There is, of course, no shortage of fantastic documentaries about specific movies. But even the finest examples (such as Hearts of Darkness, The Hamster Factor, and Best Worst Movie) manage to focus on a film that’s actually been released. It takes a certain kind of movie geek to create a documentary in honor of a film that never got made–Jon Schnepp‘s geek-tastic The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? is a great example–or, perhaps even more interestingly, a film that got made but never saw a release. Of any kind. Ever. (Well, not officially.)
Fans of Marvel‘s long-running Fantastic Four comic book are well aware by now that, back in 1994, the famously prolific Roger Corman produced a $1 million version of the classic comic book–and also that the film quickly got shelved, and would never receive an official release. No theatrical, no DVD, no nothing. But what those fans might not know is the who, what, why, and how of this ill-fated cult curiosity, and that’s where this endlessly fascinating new documentary comes in. Not only does Marty Langford’s Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four cover all the pertinent facts in relation to this infamous production, but it does so in a crisp, entertaining, and smoothly informative fashion.
Langford has done his homework here. Virtually the entire cast (including Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood, Michael Bailey Smith, Joseph Culp, and Kat Green) is on hand for anecdotes that range from absurd to amusing to bittersweet; director Oley Sassone proves to be a gracious, insightful participant; and there’s no shortage of archival/on-set/Fantastic Four footage to keep the film chugging along smoothly. And here’s a nice surprise: it’s when Doomed gets a little more serious that it becomes a lot more touching. Because as low-budget as the production was –and no matter how silly the final product turned out to be–the simple truth is that a lot of decent people saw this project as a huge break, and they got screwed pretty badly when the movie got locked in a vault before it ever had one public screening.
Granted, as Doomed plainly states, this was the “Marvel movie era” that included some terrible renditions of The Punisher (1989) and Captain America (1990), and even if it had been released, The Fantastic Four (1994) would certainly have fallen into that goofball category–yet one can’t help but feel a bit of sympathy for Sassone and his cast/crew upon learning that their “big break” movie would be buried forever. So while The Fantastic Four ’94 may never (officially) see the light of day, it’s still pretty satisfying that Doomed exists to give these filmmakers a brief moment in the spotlight.
It’s hard to imagine the comic book nut or the open-minded movie geek who won’t find something to appreciate in Doomed. And speaking as someone who’s seen the Corman version of Fantastic Four…I dare say it’s more entertaining than the most recent rendition. It’s cheap, cheesy, and very easy to poke fun at, but at least its heart was in the right place.
4 annoyingly unavailable burritos out of 5
Doomed will get a limited theatrical release Oct. 14th, then hits VOD on 10/11 and Blu-ray and DVD 12/21
Image: Uncork’d Entertainment