Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four

It's like Fantastic Four week around here. Check out Chris' write-up on Doomed! and the commentary track. 

With the new Fantastic Four reboot hitting theaters this weekend, fans of comic book movies once again remember the bizarre and sordid saga surrounding Roger Corman's 1994 adaptation of the franchise. Corman, director Oley Sassone, and their cast and crew did the seemingly-impossible and made a Fantastic Four movie for a mere one million dollars... only to have their accomplishments buried when the film was shelved. Leaked as a bootleg (which we just reviewed in time for the new reboot), it became one of the most notorious unreleased movies of all time... but the true details of the story have never been thoroughly documented, and are obscured among legends and rumors.

But soon, a new documentary by Marty Langford will answer the questions once and for all. Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four features brand-new interviews with most of the film's cast and crew, as they tell their stories of what happened to the film, and reflect back on its production. And yes – Roger Corman is indeed in the documentary, telling his side of the story. 1994's The Fantastic Four may never be officially released, but Langford and company are making sure that the film has some very in-depth special features.

2015 has been a great year for documentaries about notorious unmade or unreleased films: Doomed! will actually be the third so far, following The Death of Superman Lives and Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau. I love this sub-genre, as the stories the films have to tell are often way stranger than the plots of the movies at their core, and this one looks especially promising. It is currently touring conventions and festivals, and will likely be widely released later this year.

But Langford and company have already released some fantastic bonus materials on the film's web site, a 3 ½-minute preview of the documentary itself... and something even cooler and more unique. He sat down with director Oley Sassone and recorded an audio commentary for the 1994 Fantastic Four, which can be purchased as an MP3 and synched up with whatever bootleg copy you happen to have, Rifftrax-style. While we wait for the doc itself to arrive, this full-length director's commentary is some fascinating stuff, and essential viewing/listening for fans of the film, or low-budget filmmaking in general.

In the commentary, Sassone is wonderfully frank about the film and how he made it, sharing some great insights about the production process. From calling out which Roger Corman movies certain bits of stock footage are recycled from, to citing his stylistic influences (“in any James Cameron movie, when there are characters in jeopardy, there are flashing lights,” he says with a bit of snark in one scene in which he borrows the same trick), he's full of interesting anecdotes that definitely help put this odd piece of cinema into perspective at last. You really get a sense of just how hard he and his collaborators worked to pull off this film on such a low budget – including some who worked on it for free just because they believed in the project – only to have all their effort buried. Hearing this commentary makes the cruel treatment of the film feel more than ever like a tragedy.

Yet as embittered as he sometimes can sound, he more often sounds proud of the film, and happy that it has found its audience and cult following, even if it is only on a bootleg. He talks proudly about the time that Stan Lee came to the set and, upon seeing the film's The Thing, said “that's how I've always imagined The Thing.” He talks about his artistic influences, and how he modeled the aesthetic of the film after the earliest Jack Kirby comics from the 1960s. He also is quite honest about the film's tight budgetary constraints and how he dealt with them, and has a good sense of humor about the film's flaws. Although one especially dubious special effects moment seems to render him speechless, and he can only sum it up with “yeah... that's... unfortunate.”

Celebrating the good and honestly responding to the bad, watching The Fantastic Four with Sassone's commentary is a slightly surreal experience, given the film's bootleg-only existence. In a way, it makes the film feel the most official and legitimate that it has ever felt – and it deserves it. It's a great commentary track, and is highly recommended for those interested in this movie. The Doomed! team did an awesome job with this, and I can't wait to see the story continue to unfold with the rest of the cast and crew in the documentary itself.

-Christopher S. Jordan

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