THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"DOOMED! THE UNTOLD STORY OF ROGER CORMAN'S THE FANTASTIC FOUR"
Marvel characters have had great success onscreen...except for the Fantastic Four. The 2005 Chris Evans/Jessica Alba movie didn't exactly set the world on fire (no Human Torch pun intended). The 2007 sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, was a little better, but still didn't hit the heights of, say, the first two Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man pictures. Then there was 2015's version with Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, which was a disaster both critically and commercially. Regardless of varying quality, those movies all had their day in front of audiences. Another Fantastic Four movie – one which came before them – did not. The documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four charts the production and non-release of this 1994 attempt at bringing the characters to the screen.
Director Marty Langford interviews almost all of the key players to tell the tale. Producer Bernd Eichinger somehow managed to secure screen rights to the Fantastic Four and their main nemesis, Dr. Doom. He took the project to legendary producer Roger Corman. Despite being known for making movies on extremely low budgets, Corman saw this as a chance to do something a little more high-profile. He committed to a budget that was big for him, but still extremely small in the general Hollywood scheme. A director, Oley Sassone, was hired, as was a cast that included Alex Hyde-White and Jay Underwood (Uncle Buck). Everyone tried to maximize the budget to make something that was true to the characters comic book fans had come to know and love.
None of them realized that their version of The Fantastic Four was, by and large, designed never to be seen. In order to hold on to the rights, Eichinger had to rush a film – any film featuring the characters – into production. Failure to do so before a certain deadline would have made the rights revert back to Marvel. His concern was not quality, it was retaining his option on the property. And once Hollywood players like 20th Century Fox and producer Chris Columbus (Home Alone) realized how successful comic book movies could be, they made a deal to ensure this low-budget version never saw the light of day so they could do a bigger version of the Fantastic Four.
That's the big picture version of the story. Doomed! has the participants telling it in juicy, intimate detail. Most of them don't hold back, openly expressing their anger, disappointment, frustration, etc. This is one of the most candid behind-the-scenes documentaries of recent times because the interviewees have no reason to suppress their true feelings. The big question they all seem to share is how much Corman knew and whether he was part of the plan to bury their work. For his part, the producer stops short of providing a complete answer.
For anyone interested in film production, this is essential viewing. Aside from merely telling a riveting, gossipy tale, Doomed! gets at some of the larger frustrations creative people have. Sassone, his actors, and his crew all intended to make something entertaining. They even went out on the road promoting their movie, with no clue that they were wasting their time. It speaks to the fact that Hollywood is, at its core, a business in which art is great but money is greater, and the people in charge will almost always opt to do whatever benefits them the most from a financial perspective.
Corman's Fantastic Four remains available only via poor-quality bootleg. Its makers express a wish for it to be released on DVD, so that audiences can evaluate it on its own terms. After seeing Doomed! and the grainy clips contained within, it's hard not to concur. This fascinating – and sometimes funny – documentary proves that the people behind the 1994 version are proud of the work they did. Since none of the other Fantastic Four pictures got things right, why not give this unreleased version a shot?
( 1/2 out of four)
Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four is unrated, but contains brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.
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