in the on-screen story is that the alter ego of the coolest character in the whole film, actor Sam Elliott’s Caretaker, is missing in the final scenes.

However, the film does shine slightly just for the special effects that transform Blaze into the leather-and-chain-wearing, flaming-skeleton Ghost Rider, a perfect live-action adaptation from the comic book.

The first disc of the DVD set offers an extended cut of the film. Though I could not tell exactly what was added, it does not help.

Best extra: The company responsible for the excellent Fantastic Four comic documentaries mentioned above, Sparkhill, hits another home run with the presentation “Sin and Salvation: Comic Book Origins of Ghost Rider.”

Fans can watch vignettes devoted to the character’s evolution in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s for about 45 minutes’ worth of memories, including some excellent moments with Mike Ploog, Roy Thomas, Howard Mackie and Mark Texeira.

Also, just to see the Kubert brothers, Adam and Andy, reminisce in the same room with their dad, Joe, — the famed sequential-art innovator — about their time on the Ghost Rider books is well worth the price of admission.

Read all about it: Marvel compiles some of its best early Ghost Rider stories into the black-and-white trade paperbacks “Essential Ghost Rider: Volume 1” and “Volume 2” ($16.99); each offers more than 500 pages’ worth of action from the 1970s series.

Zadzooks! is on the Web. Read an extended version of his column that includes a review of the Powerpuff Girls DVD set on https://video1.washingtontimes.com/zadzooks/. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail [email protected]; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.



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