Doomed!: We Will Never Release This Movie, by Chase Beck
As a kid, I had by-mail subscriptions for many Marvel Comics titles. I have considered it a duty and privilege to see all of the Marvel films. I love every minute spent exploring the Marvel universe, whether it be through comics, TV, books, or film. There was however, one title missing from my mass consumption of Marvel intellectual properties, and that was The Fantastic Four.
Referred to by Roger Corman as The Original Fantastic Four and attributed in the documentary Doomed as Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, multitudinous mysteries surround this much-fabled film. It was with great surprise when, many year ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he had obtained a DVD copy. We gathered in near-reverential awe, not for the film, but for the opportunity to watch it. We knew all of the legends and gossip: how it had been made but never meant to be released, how it was incredibly low budget, and how it had been completely disowned by the mighty master of Marvel, long-time writer, creator, publisher, figurehead, and icon Stan Lee.
Doomed!: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four is a very standard, talking-head documentary. Director Marty Langford has done an excellent job of getting interviews with nearly everyone involved in the film including the major cast members, director Oley Sassone, the casting assistant, the film editor, the on-set journalist and many more. Even Corman and Lloyd Kaufman make brief appearances.
Lloyd Kaufman for those who do not know, is the President of Troma Entertainment, an independent film production and distribution company responsible for low-budget shock exploitation film franchises. You might recognize such Troma titles as The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High. In The Toxic Avenger, Melvin, a nerd-type character who, after exposure to radioactive waste, becomes an impossibly strong, if unbearably ugly, defender of justice renamed Toxie. In a similar event, after an unexpected exposure to The Toxic Avenger at an impressionably young age, I became The Man With A Powerful Aversion For All Troma Films. Kaufman’s, in my opinion, entirely unnecessary interview essentially explains that he was approached to make a low-budget film using the rights to the Fantastic Four, then owned by Bernd Eichinger. Kaufman passed and the opportunity fell to Corman, with the caveat that the film be completed for $1 million.
The documentary provides additional information on the making of the film. Corman and Eichinger became co-executive producers on the film. Pre-production, casting, and production proceeded rapidly. Shot on a shoestring budget, there were indications that corners were being cut. For instance, the same set element, a holdover from Corman’s Carnosaur, was repurposed three times over the course of filming. The special effects are completely laughable. However, nobody involved will admit today that they knew they were making a terrible film. On the contrary, many of the cast and crew thought this would be their big break. All maintain that they were told this film would get a theatrical release. Joseph Culp, who played Dr. Victor Von Doom, even mentions Stan Lee visiting the set multiple times and expressing his excitement for the film.
Watching this documentary also provides insight into the look of the characters in the film. Both the design of The Thing and the costuming and mask of Dr. Doom were directly inspired the Jack Kirby era Fantastic Four. Even though the production of the film was brought in quickly and under budget, it languished in post-production. The cast began making convention appearances and trailers were being screened but the film was ultimately never released. Unfortunately, Doomed! does not manage to provide a definitive answer for why the film was not released.
Avi Arad, then Head of Marvel, refused to participate in the documentary. Roger Corman is oddly silent on that detail even though he was happy enough to provide many other comments for the documentary. Doomed! can at times feel a bit slow and repetitive, even in its 84-minute runtime. The most interesting visual element of the documentary are clips from the original film, likely acquired illegally since that is the only way it is available. Unfortunately for Marvel, the effect of keeping The Fantastic Four from being released has only increased it’s visibility in pop-culture awareness in the same way that George Lucas’ attempted destruction of The Star Wars Holiday Special has. Thankfully, the movie is available out there for those of us who are not particularly fastidious in our observance of copyright laws, and now we have an excellent – if similarly low-budget – documentary to shed a little light on the complex history of The Fantastic Four.