In 1994, Roger Corman produced a low-budget movie based on Marvel’s popular comic book series, The Fantastic Four, starring Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staab and Michael Bailey Smith. This marked the first of what would be four live-action renditions. Regardless of the fact that the three movies to follow had huge million-dollar budgets, fanboys at comic cons generally agree that the 1994 film is perhaps the best of them. Yet, the Roger Corman film was never released theatrically in theaters, commercially on VHS or DVD, and continues to sit on the shelves gathering dust. In fact, the only way anyone can watch the movie is to buy a VHS or DVD bootleg. Even worse is the fact that the movie was produced with no true intention to release the film – ever!
In the mid-1980s, German film producers, Constantin Films, bought the screen rights from Marvel Comics for an initial $250,000. Among the terms of the contract was that the studio had to produce a movie within ten years or the screen rights would revert back to Marvel. Just before the ten-year option ran out, and in order to meet the terms of the contract, executives at Constantin hired Roger Corman and hurriedly put this film into production. According to the story, executives at Marvel were not impressed at the low-budget results and in order to avoid damaging the brand the studio quietly bought the few existing film prints and negatives from Constantin Films to avoid the possibility of a theatrical or video release. Both Roger Corman (who produced the film), director Oley Sassone and the cast and crew of the film were not consulted or informed of this move, as there were indeed plans in place for a small theatrical release. (A movie trailer was made with this in mind.)
Constantin Films was able to maintain another ten-year option on the screen rights, secured funding from 20th-Century Fox, and the big budget 2005 version was the end result. A 2007 sequel and a terrible 2015 reboot followed.
While the movie was a means to tap dance around a contractual clause, fanboys today have managed to secure a primitive form or preservation by mass duplicating copies of the 1994 movie on VHS and DVD. It is estimated that every fan of The Fantastic Four, across the country, have a copy of this movie in their collection. (I had the good fortune to watch the movie at a fan gathering in Michigan a number of years ago.) If executives at Marvel or Constantin wanted to keep the movie locked away, their plan failed. To believe the film could be suppressed at this point would be futile.
So you can imagine my pleasure when I learned that two years ago director Marty Langford produced an 84-minute documentary titled Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four, providing the view from the ground of what it was like to pour your heart and hopes into something that was never going to be seen by the general public. Practically every actor, writer, producer, director, stuntman and crew technician was approached and interviewed for commentary, providing background into the film that today you can find easily on YouTube. It is pop culture documentaries like these that I find enjoyable. Now available on DVD through Amazon.com, I recommend this to anyone who loved the 1994 Roger Corman gem.