In the interests of full disclosure, I feel I must begin this book review by stating that I have a borderline obsession with the movie it deals with.
If you don’t know the story by now, The Fantastic Four was a low budget adaption of the popular Marvel comic produced by b-movie legend Roger Corman in 1994. Upon completion, to the shock of the cast and crew who worked damn hard on it with next to no resources, it was shelved and never officially released.
The movie is a delight to behold, but not necessarily for the right reasons. The script is clunky, the performances hammy, the sets wobbly and the FX cartoonish. On the other hand, to this day it remains the only FF adaption that is even remotely faithful to the source material. Also, there is a fascination in its awfulness that can’t be denied.
It’s not a film that can be judged against others of its type or genre. It exists on its own terms, offering a different kind of experience. Or, at least, that’s what I keep telling myself. But I digress.
The Doomed Journal is not an account of the making of the movie, but an account of the making of the documentary about the movie. As I said earlier: obsessed. Doomed: the Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four was released in 2015 to much acclaim, featuring behind the scenes footage from the production and interviews with all the key players. It really is a superb doc and well worth seeking out. But getting it made, as this book attests, was an endeavour of almost superhero proportions in its own right.
Author Mark Sikes has the benefit of an insider’s perspective. He was a lowly receptionist at Corman’s production company when the movie was being made. But, in typical Corman fashion, he was called upon to do many other things outside and around his contracted duties, such as donning the Thing’s costume for one scene shot on the hoof in downtown LA! Sikes has since gone on to become a successful Hollywood casting director. This doc was a labour of love for him.
His co-conspirator is his friend, filmmaker Marty Langford. Among other things this book chronicles is the tension that arises in their relationship due to their differing work ethics, not helped by the fact that they live thousand of miles apart and have next to no money to play with. The Doomed Journal is one for the dedicated fans only, offering up a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the production of the doc. For a while it gets bogged down in the chase for Facebook ‘likes’ (one of which was mine) and the disastrous crowd funding campaign. But it eventually delivers rich rewards when the author and his friend/colleague finally get to interview the cast and crew and unearth some truly delish nuggets of behind the scenes insight (Mark Ruffalo auditioning for Dr Doom, anyone?).
Reading The Doomed Journal can be seen as meta experience. It’s a book about making a film with zero budget about the making of a film with zero budget. Far out, man. But, ultimately, Doomed the actual documentary isn’t just of interest to fans of Marvel or the Fantastic Four, it’s a film for anyone who’s interested in the more duplicitous side of Hollywood. How often do movies get made and then shelved, never to be seen in public?
You have to admit, it’s rare. So, as someone who IS interested in the source material AND into learning about the Hollywood underbelly, The Doomed Journal ticks all my boxes. That said, I will leave you with this final thought: you don’t have to be obsessed to appreciate this book, but it helps.
The Doomed Journal by Mark Sikes is available from Amazon.