Doomed – The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four
US (2015) Dir. Marty Langford
From the file marked “Enquiring Minds Need To Know” comes what for many comic book fans and movie buffs must be among the Holy Grail of tell all documentaries. For over twenty years the truth behind the self-defeating and self-destructive approach towards the unreleased live-action version of The Fantastic Four has been subject to conjecture, rumour, speculation and more, ensuring its place in movie history.
Director Marty Langford was someone who wanted answers so went straight to the sources, interviewing members of the cast, crew, production team, and even Roger Corman himself to get the story behind this fated film. Interestingly, the only people who refused to be interviewed where from Marvel which is both revelatory and incriminating.
This is because at this period in time, acquiring the rights to Marvel properties for film and TV adaptations was an open market so anyone could make them, unlike today where they control everything (with Disney’s permission of course). Therefore it wasn’t so strange the option for a Fantastic Four film could end up in the hands of German producer Bernd Eichinger of Neue Constantin Films.
Because bigger studios like Warner Bros and Columbia were interested and Eichinger didn’t want to lose the option to them and their bigger budgets, he swiftly opted to start shooting the film with months left on the contract, accepting funding of $1 million from Roger Corman. Since Corman was noted for his low budget sci-fi horror flicks he saw this as just another project done on the cheap, except he hoped the FF name would make him some money.
So, with time against them, the film was quickly written, music video director Oley Sassone was chosen to helm the project and the cast of mostly unknowns were picked. There were no rehearsals, no table reads, and no pre-production meetings other than a pep talk at Sassone’s house and within two months, shooting began in December 1992.
Naturally eyebrows were raised and questions were asked, especially Sassone and the production team, but for the actors they felt this was their ticket to the big time. Before you snigger at their naivety, everyone involved was told this and spirits were initially high because of the positive energy and goodwill of their enthusiasm. Everyone who was interviewed recalls this with some joy and their belief in the film remain quite infectious 20-odd years later.
Langford tells the story chronologically, which isn’t easy and in the later stages it veers off into so interesting directions, as Sassone was still shooting additional scenes when he learned Corman had already put a trailer together. Then as the cast were attending conventions and promoting the film (on their own dollar), a screening was being lined up as the post-production was still in progress with many SFX still incomplete.
This should have set the alarm bells off for Sassone and everyone else involved, but their faith remained resolute and they were going to finish the film no matter what. Even at this point, the funding remained somewhat vague with Sassone not sure if it was all Corman’s money, or if Eichinger or someone else had contributed, but all this did was see a rush for the film’s completion and release.
But, as we know, it wasn’t to be and the plug was pulled at the eleventh hour. Why? Again theories are rife and they all point in the same direction – Marvel. I won’t elaborate on the reason and in some ways it isn’t a surprise but there still could have been a better way to handle the situation – after all, these people worked their backsides off against the odds to produce something that, under the circumstances isn’t *that* bad.
Each cast member can look back on this now with good humour and understandable bitterness, unable to hide their disappointment in eventually learning they were simply pawns in a political game being played behind the scenes. But as a life experience, it was something they feel proud of and gives them a cachet not everyone can boast of, whether some might consider it a millstone.
Most interesting of all, is the most damning piece of footage included here involving the late, great Stan Lee. The cast tell stories of how he visited the set and was happy with the results, along with quotes from magazine articles about how excited he was for the film. Then, he is shown at a 1993 comic convention publicly denouncing it as rubbish and declaring the rights to all Marvel properties no longer open to anyone except themselves.
What a kick in the teeth that must have been for all involved, and this is addressed with candour by all, though the finger pointing regarding the actual puppet master behind the film being pulled lies elsewhere. Sassone suspects only a few people knew about this but worse still, that they knew from the beginning, which is just mind boggling in its flagrant duplicity.
However all was not lost, as somehow a copy was leaked and duplicated and soon, tape traders were making VHS copies that were being sold at conventions, which is how the cast and crew eventually got to see the film. Michael Bailey Smith explains how he picked up a DVD bootleg at a convention whilst Kat Green got her copy from eBay!
Quite how this film slipped under the radar having received widespread publicity during 1993, is a mystery but it has. Of course, time being what it is has allowed the legend to grow and thanks to the interest and resourceful of naughty fans, the unreleased Fantastic Four film has a new lease of life!
Doomed is not just an informative and insightful documentary but is also both a great primer for and companion piece to the film, so watch them in any order (the film is available on YouTube) but watching both is essential in understanding and appreciating why this film is as legendary as it is.