If you are a true Comic Con junkie–the person who leans over long boxes with a clipboard of back issue lists, repeating as a mantra, “Got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, got it…!”–then you have either come across, purchased or viewed your friend’s bootlegged VHS/DVD copy of the notorious Roger Corman’s New World film production of the Fantastic Four.
Back in the days when it was still perilous to be a geek–with no show like The Big Bang Theory to normalize us–, there was an announcement by New World Pictures a Fantastic Four movie was in the works. Being a former film student, essayist on the medium and a comic book junkie, I actually never heard of the film being in the works during its pre-production and only discovered its existence when a friend loaned me his bootleg copy one night after too many beers in 1997. During 1993, the year when Film Threat magazine (Millennials ask a Gen X’er about that rag) was a slacker film junkie’s bible, I was more caught up in John Woo and Ringo Lam movies from Hong Kong, along with a new guy on the scene named Tarantino, to even think about a Fantastic Four motion picture production. While that magazine wrote about Woo’s Hong Kong masterpieces and Reservoir Dogs, Film Threat magazine founder, Chris Gore, covered heavily the full production of Corman’s Fantastic Four cinematic endeavor and I completely missed it. But that’s okay because now we have Marty Langford’s documentary, DOOMED!–The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s the Fantastic Four to sort everything out.
I have to say for a documentary on a failed movie–and there have been many these days–it is a fascinating story and one that should be viewed by comic book and film enthusiasts alike because it is never boring. Everyone interviewed involved in the making of the doomed project–actors, director, producers, Corman, writers, editors–looks back on the experience in ways that make you wonder if Hollywood is ever going to get back to its creative roots, producing films worthy of cinematic history. It is also a story of rebellion, that the director is okay with the fact someone bootlegged the shelved print and got it out to the fans: At least it is being seen and that’s all that matters!
It is engrossing from the moment you see the actors and director lament what could have been–that they were fully on board to produce the best superhero movie, being as faithful to the source material as much as possible. This was not going to be a notorious Corman produced schlock-fest which, for New World Pictures, was business-as-usual. It is admirable they were determined to not let the film go down the Corman rabbit hole. Pre-production had some snags but they were on course for making a respectable superhero movie with a modest budget. And then the film went down the Corman rabbit hole. With Corman, let’s face it, it’s inevitable. This is the guy who just recently made the wonderful grade-B masterpiece, Death Race 2050. Make no mistake, the quality is going to go down with his crew. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad though. It’s amazing how creative Corman can be with his films when he has a next-to-nothing budget to work with–I mean, have you seen Death Race 2050!? Unfortunately, this is not the case with the Fantastic Four. Even the actors and director agree. But they make no apologies either. They know it’s not their fault.
Throughout the documentary, one of my favorite moments is with an actor, Joseph Culp, who describes his performance as Doctor Doom in almost Shakespearean terms, being grandiose in his reconstruction of his involvement. His ego oozes and it’s a little creepy I must confess. Even so, it’s one of the many, many reasons you should view this along with Jay Underwood’s musings of the low budget costumes, effects and his acceptance the movie is an epic failure on every known level of Hollywood film production. He laughs at it without crying which is in contrast to how some of the others seem to be on the verge of doing because many believed this was going to be their big break. Alas, it was not meant to be.
If you’re a fan of the failed film production documentaries, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Hearts of Darkness–The Making of Apocalypse Now!, Man From La Mancha, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau and The Death of Superman Lives!: What Happened?, then this is a no-brainer! You must watch this worthy documentary which you can stream for free through Amazon after you watch The Tick. Trust me, the Fantastic Four film production background story on this much sought after bootleg in the 1990’s is well worth the time.