Set Visit: Fantastic Four (1/2)
A comic book movie adaptation opening at the neighborhood Multiplex nowadays is about as natural and expected as a Robert Downey Jr. drug relapse. So, it was met with little surprise when Marvel comics and Fox studios announced that the next comic book franchise they’d be tackling would be the FANTASTIC FOUR.
With the success of THE HULK, BLADE, BLADE II, SPIDER-MAN, SPIDER-MAN II, X-MEN, X2 and yes, I’ll even throw DAREDEVIL into the mix (only because I liked it, natch!), it was only a matter of time before Marvel let loose on their extremely popular and beloved superhero quartet. With ELEKTRA and BLADE: TRINITY opening soon, Marvel comics is showing no signs of letting up either. So where better to film this movie than Vancouver, a city that is renowned for only three things: shooting superhero movies, rotten weather and smoking pot. And please, no emails about the Van city cracks either, I’m from Montreal; the putdowns towards your fair city are my proud obligation. As a result, I hopped on a plane to B.C., downed some Dramamine, borrowed The Shootin’ Surgeon’s F4 comic books to jog my memory a bit and got ready to visit the set and interview the stars of FANTASTIC FOUR, hitting your local Bijou this coming July…
Before I continue, I’ll offer up a quick little refresher course on the history of the origin of New York’s Fan 4:
On an experimental trip into outer space, Dr. Reed Richards, inventor and scientist extraordinaire, brings along with him his best friend - astronaut Ben Grimm, genetic researcher Susan Storm and her younger brother, hotshot pilot Johnny Storm; the trip is financed by a rival of Richards’, Victor Von Doom (and with a name like that, you just know he’s destined to be somebody’s arch-enemy).
Once in space, things get hairy when the crew is exposed to some cosmic radiation from an approaching storm, the results of which begin becoming apparent as soon as they return to earth. Reed gains the ability to stretch and contort his body into any shape he pleases and takes on the superhero moniker of Mr. Fantastic. His buddy Ben Grimm is transformed into an orange-colored rock- crusted creature and is forever known as The Thing (he’s basically The Hulk with brains). Blonde beauty Susan Storm becomes The Invisible Woman as she achieves the ability to become invisible and create powerful force fields. Lastly, Sue’s brash younger sibling Johnny attains the capacity of flight and to have his body burst into flames at will – he adopts the appropriate nickname of The Human Torch. As expected, Victor Von Doom has something blow up in his face, blames his college rival Reed Richards and takes on the role of the F4’s main nemesis…he also costumes himself in a gray metal suit of armor, shoots electric blasts from his hands and calls himself Dr. Doom.
The rest, thanks to Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Marvel Comics, is comic book history…
I have to say, as I was reading the F4 comics on my five-hour flight to Dope City, I got re-excitement about this project all over again. They’re just so uniquely different from any of the other comic book superheroes. Okay, I’ll concede that the family unit dynamic isn’t so original if you consider the X-Men (although the F4 comics precede the mutants), but they’re vastly different in that they don’t have secret identities. They live in the city; everybody knows who they are, what happened to them and even where they live (42nd Street and Madison Avenue in New York City – The Baxter Building). All that to say, with all the ribbing Torch and Thing engage in, the dysfunctional romantic triangle between Doom, Richards and Sue Storm, the distinctive superpowers the foursome have and a nutjob Like Doc Doom on their tails all the time, The Fantastic Four movie is as promising a venture as SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN were at the time of their cinematic inceptions, and in 9 months, we’ll see if the F4 movie becomes just as fruitful as those two were...
In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last 6 months, the movie’s cast consists of Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm/The Thing), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman), Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm/The Human Torch) and Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom/Dr. Doom).
Avi Arad, one of the film’s producers and the CEO of Marvel Comics plays himself as The Billionaire. I kid, I kid (a joke that will most likely get me killed some day). The director is Tim Story (BARBERSHOP, TAXI).
The Baxter Building
Our day started with a look at some of the sets, guided by the film’s associate producer, David Gorder.
The first place we were taken to was the soundstage where the F4’s home/lab was being built – on the 60th floor of the Baxter building where Reed owns the top twenty floors. This, of course, is where Richards invites the other three to live with him after their radioactive space accident. 30% of the film will take place here, mostly in the third act. There isn’t much to describe as it was still in its very early stages of being built. There were a few things already in place such as the chimney, the observation deck, the doors to their bedrooms and the balconies overlooking the city. It is however, a very open area, everything is on the same level, the office, lab, living room, etc. Everything will most likely be separated by glass rather than by brick walls and wooden doors. As I said before, it will be very “roomy” in feel. Their bedrooms and the observation deck were the only things visible on the second floor.
Gorder described the finished look of the place as being an
old classic New York art-deco warehouse, always a work in progress
for Richards, who, as a scientist and inventor is forever adding
equipment, as well as new additions and levels to their home. There
will be exposed brick, wood, metal beams, etc. It will be very
industrial in feel and mood. Their living quarters will be more
modern in feel, like a loft, in a sense. Here are some of the other
things we learned during our tour:
- The set will be complete in about a week when they will begin shooting there for a whole month at the start of November. They planned the shooting schedule this way so they would have all the time to build it right and make it as complimentary to the comic book interior as they possibly could. Because it is so big and impressive they needed the full time to build it.
- The center of the lab is where Ben and Johnny’s powers are tested. This, in fact, is where all of the F4 discover the capacity and limits of their powers. The reversion chamber is where a lot of those experiments will take place - this is a key plot point in the movie and is very important to them in discovering their powers.
- Reed’s lab is a largely circular area, it has 2 levels; the observation deck is on the second level. That section was practically completed, the enclosed area where they can safely view the testing and experiments was yellowish and protruded out a little bit over the base level of the lab. One of the main, big action scenes will take place here.
- There will be a general introduction to the building in this first movie, the many robots, offices and things like the Fantasticar are likely to be covered more in depth in future films, the 2nd and 3rd ones. Although they haven’t designed the Fantasticar yet and it won’t be featured very prominently in the first film, it will show up in the form of a teaser, perhaps in the background, or covered underneath a cloth. This was left pretty vague so it would come as more of a surprise in the film.
- The elevator/lobby of the Baxter building will be shot at the Marine building in downtown Vancouver, which has a very art deco type design. No reference will be made to Roberta the robot that greets them in the comics, possibly later on in the sequels. We were also told the lobby will be the setting for a very exciting character cameo as well. He wouldn’t say any more, so just think of another popular Marvel character that might find himself there. My money’s on Spider-man, but that’s only because he has a history with the F4 and also because I would dig it.
- From the balcony and the windows, a full view of the Manhattan skyline will be seen – The Empire State building, Chrysler building, etc. This will be realized with a mat painting. The design of the building’s exterior is very much in Jack Kirby’s style as opposed to the modernized version you might see in the F4 comics nowadays. It also serves as a nice contrast to Dr. Doom’s Von Doom Industries building, which is more of a sleek modern skyscraper. The Von Doom Industries building (which we visited later on) has more of a V feel to it, as opposed to the circular motif in the F4’s abode. Victor Von Doom has his own building as well as a compound where the F4 are invited to stay and recover from their space accident. This is a place separate from Von Doom Industries.
- There will be roughly 8 interior rooms that we will see. The bedrooms of the F4 are on the second floor right above a large New York loft style chimney. Most of the action in the film will take place in Reed’s office and lab. The kitchen and their living area will also be some of the primary focal points as well as the lobby and reception area.
· As far as their living room area and bedrooms are concerned, they will have a very Silicon valley-type atmosphere, where the place they work and their living quarters are combined (much like the Pixar studios set-up). There will be a big screen TV in the living room where they’ll also partake in their other leisurely activities. We will see into all of their rooms. There will be a very family unit type of mood throughout the film which will emphasize both the love they have for another as well as the dysfunctional elements of this “family” – a lot of which is Johnny & Ben’s teasing and antagonizing of one another. The science and technology of their office life will be fused into their dysfunctional family life. Sounds like our last JoBlo.com Thanksgiving bash.
· The movie is set in the present, maybe a little into the future like in the X-Men world. Expect a lot of levity in the film, a gag involving The Thing’s inability to fit into the elevator, for example.
Victor Von Doom's Medical Compound
We were then escorted to the place where the Fan 4 go to recover upon returning to earth after their space disaster - their benefactor’s compound. As we entered the soundstage area, Michael Chiklis, having just wrapped up a television interview, accompanied us inside. The high tech, spa-like facilities are supposed to be located in upstate New York and have a very “ski lodge” feel to them. One of the specific rooms we were taken to was where Ben Grimm was recuperating right before he became The Thing for good; the aftermath of his transformation is marked by broken monitors, debris and, naturally, the massive smashed hole in the concrete wall that he left behind. The ultramodern room was filled with medical observation devices, monitors and equipment.
Victor's Von Doom Industries Office
The final set we were taken to is the top floor of Von Doom Industries, Victor’s main office in midtown Manhattan. This is where Richards, earlier in the film, pitches Victor the idea of going to outer space to study the effects of the cosmic storm on various living organisms. From the windows, a gorgeous nighttime replica of New York City’s skyline can be seen (they have one for the daytime as well). The office will be featured, naturally at the start of the film, but also at various story points throughout.
The office itself is very overwhelming; it’s got an art deco design with a few industrial touches as well. It’s very sleek, much like the skyscraper it is a part of. A working elevator is found underneath the floor, this will deliver the Fan 4 to Victor’s office. The size of the office itself is immense. Scientific and tech books occupy the many bookshelves behind Victor’s desk and a few expensive portraits and paintings are found scattered on the walls.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you might even catch a pretty cool in-joke in the form of a personal framed photo Victor has with the U.S. President and a government official. At a closer look, the picture reveals Von Doom standing with William Stryker (Brian Cox) and President McKenna (Cotter Smith), both from X2. It’s airbrushed, naturally, but it still makes for a fun correlation to another Marvel movie franchise.
HERE FOR PART 2
(including the Art Department tour and specifics on each of the characters in the film)