By Aaron Couch, The Hollywood Reporter
The original big screen Fantastic Four is finally getting its due, 22 years later.
Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four, the anticipated documentary detailing the drama behind the fabled 1994 Fantastic Four, is being released Tuesday (Oct. 11). The doc tells the surprisingly touching tale of how the cast thought the rushed, low-budget film would propel them to stardom — with some of them going as far as spending their own money to travel the country and hire a publicist to promote it.
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As the documentary tells, the film never hit the big screen, with its rise and fall becoming the stuff of legend. Doomed explores the long-reported assumption that Corman’s Fantastic Four was made so that Constantin Film could retain the rights before they expired and reverted to Marvel. The film was buried, but thanks to bootlegging, VHS copies began popping up at fan conventions and it eventually became a cult classic. Doomed director Marty Langford counts himself among its devoted followers.
“I didn’t want it to get ugly,” Langford tells Heat Vision of approaching those behind the movie. “I knew we’d get into some deceit and unpleasantness, but I certainly didn’t want to do a hatchet job on either them or the movie. I wanted to let them finally get the attention and the respect that I thought they deserved.”
Langford had been waiting for years for someone to tell the untold tale of the film, the first to portray Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White), Sue Storm (Mercedes McNab), Johnny Storm (Phillip Van Dyke), and Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith as Ben, Carl Ciarfalio as The Thing) in a big-screen battle against Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp).
“If you did see the movie, the limousine shot at the end when the arm comes out and the human torch animation — it looks bad,” says Langford of Fantastic Four‘s limitations. “But the movie is not a joke. The movie, for what it is, it works.”
In the ’90s, Langford worked in a Massachusetts comic book store owned by the father of Doomed executive producer Mark Sikes, who worked for Roger Corman and is now a casting director. Eventually the pair decided to make the film. Langford and his team launched a crowdfunding campaign, depending on fans not only for financial support for the project, but also to send in photos and other things they had related to the production.
One of the most arresting moments in Doomed comes with a video a fan unearthed of Stan Lee at a convention in 1992, where the legendary creator disavowed the Fantastic Four film and promised that Marvel would have control over future iterations of its big screen characters.
“A lot of people came forward. We credited them all,” says Langford.
Langford is a Film Studies faculty member at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He came out to Los Angeles for a few weeks of photography, where the team landed a last-minute conversation with Corman, who he describes as “gracious and open.”
“He didn’t give us anything that wasn’t already public, but we weren’t expecting that. We just knew we wanted him to legitimize the film,” says Langford. “The people we really wanted, someone from Constantin Films, Avi Arad from Marvel. Those were the guys who wouldn’t talk to us.”
After completing the film, it went over to distributor Uncork’d Entertainment, where the long process of clearing music and footage began, as well as setting up for small screenings across the country.
“It’s important to me that after all this work, I want them to make a little money,” says Uncork’d president Keith Leopard. “Nobody gets rich making documentaries. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. A lot of them go, ‘If I just see them out, that’ll be enough.’ I go, ‘Well, what if we paid you back for the cost to make it and then some?’ “
The Fantastic Four may be Marvel’s first family, but the franchise has faced a troubled track record on the big screen. Fantastic Four (2005) and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) received mixed reactions from fans, while 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot was a commercial and critical bomb. Unexpectedly, Corman’s campy, low-budget Fantastic Four remains the best loved of the Four films for some fans.
“They didn’t have the budget effects or couldn’t hire A-level talent. They had to rely on a simple story.” says Langford. “[The other movies] concentrate on the action and the big set pieces. You need to make it a story about a family, not a story about cosmic annihilation. I think that’s what the Corman movie got so right and the other three got so wrong.”
Doomed is available now.