The Real Heroes, by Jim Rohner

8 Oct


After Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four was released proceeding a wave of disastrous behind the scenes stories, everybody was looking for a villain to blame for the film’s critical and financial failure. Could it be blamed on Josh Trank, the young director that the blogosphere painted as rebellious and unprepared? Was it the fault of the studio, who was looking for someone to paint by their numbers and interfered too often? Perhaps it was a little from Column A and a little from Column B? Over a year after its release, it’s still not entirely clear who deserves the scorn for the doomed production.

Funnily enough, if you’ve paid attention to either comic books or movies in the last 20 years, then you’re aware that Trank’s Fantastic Four isn’t the first doomed attempt at bringing Reed Richards et. al. to the big screen (and, if we’re counting critical feedback, it’s not the second or even third disaster). Back in 1994, Roger Corman produced a low-budget adaptation that, depending on who you believe, was either never meant to be seen (just a $1-million-dollar exercise in contractual obligations) or had the plugged pulled on it at the last minute when the powers-to-be got wind of the machinations of a bunch of plucky underdogs.

Those muddied waters are explored in Marty Langford’s Doomed!: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s the Fantastic Four. If your only exposure to this unreleased superhero film is the goofy trailer, then it would be easy to believe that the film, populated by a bunch of no name actors and helmed by a director you still haven’t heard of, was a lark from the very beginning, an exercise in futility that everyone from top to bottom knew was a joke and thus, put forth the minimal effort to complete. Doomed!, however, paints a starkly different picture, one not of directionless nonsense, but of hopeful intentionality and, most evident of all, sincerity. Whatever the intentions the higher ups had for the shelved film may have been (or not been), the message apparently never trickled down, as the sentiments conveyed quite clearly by everyone from director Oley Sassone to lead actor Alex Hyde-White (Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic) was that the intention from day one was always to make the best film they possibly could on an admittedly shoestring budget. The hope for everyone involved, in a land where big screen superheroes were still populated by 1990’s Captain America and 1988’s The Incredible Hulk Returns, was that The Fantastic Four would be the blockbuster that would launch them all into the next phase of their careers.

That they never had a shot of achieving this goal from the very beginning and whether or not you feel pity or shame on their behalf is entirely up to you. One of the most welcome aspects of DoomedI is that it has no intentions in wallowing in maudlin or wrath probably because almost 20 years removed from the fact, nobody seems to harbor any ill will or resentment towards whoever it is that can be identified as the “villain” of the Fantastic Four’s non-release. In fact, it would be difficult to even cleanly identify a villain based on the testimonies in Doomed! on account of a combination of lack of knowledge and refreshing perspective and peace that everyone has adopted. Personally, I’d place the blame on Avi Arad, but I’m just a fan, an outsider who needs the resolution and the clarity to be satisfied, who needs a villain to blame for the trouble. The cast and crew featured in Doomed! have let go of that need long ago, but what remains is a touching underdog story of a group of people who gave their blood, sweat, and tears for something that they truly believed in. They’re heroes in their own way.

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