Review: Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four
PLOT: A warts-and-all look back at the production and fallout of Roger Corman's THE FANTASTIC FOUR, a cheaply-made superhero film that has still never been officially released thanks to corporate giant Marvel.
REVIEW: Any fanboy worth his salt knows the story, at least partially, of the 1994 FANTASTIC FOUR movie that was never released. Made on a shoestring budget by shlock king Roger Corman and German production company Constantin Film, the film is one of the highest profile titles never officially distributed. You can watch it on YouTube, I think, and its trailers have been giggled at by millions of geeks over the years. But what was the deal with this movie, really? Why wasn't it released? Who thought it would work to begin with? Was it ever meant to be seen at all?
DOOMED: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ROGER CORMAN'S THE FANTASTIC FOUR clears up almost all of these questions, efficiently and entertainingly. It's mostly a "talking heads" documentary but the stories are so compelling - especially if you're a fan of A) superhero movies, B) legendary Hollywood disasters - that it'll keep you hooked throughout its perfectly reasonably 84 minute runtime. Almost every principal involved with the film is interviewed here (although Roger Corman notably only shows up once or twice), so you get all necessary perspectives. Mark Sikes, who was a casting director on the Corman film, is one of the executive producers and main interview subjects of the documentary, so there's never any doubt we're getting the full scoop. From the costumes to the art direction to the music to the special effects, everything is covered. If you wanted a thorough examination of what went down with this cheapo wannabe blockbuster, DOOMED will give you your fill and then some.
The doc looks back at the unlikely collaboration between Corman, who up until that point had not made a movie as "big" as FANTASTIC FOUR before, and Constantin, which was run by a man named Bernd Eichinger, who had purchased the rights for Fantastic Four from Marvel rather cheaply. Under pressure to make a movie by a certain point, lest he lose the rights, Eichinger sprang the film into production swiftly, knowing full well that it might not be as polished as a movie of such status should be. (Whether or not he ultimately knew this movie was never going to be seen is still seemingly up for debate.) The production was shot in a rat-infested, condemned barn owned by Corman, using many of the same sets as his infamous JURASSIC PARK ripoff CARNOSAUR. The cast consisted of Alex Hyde-White (Reed Richards), Rebecca Staab (Sue Storm), Jay Underwood (Johnny Storm), Michael Bailey Smith (Ben Grimm) and Joseph Culp (Dr. Doom) - not A-listers but still respectable character actors at the time. Music video director Oley Sassone was at the helm of the project, which shot for a measly 21 days. Listening to the actors tell it, they knew they were making something rough, but there was enough heart and soul there that they had no reason to suspect their movie would become a liability for Marvel before ultimately becoming a punchline.
To everyone's credit, there isn't a whole lot of bitterness on display; more sad acceptance than anything else. The actors talk of the events with a sort of wistful disbelief, as if these are stories they've told many times before and they'll tell many times again. The director has a slightly edgier recollection, but he too comes off as more bemused than angry, as if he still can't believe this went down. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is some resentment leveled at Stan Lee, who by all accounts was a frequent visitor to the set and a cheerleader for the film... until later, when he publicly dismissed it as a project not worth caring about. (It was the last Marvel movie to be made that they didn't have any control over.) Marvel Studios CEO Avi Arad's name is also brought up in negative terms, as it seems he was one of the architects of ensuring Corman's FANTASTIC FOUR would never see the light of day. (The story goes that Marvel was already planning on making a big-budget FANTASTIC FOUR film with 20th Century Fox, hence didn't want to sully the title's reputation with this cruddy little production.)
Director Marty Langford keeps the doc moving along very well, with nary a bump in the road. Lots of fun tidbits you may never have heard before will be discovered (Mark Ruffalo auditioned to play Dr. Doom!; Troma Entertainment was initially approached to produce the film!), and even though no one in his right mind will ever actually think THE FANTASTIC FOUR is a good-looking movie, the fondness the filmmakers appear to have for it, and each other, is rather touching. When you realize how much effort was put into the making and early promotion of the film (the actors paid money out of their own pockets in many cases), you can't help but have respect for such a labor of love, despite the final product being, well, unsatisfactory. Even grade-Z movies deserve to be loved, and DOOMED quite expertly shines a light on one such case.
|Extra Tidbit:||DOOMED is now available on VOD.|