Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four, 2015.
Directed by Marty Langford.
Starring Roger Corman, Alex Hyde-White, Joseph Culp and Oley Sassone.
In 1994, Roger Corman produced a movie adaptation of Marvel’s first ever comic-book, The Fantastic Four, a low budget picture destined never to be released. This is its fascinating story…
Documentaries which shine a light on movie projects that never saw the light of day are increasingly becoming all the rage, now the geeks have inherited the earth, and Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four is one of them. If perhaps lacking the snappy title of, say, The Death of Superman Lives which recently came out and told the doomed story of another major comic book movie endeavour that never saw the light of day. This is a very different story to the crazed egomaniacs and spiralling budgets that stymied Tim Burton’s vision for the man of steel, indeed it stands at the opposite end of the scale; director Marty Langford wants to position this as a David vs Goliath story, of a little movie that could being shut down by the corporate big boys after time, effort and love from a group of creatives, but it’s noticeably lacking in that David very much says his piece, but the Goliath here is noticeably silent. That Goliath is Marvel Studios, and in many ways Stan Lee, and one wonders if the whole story is as clear cut as this production would like us to believe.
In essence, here’s what happened. Legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman was brought the rights by a no-name producer to Marvel’s Fantastic Four, in the days long before the MCU when their properties were going cheap, and rushed into production an adaptation for the tiny sum of one million dollars. When you consider Marvel (or Fox) later made three very average adaptations of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s comic for vast amounts more, you can understand how a Corman-backed version of Marvel’s first family might not be seen as the goose that laid the golden egg.
All through Langford’s documentary, presented largely as a series of talking heads recounting the story interspersed with accompanying footage, stills images and quotes over black (in other words, made on the cheap), he assembles the key players in the production – such as the cast led by Alex Hyde-White and the absurdly pretentious Joseph Culp (both sons of far more esteemed fathers in the acting world), or the director Oley Sassone, and various people involved in areas of the production, who all largely sing from the same hymn sheet – that they made something good and were robbed of it. Noticeably absent is the writer, Craig J. Nevins, who may have added some much needed clarity to the storytelling we’re also missing here.
That’s the point. The missing pieces. This collection of actors, directors, editors and crew all try and sell that their careers and lives could have been very different had someone at Marvel or the production company not pulled the plug once they finished shooting, leaving a completed film never to be released – except for popular bootlegs. Conspiracy theories abound about how perhaps they were the stooges as part of a written off script and a rights deal with Fox (who eventually got the property rights and have used them, uh… well they’ve used them), or that an otherwise ebullient Stan Lee turned on them in the end (there is some interesting video footage of Lee denouncing the movie).
Corman is noticeably quiet on this throughout, only appearing sparingly when he’s surely a crucial part of the puzzle – his films have never had major critical acclaim, besides a few exceptions. He’s rightly seen as a pioneer who inspired better film makers (such as James Cameron, who worked for him), but if you were Marvel would you really think a Fantastic Four film with Z-name actors, no money, by the admission of the crew terrible CGI, and awful production design/costuming was fit enough to represent your company? While you feel for these people who genuinely seem to love what they made, and feel a sense of loss nobody got to see it, Langford’s film does make you wish Lee or Avi Arad or anyone involved at Marvel could chip in with their side of this, as it may not be as sinister as its painted. Alas, they presumably have better things to do than indulge a group of affable nobodies.
Consequently, while depicting a genuinely interesting piece of recent comic book film history, Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four With a Really Long Title feels unbalanced. Marty Langford allows the people involved, most of them, breathing room to tell their story with candour and without being too distant from when this happened to not remember quite vividly, but it perhaps makes more of a conspiracy out of the fact we never saw this film than the truth would have it, and we really needed Marvel’s side on this. It does leave you wanting to see the Corman backed Fantastic Four however and, let’s face it, it surely can’t be any worse than the last three we’ve had to suffer!
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★