The early 90s was a truly weird time to be a comic book fan. Comics were becoming known for unbelievable excess, with many popular titles launching and relaunching, often with […]
The early 90s was a truly weird time to be a comic book fan. Comics were becoming known for unbelievable excess, with many popular titles launching and relaunching, often with ever more elaborate gimmick and variant covers. The writing really suffered, taking a backseat to big, splashy art and increasingly extreme ‘events’, such as Superman dying, Batman’s back being broken and Wolverine’s adamantium being stripped from his bones by Magneto.
Though Tim Burton’s hugely hyped, mega successful Batman in 1989 had shown the world that superheroes could be brought to life without the outright camp they’d previously been known for, there were few other comic book properties that could nail the darker tone the ’89 Batman movie had. Eager for a slice of that huge box office, Marvel sold the rights to their characters left, right and centre – but these generally ended up in the hands of smaller, low budget production companies and the results were less than stellar (check out the 1990 Captain America and Punisher movies, which were hyped by Stan Lee in the pages of Marvel Comics, but he knew they were just rushed out to make a quick buck).
Nevertheless, it was exciting to finally see these characters brought to life on-screen for lifelong fans of Marvel comics, even if what we got were cheaply made movies that felt like knock-offs. I recall being very excited about the news of the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, with only a few blurry production photos to go on before I happened upon the movie’s poster in The Cinema Store in Covent Garden in 1993. It was a really cool teaser image of the team in silhouette, underneath a CGI logo; I still think it’s a great poster to this day.
The movie it advertised, however, was not to be. Or at least, not to be released. It’s one of the great What Ifs of comic book movies; I’m absolutely fascinated by the tales of movies that never made it to the screen – Tim Burton’s Superman Returns or the Peter Briggs script for Aliens vs Predator are a few examples – but what sets the early 90s The Fantastic Four apart and makes it even more fascinating is that it was a movie that actually got made – and still didn’t make it to the screen.
Though the general story behind the film’s existence is well documented – it was rushed through production in a matter of days by producer Bernd Eichinger in order to keep hold of the property’s expiring movie rights – the reason for it remaining unreleased was always, in my mind, a point of confusion. Was the intention to make a B-movie as a proof of concept to get investors on board for a bigger budget production? Was it made simply with the intention of holding onto the lucrative movie rights and then holding out for them to be bought at a much higher price? Was there every intention of releasing this movie, right up until the point that people involved in the Marvel brand got cold feet and buried it? Fuzzy, illicit copies of the film have, however, found their way into circulation (mostly via Comic Cons in the past), first on VHS and then on disc (now shady downloads) and fans have ridiculed the film for its ridiculous special effects and terribly low production values.
Doomed tells the story of how the film came to pass. Then how it ceased to be. It’s a very straightforward talking heads documentary, featuring the cast, some of the crew and a couple of other producers (such as legendary movie producer/director Roger Corman and the head of self-styled Z-movie production company Troma, Lloyd Kaufman). What struck me was the passion and sadness of those involved, who saw the film’s burial as a betrayal and tragedy; though the film itself is hardly high art, everyone involved truly gave it their all and worked with what they had, under fairly terrible conditions – and pretty much everyone was screwed out of the opportunities the release of the film would have provided. I found it terribly tragic to see the cast, all of whom were genuinely emotional about what happened – though I’d long thought that the intention to never release the film was widely known, it turns out that this certainly wasn’t the case for the cast and crew.
As one crew member points out: how many films had Roger Corman made up until that point? Hundreds.
And how many of those films went unreleased? One.
There was no way a producer like Corman, who was famed for quick, cheap turnarounds on his productions, wouldn’t have released the film, given the chance. There was no pre-meditated intention for the film to be shelved once made; clearly, the property was destined for bigger things and rising stars in the Marvel production world didn’t want their brand tainted further with the quick cash-in that The Fantastic Four appeared to be.
Though I haven’t seen the film in its entirety, the clips and stills I have seen – as well as the footage I saw for the first time throughout Doomed – show a campy, cheap and cheerful production with a not-half-bad prosthetic Thing suit as its strongest point. Though the invisibility of Sue Storm and the elasticity of Reed Richards are cringe-inducingly bad, the cast are clearly having fun and it looks like supremely daft fun at worst. Watching Doomed definitely made me want to seek out the full film and see it for myself, however – in much the same way that Lost Soul (the movie documenting the similarly doomed production of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau) made me want to see the finished product for myself. Though I’m sure it’s just as bad as it looks, I’m willing to be everything I own that I’d have more fun watching it than I would with the most recent reboot of the property, Josh Trank’s misguided attempt to make a dark, serious Fantastic Four.
Doomed is a fantastic (pun not intended) look at the creation of the now-mythic lost Marvel film and it offers some fascinating insight into the production process, as well as just how much blood, sweat and tears went into the making of the daft, little film that ultimately never was. Highly recommended.
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