It’s All in the Family for These Four Fantastic Superheroes
By Philip Murphy

Quick! Name the first family of superheroes that battles evil whenever it threatens to overtake the world?

If you said “The Incredibles,” you’re wrong, and probably not old enough to remember the 1960s. That was when the Fantastic 4 ushered in the “Marvel Age” of comic books, spearheading Marvel Comics’ long line of heroes, which includes Spider-Man, The Hulk, X-Men, Daredevil and many others. But the Fantastic 4 were there first, as a powerful, yet very human, quartet of superheroes, all of whom are friends and three of whom become related, whose evident human frailties stood them in stark contrast to the larger than life heroes of DC Comics, such as Superman and Batman.

">But why did it take so long to bring the Fantastic 4 to the big screen? According to producer Ralph Winter (X-Men and X2), filmmakers had to wait for the technology to catch up to the concept.

">“We couldn’t have pulled it off even just a few years ago; the technology just wasn’t there,” Winter explains. “However, within the last two years or so, the advancements in computer graphics, computer-generated imaging and photo-realistic software enabled us to take a serious look at the possibility of getting it right.”  Getting it right for the filmmakers, including director Tim Story (Barbershop and Taxi), meant not only getting the special effects and action done properly, but it also meant humanizing the characters. After all, this wasn’t a cartoon. This was going to be done with real actors.

">“I think that’s one of the reasons that I was considered for this film,” Story says, “because of the relationships that I dealt with in Barbershop. We wanted to bring some of that rapport to these characters.”

">The director goes on to explain that although this is a big action picture with a lot of special effects, it is still essentially about a family, albeit a dysfunctional one.

“That’s kind of what drew me to the project,” Story explains. “They are the first family of the comics, and I love working with families that are arguing. They don’t always get along, but they stick together, and they love each other, even though they make each other mad.”

“I also knew I was doing an ‘origin movie,’ because Reed and Sue are courting, and they’re developing their powers,” he adds.

The Fantastic 4 become superheroes when their spaceship, designed by the brilliant inventor Reed Richards (played by Welsh heart-throb Ioan Grunffudd – pronounced Yo-an Griffith), becomes irradiated by cosmic rays that transform them in  very different ways. Reed develops the ability to stretch his body to incredible lengths and becomes Mr. Fantastic. His girlfriend, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), gains a talent for creating force fields and becoming invisible, and so calls herself the Invisible Woman. Her brother, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), develops a power for controlling fire and can cover his body with flame, and so becomes the Human Torch. And Reed’s best friend, Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), the pilot of the spacecraft, undergoes the most radical transformation, turning into a super-strong, rocklike creature known as the Thing. Together, they form a powerful team to fight evil and take on their nemesis Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon).

“These characters get thrown a curve,” observes Story. “That’s one of the lessons the film offers. You have to deal with the cards you’re dealt. That and that blood is thicker than water, and family comes first.”

Fantastic 4 is slated to be released July 8, 2005.

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Philip Murphy covers family-oriented films for United Parenting Publications.