Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Fantastic Four is "Doomed!"

The Fantastic Four is the title that kicked off the Marvel Age of Comics in the 1960s, and helped start a revolution in the four-color world. But the group’s road to success on the big screen has been a lot more difficult than their battles against super-villains like Dr. Doom and Galactus. While three films featuring the characters have been released to date, none have quite captured the public’s imagination like recent Marvel Studios productions featuring Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. You may be familiar with the 2005 film Fantastic Four, and it’s sequel, 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Both were somewhat successful at the box office, but were not particularly beloved by fans or critics. A 2015 reboot, Fantastic Four, was a significantly troubled production that was a huge failure upon its release, and a film that quickly disappeared from view.

But did you know there was an earlier cinematic version of the super-team’s adventures, co-produced by B-movie veteran Roger Corman? The labyrinthine twists and turns in the production of this unreleased film are recounted in director Marty Langford’s absorbing documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. The movie features extensive interviews with the cast and crew, who were surprised to find out after completing the project that the 1994 film was never intended for release. Apparently, producer Bernd Eichinger of Constantin Films, who owned the screen rights to the characters, had to make a movie, or the film rights would have reverted back to Marvel. Eichinger partnered with Roger Corman, and they entered into an agreement to produce the film for a budget of one million dollars. 

The cast included Alex Hyde-White as Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Rebecca Staab as Sue Storm/The Invisible Girl, Jay Underwood as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, Michael Bailey Smith as Ben Grimm, with Carl Ciarfalio portraying his alter ego, The Thing, and Joseph Culp as the evil Dr. Doom. The entire crew, including director Oley Sassone, were passionate about the project, and committed to making a film that would be faithful to the comics, despite the relatively low budget. Everyone hoped the end product would be well received by fans of the characters. Comics fandom was still largely in its pre-internet phase at this point, and the age of the big budget superhero movie was in its infancy. The cast and crew made appearances at Comic-Con and several other events in order to promote the film, often paying for their travel expenses out of their own pockets. The fan community was looking forward to the film, with their interest piqued by meeting the cast at comic book conventions. There were also articles in various genre publications articles detailing the making of the film, including Film Threat, whose writer had visited the set and spent time with the crew.

As the film’s opening date drew closer, rumors began to circulate that the premiere had been cancelled, and the movie wasn’t being released. The film's cast and crew were stunned; everyone had given their all to the production, and they had been excited to view the finished product. The behind the scenes dealings of Bernd Eichinger and Marvel’s Avi Arad were ultimately revealed, and the real reasons for the film's shelving came to light. Making the movie had merely been a way of retaining the option on the characters, so a big budget version of The Fantastic Four could eventually be produced. As with many things in Hollywood, this had all been about the money. But the original film version of the FF's origins refused to die. Bootleg copies of the movie began to surface, and the movie gained a second life with fans who still wanted to see this version of the FF's adventures. 

Director Marty Langford examines the entire history of the movie’s ill-fated production, and talks to virtually all of the cast and crew, including producer Corman and director Sassone. The interviews are frank and insightful, and there's a wealth of behind the scenes footage from the set of the film. Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four is an engrossing story that is definitely worth watching for Marvel fans, and movie aficionados who enjoy behind the scenes stories. The film is one of the best documentaries I've seen recently; it's an engaging, compelling, and revealing Hollywood tale. The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and is also available for purchase at http://doomedthemovie.com. Here’s a link to the trailer for Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSgyLDrGgow.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Video Watchdog: An Encomium

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to an old friend. I recently received my copy of the “Farewell Issue” of Video Watchdog magazine. The indispensable “Perfectionist’s Guide to Fantastic Video” has been a part of my life ever since Tim and Donna Lucas began publishing it back in 1990. I remember discovering a copy at my local newsstand, flipping through it, and quickly snatching it up. A publication devoted to all those offbeat movie genres I loved, including sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, which not only took those films seriously, but also provided intelligent writing about them! I was instantly captivated, and in a sense, it was love at first sight. For the next 26 years, VW delighted, informed, amused, thrilled and intrigued me. The comprehensive features, articles and in-depth reviews taught me new things about the filmmakers I already loved, like Ray Harryhausen, Val Lewton and Mario Bava, and gave me fascinating insights regarding my beloved Universal horror films, the Roger Corman Poe cycle, Japanese kaiju movies and the James Bond series, to name a few. VW also encouraged me to check out movies by filmmakers I hadn’t yet discovered, including Jess Franco and Georges Franju. And VW guided me towards additional watching, reading (and listening) with their insightful book reviews, Douglas Winter's fabulous "Audio Watchdog" column, Ramsey Campbell's compelling "Ramsey's Rambles" and Larry Blamire's excellent "Star Turn."

The years between 2006 and 2011 were tough for me, but I could always count on Video Watchdog to provide a welcome diversion during those difficult times. Tim, Donna and their incredible roster of writers never ceased to astonish me with their perceptive and illuminating work. As time went on, and the publishing world changed due to the proliferation of the Internet, normal outlets for newspapers and magazines began to fall by the wayside. I changed from buying my copy of Video Watchdog at Barnes & Noble to becoming a loyal subscriber. The magazine continued to knock it out of the park with extraordinary pieces like the Dark Shadows roundtable in issue 169, an engrossing discussion of the classic Dan Curtis TV series (a personal favorite of mine) as well as an absorbing look at "Quentin Tarantino’s 50 Best Sequels" in issue 171. Basically, every issue and every article was essential reading for me. When Tim and Donna began publishing digital editions of VW, a marvelous magazine become even more magnificent, with added depth and features, and the invaluable ability to view issues of VW on electronic devices. But even those additional benefits couldn’t forestall the effect on traditional magazines the digital revolution had wrought. The publishing world had changed.

When Tim and Donna made their difficult decision to cease publication of Video Watchdog in 2016, I was heartbroken. I realized I would no longer be able to look forward to new issues arriving in my mailbox, and relish the remarkable writing I’d come to enjoy so much. VW has been a part of my life for so long that it was truly like losing a dear friend or family member. Not only did VW entertain and enchant me; it was one of the things that encouraged me to pursue my own writing, something I had long wanted to do. While I’m sad to lose VW, I will always be grateful for the many years of fine work and intelligent writing about the cinema of the fantastic that I’ve been able to savor in its pages. I’d also like to give a special shout out to Donna for her remarkable layouts and production on the magazine, and her awesome work in creating the digital editions of VW. If you’re already a fan of this superb publication, you don’t need me to tell you how incredible it is. If you haven’t checked out Video Watchdog, please head over to their website at http://www.videowatchdog.com, where you can purchase back issues and digitial editions, and check out Tim’s blog. I want to sincerely thank Tim, Donna and everyone who was a part of Video Watchdog over the years for all the joy you’ve given me, and I wish you all the best of luck with your future endeavors.