Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four Delves Into One of Pop Culture's Great Puzzles

I remember the first time I saw Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four.

It was so long ago now that I don't remember the exact year but it was definitely the very late 1990s or early 2000s. I was a teenager who had been watching, reading, and loving the FF since discovering the 1967 Hanna-Barbera cartoon version of their exploits as reruns in the early 90s. My mother had long been aware of my affection for everything FF and remains a non-comic fan who is still very much aware of such figures as Galactus and the Watcher. In those relatively early days of eBay, she had been poking around and discovered a VHS bootleg of some Fantastic Four movie she'd never heard of and ordered it for me as a Christmas present on a whim.

So it was that during my Christmas break all those years ago my brother and I sat down in the spare room at my grandparents' house to watch a grainy, dark film called The Fantastic Four with poor audio, dubious special effects, and at least one character that resembled a Lee/Kirby creation but with the serial numbers filed off. Since then, I've seen much better copies of this film, making it less dark and grainy but with effects that remain dubious, and have gained an appreciation for this unreleased curiosity. For me, it remains a source of bemusement, entertainment, and mystery.

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Happily, today some of that mystery has been lifted with the release of DOOMED: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four, a lovingly produced documentary that seeks to get at the heart of the intrigue and misdirection that underpin this cinematic oddity. Having viewed the documentary a number of times now, thoroughly engrossed on each viewing, I can say that it is a must-see for any fans of comic book movies, Marvel, the Fantastic Four, or filmmaking as a whole. Beyond that, it's a great watch for anyone who just likes a good story of greed, hope, and betrayal.

Executive produced by Mark Sikes and directed by Marty Langford, DOOMED brings together the vast majority of the players in Corman's FF to share the inside story on the film's conception, production, and eventual unceremonious burial at the hands of a certain overcautious Marvel executive. Viewers of this documentary will get to hear from the film's cast, crew, and Roger Corman himself in interviews specially produced for the documentary as humorous and engaging anecdotes are shared that give context to Corman's The Fantastic Four. All the while, these reminiscences provide support for the central narrative as one finds out the definitive (or as definitive as realistically possible) explanation for the film's final state and lack of an official release.

Sitting down to review this revealing and entertaining documentary, I'm torn by how much of its content to discuss here and how much to assiduously avoid analyzing in order to let viewers experience for themselves, unspoiled and unprepared. With that in mind, there is one major element which I would like to discuss, one which surprised me and I believe makes this documentary truly essential viewing. That element is the emotion expressed by the cast and crew for Corman's FF.

The popular discourse on Corman's FF has been that it was an endeavor purely motivated by film rights and cash. Many times, I've seen its production described as a cynical move, undertaken only to ensure that the rightsholder who had purchased the FF property from Marvel, Bernd Eichinger's Neue Constantin film company, could maintain ownership of the property. While there is an element of truth to this assertion for those most highly placed in the film's production, this documentary makes it abundantly clear that for many of people whose actual blood, sweat, and tears went into making this movie, that was very much not the case.

DOOMED recasts Corman's FF as a labor of love for some and an opportunity for professional advancement for others who had every intention that it should not only be seen but be seen by as many people as they could help to engage and excite. Seeing the love for the Lee/Kirby source material which the actors, writers, and other staff were seeking to emulate; the antipathy they feel for those who denied Corman's FF a release; and the passion they have for an unlikely official release some time in the future puts the film in an entirely different context. Not only is there passion for a release but some of the cast are more than willing to give of their time to make the film a more polished product more than 20 years on from its production! I mention this because I believe the knowledge to be available outside of this documentary but I was surprised to hear that actor Joseph Culp who portrayed Dr. Doom would be happy to redub Doom's audio, much of which was left muffled and indistinct by the character's trademark mask.

As a fan of the entire history of the Fantastic Four, I have been in the camp that believes for all its faults (many of which are explained by what the cast and crew had to work with when making the film) Corman's FF is a faithful adaptation of Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four and arguably the best film adaptation of the FF we've yet had in a number of respects. Viewing this documentary has only strengthened the affection I have for the film and helps to redefine its place in the history of Marvel movies. Far from the object of derision which some have deemed it, DOOMED effectively makes the case that it is an undiscovered gem and a cult classic regardless of whether that was its intent.

Listening to such interviewees as Alex Hyde-White (the actor who played Reed Richards), Rebecca Staab (Sue Storm), Jay Underwood (Johnny Storm), Michael Bailey Smith (Ben Grimm), Carl Ciarfalio (The Thing), Joseph Culp (Dr. Doom), and the director of the film Oley Sassone, one of my biggest takeaways from DOOMED is that calling it "Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four" is something of a misnomer. While Corman may have been one of an executive producer and may have benefited the most from its production, it isn't HIS film. Hearing all of these other individuals, the passion they have for the film and their fond reminiscences, it is truly THEIR film. While "Corman's FF" will always be the easier and pithier moniker for this film than "Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood,etc.'s FF," DOOMED convinces the viewer that's what it is and ought to be in the minds of fans and viewers.

I could go on and talk about what went into making the Thing suit, the many drafts the script went through, or the details on the ultimate pulling of the plug on The Fantastic Four's premiere and release, but all of that is much better discovered in the context of the documentary. I won't even talk about the additional damage DOOMED arguably does to Stan Lee's image. Even if it doesn't motivate you to (re)watch whatever bootleg of Corman's FF you can get your hands on, DOOMED is still a fascinating watch with truly engaging interviewees.

Ultimate, does DOOMED make the film itself any better? Does it make the effects any less dated? Does it make the music any less of a John Williams' Jurassic Park pastiche? No. It doesn't do any of that but it doesn't need to. What it does, and does extremely well, is recontextualize a misunderstood artifact from a time when Marvel wasn't an undisputed giant of the cinematic world.

I would just like to close by echoing the sentiments of many of the interviewees of DOOMED: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four when they call for Marvel to finally give Corman's FF an official release. Assuming they are in a position to do so, I don't see how it could hurt them to release it even if only digitally. At best would amuse the fans and give some vindication to those who made the film. At worst, a few people would watch it and the Fantastic Four, a property Marvel seems to care little about these days, might look slightly silly to a few viewers. Having watched DOOMED, I firmly believe releasing it is the right thing to do and in the spirit of the FF's own pledge to be a force for good for humanity what other choice does Marvel have?

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I do believe that is... 'Nuff Said.