Friday, August 14, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four week keeps rolling as we attended the West Coast premiere of documentary, Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Written and directed by Marty Langford, Doomed! takes a look at 1994's low budget and never released adaptation of Marvel Comics' seminal book. Constantin Films' Bernd Eichinger had secured the rights to the comic book in the 80's and needed to have a film in production by the end of 1992. Approaching both Troma Films' Lloyd Kaufman and Roger Corman's New Horizons, Kaufman took his company out of the running as he was friends with Stan Lee and didn't wish to sour the relationship or earn the ire of movie goers with a slap dash film. Corman gave it to his team to chew on over a weekend and they thought they could do something with the material. Constantin and New Horizons each allegedly put up $750,000 bucks and the film was underway. Around four drafts were written and the film began casting quickly and shooting started.

Drawn from the pages of the original 1961 comic book by Lee and Jack Kirby, The Fantastic Four was directed by Corman alumni Oley Sassone with a cast that included Alex Hyde-White as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Jay Underwood as Johnny Storm the Human Torch, Rebecca Staab as Susan Storm the Invisible Woman, Michael Bailey Smith as Ben Grim, Carl Ciarfalio as The Thing and Joseph Culp as Victor Von Doom. Shot in the condemned Corman studio in Venice, FF reused existing sets and features some less than stellar special f/x, although The Thing's suit and servo motored head is pretty impressive on the small scale. Marvel was still in the doldrums of their cinematic life as low budget versions of Captain America and The Punisher had already been released to little fanfare directly to video in the wake of Batman's gargantuan success. Stan Lee visited the set, even bringing doughnuts but publicly downplayed the film, stating that Marvel was soon going to take control of it's own destiny and no longer license out their characters. Costumes were true to the comics and after a quick and exhausting shoot, filming ended and post production began.

A trailer was cut for the film but progress and updates were lacking from Corman. Thousands of posters and stills were printed with a rumored 500 screen release in the works. When studio updates became less and less frequent, the cast decided to start their own awareness campaign, attending comic book conventions on their own dime with Michael Bailey Smith spending $12,000 dollars of his own money. Response at San Diego Comic-Con was terrific with the cast signing and the trailer playing on endless loop. Con goers bought nearly 10,000 copies of Film Threat magazine with a FF cover story. A premiere at The Mall of America was announced before being suddenly canceled. While no one really knows exactly what happened; the cast, crew and filmmakers tell various stories that point to Eichinger making a deal with Fox and burying the film. Roger Corman was paid off and that was it. Stunned, the heartbroken cast and crew began to see the film pop up on bootleg VHS at conventions, Sassone thinking it came from a dubbing studio he had copies made at for his personal collection since no one was ever going to see it. 20 years later, everyone involved would still like to see the film released and look back at the experience with equal parts fondness and disappointment.

All in Doomed! is a fabulous and informed look into a real oddity of comic book movie history. After years of starts and stops, Fox finally made a Fantastic Four film in 2005 to solid box office if lukewarm critical and audience reception. A sequel featuring the Silver Surfer fared worse and the property was put on hold until the recent, low-tech reboot debacle. After the documentary, a giant panel was introduced that included producer Mark Sikes, actors Hyde-White, Staab, Culp, Smith, Kat Green, Ciarfalio and director Sassone. Roger Corman was in the audience but bailed by the end.

- It was a tough shoot that was fun if not funny.
- Culp loves to talk and hold court, guy still wants to see the movie released and redo some of his mangled dialog. His son is a huge supporter and cosplays as Dr. Doom at conventions.
- Smith felt heartsick after the documentary as it could have been so much more. All of their blood, sweat and tears vanished in a cruel instant of Hollywood business as usual.
- White is a funny guy and very sincere, as a Santa Monica resident and Aero attendee, was so happy to be part of film and 20 years later be able to celebrate it with the audience.
- One of Sikes' friends had 16 copies of the bootleg, always looking for the best quality.
- Smith and Ciarfalio ended up working together several times, on one movie Smith tore his bicep on the first day but stunt coordinator Ciarfalio kept his mouth shut, knowing his friend could continue.
- Culp still has a Dr. Doom mask at home, the suit cut into his legs and he still has the scars.
- At the end of the day, they want the new films to succeed as it only draws attention to their work.
- The actors didn't know they were playing archetype roles that would be so important to the genre, that lack of pressure helped them enjoy the process and be free.
- A guy at a party recognized Green from a bootleg copy and she tracked one down herself.
- Culp said Sassone took care of them and told him to really go for it as Dr. Doom.

It was a fun night and I chatted with Michael Bailey Smith about his work on Van Damme's In Hell and with Phillip Rhee in Best of the Best 3. Hopefully you'll see a Tell Me A Question feature on him soon. Until then, check out Doomed!

No comments:

Post a Comment