Doomed! The Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four, Finally Told!

Here's another fun entry in the burgeoning genre of documentaries about films that have never been released.  If you enjoyed Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau or especially The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?, then Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four will be right up your alley.  And I don't just say that because they all have absurdly overlong titles; it's another fascinating look into Hollywood's what might have been.  Of course, in Lost Soul's case it's a film that was released, just drastically altered, and in The Death of Superman's, it's a film that was never filmed at all.  But perhaps most frustratingly of all is the Doomed case of the original 1993 Fantastic Four film, which was 100% completed, but the studios just refused to release it!
If you're a fan of superhero movies (and it appears the whole world is these days), you're probably already familiar with the premise.  Constantin Film owned the film rights to Marvel's Fantastic Four comic book series, but they were running out.  They had to at least start filming before the end of the year or the rights would revert back to the publisher.  So, they contacted Roger Corman and hastily put together a super low budget token production simply so they could hang onto the rights to make a future movie down the road.  And yes, we have Constantin to thank for all three of the infamous Fox Fantastic Four films we've had since.  Yay?  But here's the thing.  The people who were assembled to go through the motions of making this faux film were never told it was a sham, so they actually tried their best and completed the entire movie.
So instead of three crappy Fantastic Four movies, there's four!  Yay?  But here's the thing.  Everything wrong with the original Fantastic Four is justifiable.  It was made in practically no time at all with zero budget, resulting in laughable effects, sound problems etc.  The other films enjoyed all the benefits of a major studio, budget, name actors, etc.  Those movies are only crap because they're cynical cash-grabs made by soulless corporations.  So despite all its flaws, and they're many, the original version is actually the most fun.  It certainly doesn't hurt that it's by far the most faithful to the comics.  I mean, this is the only Dr. Doom that actually looks like Dr. Doom.  Their Thing actually looks pretty impressive, the score is full, and the story's ambitious.  I don't know that I can say there was ever a good Fantastic Four, but the first is easily the most enjoyable rewatch.
Of course, how good the Fantastic Four movie is or isn't has no real bearing on how good the documentary is.  But fortunately, it's quite good.  You don't even have to care about superhero movies to get into it, though it certainly helps, because then the Fantastic Four is apt to be one you've always wondered about, and this movie has the answers.  Just about the entire cast is reunited here, including the entire Four and Doom himself, the director, editor, effects artist, Corman himself and even Lloyd Kaufman.  And if you're wondering what the president of Tromaville has to do with anything, well, watch the movie.  This is essentially a talking heads movie, with a light smattering of behind the scenes shots, photos and clips from the movie.  It's not going to win awards for elevating the art of documentary filmmaking, but apart from a little errant room tone I suppose you could take them to task for if you're feeling hypercritical, it's slick looking, strongly crafted, and pretty much exactly what you're looking for when you go into a picture like this.
Doomed is available through Uncork'd Entertainment on both DVD and blu-ray; we're looking at the latter.  But unfortunately, we're talking MOD DV-Rs and BD-Rs through Amazon, which means the usual issues of dodgy playback depending on your device.  Interestingly, the last BD-R I reviewed played properly in my Pioneer, but not my Seiki or PC, and this one played on my PC and Seiki, but not my Pioneer.  BD-Rs, go figure.  That aside, though, it looks and sounds pretty great.  It's a solid, HD image and presented in 1.78:1.  Of course, both the ratio and picture quality sometimes shifts for archival footage; but overall it looks great.  The audio's in clean AC3 stereo, with no subtitles or additional language options; but I can't say I was expecting them.
BD-R releases tend to be barebones, but happily that's not the case here.  We get a decent selection of bonus features, starting with a cast and crew panel that puts almost the full line-up in front of a live audience.  Then there are brief clips and outtakes from some of the interviews, and an extended interview I'd particularly recommend checking out: Roger Corman's.  The first couple of minutes are basically his footage from the film just slightly elongated, but after that he gets into a lot of new, interesting stuff.  There's a very short (2 minutes) featurette visiting a couple of the film's locations, some extra talk with Joseph Culp who played Dr. Doom, a television interview with the director of this doc, and a long extended interview with Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, who delves into the history of Marvel, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby and the Fantastic Four comic.  Oh, and there's the trailer (for the doc, not the FF movie).

Now, there was a little bit of a debacle with this release.  Like some other films we've looked at, this was started with crowd-funding, and some of the film's biggest supporters had pre-ordered this movie years ago.  Several years.  And it kept getting delayed and pushed back, which is kind of expected; but it wound up being sold to general audiences through Amazon for over a month before it even started shipping to the original pre-orderers.  That blows; but they made up for it with an exclusive Bonus Disc[pictured left].  Instead of the longest supporters being treated the worst, which was almost the case, they were treated the best, and it's a happy ending.

So what's on this bonus disc?  Some good stuff.  There's another Q&A with the director, but this one is much better than the one on the main disc, as he gets more interesting questions from both the host and audience.  And there are a bunch of additional outtakes and extensions of the film's interviews... not all of which are so essential.  Michael Bailey Smith has a good story about the FF remake that they left out of Doomed for some reason, but he also told it on the cast and crew panel on disc 1.  Others just feel like leftover scraps.  There's a great one with the director (of the FF movie, not the doc), however, where he talks about how he teamed up with Stan Lee again to create an unmade TV series based on Marvel's Femizon characters.  It's short, but you'll want to watch it.  All together, it's maybe 30-40 minutes of extra material.  If you missed out, there's no reason to tear up the Heavens and the Earth trying to hunt down a copy, but if you got, you should be happy.
Of course I'm disappointed this is a BD-R instead of a properly pressed blu-ray, but as a scrappy, independent documentary you can't really hold it against them.  And at least Amazon tends to sell their BD-Rs a little cheaper than the real deals now.  This is a pretty good release of a solid documentary that should satisfy everyone interested in the subject matter.  It's even got a healthy dose of special features.  I'm happy with it.

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