Movie Review - Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four
So here we are, the third installment in our "What if...?" trilogy (part 1 being Jodorowsky's Dune and part 2 being The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?) as we take a look at Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four.
But does it really qualify as a "What if...?"? I mean...it happened. It's out there...not in any sort of official capacity, mind you, but I can guarantee that any comic book convention you go to is going to have at least one guy with bootleg copies ready for you to purchase. Hell, the damn thing is even on YouTube…while the previous two entries in this series didn't make it past pre-production! But here's why I feel there is a good case for a "What if...?". First is the fact that there is no official release nor the things that tend to accompany an official release, such as special features...which this documentary would make one heck of an extra, by the way. Also coming with an official release would be restoration work or remastering of the film. Being relegated to bootlegs, unfortunately the film's quality will depend on the quality of the master that whoever is selling you that bootleg is using. Given that the film was completed in 1994 and of course factoring that Corman is the king of low budget...I can tell you that even if a pristine copy of the film existed, it'd likely still need work. A lot of work. So, in my eyes, what's out there now is incomplete at best and a poor representation of what was done. Second is Marvel's complete disavowal of the film. This, to me, reeks of hypocracy. After all, we live in a world where very inferior versions of Captain America (the 2 70's telefilms starring Reb Brown in the title role and the 1990 crime against cinema), Doctor Strange (another 70's telefilm), Nick Fury (David Hasselhoff!), The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren) [Fuck you, I liked it! - Ed.] and the guest appearances of Thor and Daredevil on Hulk TV movies are all readily available in some official capacity be it blu-ray, DVD or streaming. So for Marvel to nitpick about the quality of this film as opposed to others, I call bullshit. And if I want to be mean? One can always make the point that Marvel has been directly involved in 3 attempts to get the Fantastic Four right...and so far they're coming up empty. What's the harm of having another crap version out there? With the legend that already surrounds the film, it's guaranteed to make money. My third point may go some way in providing an answer to that question as well as strengthen the case for this to be a "What if...?". If the rumor presented in this documentary is true...and given the party involved I certainly wouldn't be surprised if it was...then it is entirely possible that any and all original film elements may have been destroyed. The story goes as follows, apparently there was to be a world premier for the film at the Mall of the Americas in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But once then Marvel head Avi Arad got wind of it, he shut it down completely and absconded with the film. In future interviews when asked about it, he went on the record as saying that he burned the film. This action is completely abhorrent to me. It's up to history and viewers to decide which films survive and which do not, not some arrogant businessman with delusions of grandeur that he's an artist. [We have our own beef with Arad here at the Cat, but that's likely another rant for another time. - Ed.] If this is true, it is the biggest sign of disrespect toward all the artists that put in all of their effort to make this movie happen.
And it's really surprising in some ways just how much work cast and crew had to put into the film. This is where director Marty Langford's work really shines as he's able to gather cast and crew to provide the drama behind the drama...the lengths that some members of the crew had to go through to get this movie completed and the passion they had for the project to drive them to those lengths. In all the stories presented here, I found one thing to be both very interesting and a bit fun: no one harbored any delusions about what they were doing. They all knew that this was going to be a stereotypical Roger Corman film and as such would be tackling ideas or ideas for visuals that they would be in no way able to produce or replicate. They knew that this was going to be, at best, a B-movie...but they also saw it as a launching point, that this film would be a spring-board to launch careers. Now, is that the mindset of just any B-movie actor or was this from people that were familiar with the comics and hoped that even if the deck was stacked against them budgetarily that the film would still capture the imaginations of viewers? The documentary gives us peeks at both perspectives as well as a third (which seemed to be the case for the lead actors)...those that would discover, care for and become invested in these characters and why they're so beloved by comics fans.
Sadly, where the documentary is lacking is that there is little from the Marvel perspective. That’s nothing against the filmmakers though…in fact, there are at least a couple of places where we’re shown that the producers reached out to Marvel for comment…only to receive none. So, to provide something in this regard, Langford very smartly pulls from past statements Marvel has issued on the topic or, in one instance, a video recording of Stan Lee himself commenting, well…negatively about the film. And honestly…that’s the bit that hurts. The public persona of Stan Lee, especially since Marvel Studios has become the cinematic juggernaut that it is, has always been that of ol’ Smilin’ Stan, always gregarious, always positive. Now, those that have plumbed into the depths of comics history, particularly the relationship between Stan and Jack Kirby and the seemingly consistent debates over who created what and how Stan has been represented in some of Kirby’s other works have seen that there is something else that hides behind that public persona. Langford, between interviews with the cast and crew and archival footage from some sort of meeting or convention, is able to provide us a bit of a glimpse of the Stan behind the smile…glad-handing the actors one minute, tearing apart their work the next. As a viewer, even though I was aware of the stuff between Lee and Kirby [Jim Starlin actually made some comments about this too in his initial Warlock run. – Ed.] to see it here was…well, it was kinda like finding out that one of your favorite relatives is a bigot: it makes you question everything you thought you knew about that person. I mean, yeah, you expect something like that from Avi Arad…but not Stan and again, with Marvel’s refusal to comment in any way for this documentary…well, if there’s no rebuttal you can’t help but add a bit more truth to what you saw presented.
The tagline for the documentary goes like this: “How many movies did Roger Corman make that never got released? …One.” And it’s an intriguing look into a movie that from many aspects proves to be an anomaly. It also provides some insight into what must go through many actors’ minds as they go from the initial optimism about the possibilities of a movie when the first get a script to the ever-increasing disappointment as reality and producers start to whittle away at that vision ultimately resulting in something panned by audiences. The movie succeeds in putting a human face to it all…or, at least to the filmmakers and what they tried to achieve. Anyone interested in comic book films, B-movies or filmmaking in general would do well to check it out!