Call it a bias due to the nature of my chosen passions, but there’s something intrinsically fascinating in the story of a failed Hollywood production. The way that the financial business of moviemaking and the artistic pursuit of moviemakers can clash in sometimes cataclysmic ways is stuff to rival the dramatic narratives that those very moviemakers produce. Such is the case with Doomed!: The Untold Story Of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. This is a story that deserves to be told if for no other reason than that those done wrong by the production haven’t been widely heard, but this documentary is compiled in such a way as to present that story as compellingly as possible.
For those only familiar with the 2005, 2007, and 2015 Fantastic Four films, you may be surprised to learn that another film was produced, written, shot, and edited in 1993. This film was produced by Roger Corman in association with Constantin Film, who owned the film option to the Fantastic Four franchise. The film was shot in an extremely compressed amount of time and languished in post-production limbo for nearly a year while a publicity campaign started to get fans hyped for the first big-screen realization of these characters. Then, without warning, Constantin sold the rights to the franchise to Twentieth Century Fox, and the film was buried. As it turns out, Constantin only moved forward on the production to retain their contractual right to the franchise so that they could profit from that eventual sale. Now, the film only survives in the form of leaked reproductions that found their way to conventions and eBay.
Using only talking head interviews with the cast and crew of the film—as well as an occasionally appropriate clip from the film—director Marty Langford places the focus precisely where it belongs: The passion of those who worked to make The Fantastic Four a good film. It’s amazing to see how gung-ho all the actors were to be a part of the project, only to later have to hear that the film would never officially see the light of day. These are folks who promoted the film on their own time, often times using their own money simply because they believed in the movie they had made. The post-production team worked secretively and without resources, determined to finish the film despite a complete lack of interest from the very people who had commissioned it. All that time and effort was rewarded with nothing, not even a released product that one could add to their résumé. To hear the story unfold from the mouths of the people who lived it is as gripping as it is ultimately heartbreaking.
This is a simple documentary without much by the way of first-hand investigation or any intent to expose long-hidden truths. What the film shows has been talked about before by the cast and crew and even Roger Corman himself, as well as a number of film and comic book historians. However, as a compilation of those voices into a singular narrative of one of Hollywood’s most infamously manipulated productions, Doomed! is as moving as it is effective. If nothing else, it will make you want to track down a bootleg copy of The Fantastic Four to see what is arguably the best version of the franchise to ever grace the screen. Considering that’s likely the wish of everyone involved in this documentary, I’d say it handily accomplished its goal.