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Monday, July 26, 2004

COMIC-CON INTERNATIONAL: FANTASTIC FOUR MOVIE PANEL

SAN DIEGO -- Michael Chiklis walked on stage, a Thing action figure in his left hand. He approached the microphone, paused for effect and then let it fly:

"It's clobberin' time!"

The crowd roared, probably the biggest approval yet for the much-scrutinized live-action adaptation of Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four, coming from Fox next July 1.

Chiklis, who plays Ben Grimm/The Thing, was joined by Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic) and Jessica Alba (Sue Storm/Invisible Girl), along with director Tim Story and producers Ralph Winter and Avi Arad for Fox's presentation for the film at Comic-Con International.

And while the film's production doesn't start for a month, the panelists were candid and forthright in dealing with -- and perhaps alleviating -- some of the hot-button concerns about the film that have landed on the Internet in the past few months.

Following is an edited transcription of the panel. Following the panel, The Continuum was part of a question-and-answer session with the film's stars, and that will be published here on Tuesday.

Below is an edited transciption of the question-and answer session.

Question: What was your first experience with Comic-Con like?

Gruffudd: I was completely blown away. I had no idea, no concept of the vastness on not just the building, but the whole idea of this Comic-Con. I'm a little bit overwhelmed and a little bit nervous up here.

Chiklis: Well, when I saw the Storm Trooper go by me when I got out of the car and looked at the half-mile long convention center, packed with 100,000 people ... I really thought I was a fan of comic books, but I am not worthy. You guys are unbelievable. This is incredible, it really is.

Question: Tim, what was going through your head?

Story: I was just glad I didn't bring enough cash or else I'd have bought all this stuff.

Question: Jessica, you been to cons before. Does it ever tire for you?

Alba: I've actually never been to the Comic-Con before. I got to meet the fans during the signing for Sin City and I have to say, this is why I do what I do -- for you guys. I hope I do a good job.

Question: Ralph, where are we with the film right now?

Winter: We start shooting in four weeks. We've designed the uniforms and a Ben Grimm outfit that's pretty awesome. We're starting with some set pieces that are huge and I think we're going to showcase the powers of the Fantastic Four in a very fun way.

Question: Ralph, you've done so many of these big pictures. Does it ever get to the point where you can't take it any more or is each one a new challenge?

Winter: This one's a very fun challenge. We have four great characters. We've got four great actors. We're going to have a lot of fun with it. It's just trying to make it bigger and better. Spidey 2 has set the bar very high. We have a lot of resources and we're going to after it and make it as exciting as possible.

Question: Can you tell us about the process of going with natural effects vs. CG?

Story: I don't know if I would have done the movie if I couldn't make Ben Grimm real. I didn't want to do it CGI. I went with Michael and since Ben has to have conversations and talk, and we all know that Ben is kind of a regular guy -- just a little something happened to him -- and he just has conversations. And I wanted Michael to be able to talk to some of the other cast members and have some fun with it. That way I don't have to create moment that Michael creates.

So we are doing a lot of things physical so that you see the power of Ben Grimm. He's going to have all the strength that you know from the comics. We're doing some pretty amazing stuff.

I can't wait for you guys to take a look at Doctor Doom. That's coming together. We are going to make sure the villain of all villains is properly represented in this movie.

Question: Michael, you're going to be covered up pretty much through most of this movie and that obviously is a challenge for you to have the emotion come through. Talk about that.

Chiklis: Well, that was my biggest question when I first saw Tim. I was praying he was going to tell me that he didn't want to it CGI and also that I wasn't going to be completely lost in the suit. I can't wait until you guys see. It's amazing what they're doing. They've done these life casts, so that you will know that it's Ben under there and you'll be able to see every nuance and all the little interactions and subtleties between us as characters, and those things will come through. Yes, it will be a big challenge for me physically. I'm going to be in the makeup chair an awful lot with this gig. Doing some of that physical stuff will all that stuff on ... I'm reading to my daughters at night with my fake teeth in, so that I can pronounce words with these huge teeth in. So, yeah, it's going to be very physically taxing for me, but I'm up for it.

Question: Ioan, your character is going to be going through some physical transformations that on film it seems like it's going to be very hard to capture. Did you have concerns about how it was going to be done.

Gruffudd: Well, when Tim sent me a rack to my house, I was a little bit afraid I was going to have to do it for real. (laughs) No, I'm sure with technology today, I'm sure it's going to look amazing. And what we're trying to aim for is to make it look believable. Because you guys are so savvy now about the movie industry and how things are made and how things look, it's important to us you guys believe it.

Question: Jessica, talk about spending part of the movie not being seen. Did that bring up concerns for you at all?

Alba: Concerns? No. I mean, the story is so good. And I just feel honored to be part of something that's not like any other comic movie. It's not dark and cyncial. It's about family, love, companionship and hope. And that's really why I wanted to do this movie.

Question: Avi, there's something unique about X-Men and Spider-Man that speaks to the fans. What do you think it is about Fantastic Four that speaks to the fans?

Arad: Fantastic Four is before X-Men, before Spider-Man. It's our biggest hero-in-your-face celebrity, daytime metaphor for all us. From the Invisible Woman to the Thing, don't judge a book by its cover; Johnny with wish fulfillment, he wants to be a rock star; and they all have to learn responsibility.

And of course, Reed Richards is very smart and has to learn leadership, how to keep the team together. What we've always loved about this team is you get to know them right away. There's no double-identity. There's nowhere to hide. This creates emotions and what we also loved about X-Men and X-Men 2, and more recently, Spider-Man 2. You're going to see the inside of our heroes as people and as heroes.

Sue Storm is bright. She's the glue of the team and holds them together. I think we're going to make you laugh and cry and care.

Obviously, from a CGI standpoint, it's going to be very much like X-Men. Every frame is going to be magic. Every frame is going to be something you're going to want to see, and hopefully it will have an emotional core to it.

Since 1961, we've never stopped publishing Fantastic Four. Recently, Ultimate Fantastic Four was the best-selling book for Marvel. It bodes so well for the characters.

It took a long time to put this team together, this movie together. We really wanted to make sure. I was asked today by at least six rude people, "Please don't screw this one up."

Tim Story was such an inspired choice for us. Anyone of you who saw Barbershop, what Tim was able to do with human relationships with 10 people in one room with very little money. Imagine what he's going to do again with very little money -- I'm kidding! -- with these are incredible characters.

As you can tell, we don't have footage here -- for one reason: we haven't started production. Watch in the next few weeks, we're going to start to unveil and reveal and hopefully you're going to love it.

We want to please you because when we please you it pleases us. And, as important, it pleases the studio that makes such a big investment. And Fox, after X-Men and X-Men 2, no doubt they make events happen and they make super-heroes look incredible.

(Opening questions to the floor)

Question: Who's Doctor Doom?

Story: Hopefully, we will have an announcement about Doctor Doom in about a week.

Question: Ioan, I read you did a lot of physical preparation for your role as Lancelot. And I was wondering what you were doing to prepare for Fantastic Four?

Gruffudd: Gosh, I think I will be relying on the skills of my director and the post-production team. I think, for me, the biggest challenge of an actor is to use my imagination to bring this character to life. This character, to be honest with you, I haven't been familiar with. I hadn't been aware of the comic books, so I'm coming at this with a complete new and fresh angle and I just hope I don't let you guys down.

Question: Is this movie going to be based more on Stan Lee/Jack Kirby stuff or the Ultimate line?

Story: We're taking a little bit from Kirby in terms of art direction. You have to pay homeage to that. I'm a fan of the Ultimate series in terms of tone. Pretty much I'm picking from everything. I continue to read the Stan Lee and Kirby stuff, so I can get the little nuances, so pay attention to what's going on. You're going to see a little bit of everything, with what we've done with the cast, what we've done with the art direction. We've brought it to the present, but you'll see hints of a lot of stuff. There's ideas of the Fantiscar being in there.

Question: Who are you using for the effects?

Winter: We'll be engaging Giant Killer Robots, who are building most of the stuff for us, and we'll be engaging some other smaller house. But Giant Killer Robots will be the main vendor. They're escapees from ILM.

Question: How much did you research the comics?

Story: Well, I kind of grew up on the comics. I'm learning as I started to go back and reacquaint myself with them, there's so much more that I don't know. So I'm getting an education. I'm reading stuff every day that I go, "Wow, I didn't know that."

So I continue to do my research. There's just so much information that I can't possibly grab. The problem is I can't fit it all into one film. As you guys know, the plan with the movie is to be successful and be invited back to do the next one. I'll just let you know that as the universe continues to unfold, we have a lot of villains that we want to get to.

I continue to keep reading every day. It's incredible how many of the lines of the comics are going on at once. And I'm reading everything.

Question: How much are you going to be drawing on the Kirby legacy?

Story: You will see Kirby throughout this entire movie. The Baxter Building is an incredible set we're building. It's going to be cool. We're trying to have a nuance of everything he's done.

You'll see a lot -- especially you guys. You guys will recognize a lot. The average movie goer might not pick on it, but you guys definitely will.

Question: Will the name for Doctor Doom be Van Damme?

Story: The name of the character in this movie is Victor Von Doom.

Question: For Mr. Arad, in a number of interviews you've said the movie is like a sitcom or a lightweight funny action film. Are you going to touch upon the relationship between Ben and Reed, this sort of tragedy in that he's turned his best friend into a monster.

Arad: Our movie's based on Stan Lee's Fantastic Four. It has tragedy, it has comedy, probably the words you read were "action/comedy." As we know, comedy comes out of sorrow. This movie is full of heart; it's all about heart.

This movie was never meant to be, and I don't know the interpreration, a sitcom. This movie has a lot tears, in addition to fun. And at its core, it's the Fantastic Four.

Chiklis: That's my job, too. I don't think this is lightweight at all in regard to that. So, rest assured, those aspects of the story, I feel the weight of Ben. And I'm sure I'm going to bring that to the dance.

Question: Are you going to be changing Doctor Doom's costume?

Story: There are ideas. We are looking into that right now. We are going to make sure we respect the look of Doctor Doom. At the same time, you guys know when you bring these comics to the screen, you have to make it look believable. I'll tell you one thing: the mask of Doctor Doom is going to be pretty awesome. It's going to reflect what you know Doctor Doom to look like.

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