Fantasticar flows off comics page onto film

The mileage is great, because it doesn’t use any gasoline. And traffic isn’t a problem, because it can zoom along at 30,000 feet.

About the only problem with the Fantasticar is, well, it doesn’t exist — at least in real life. It will, however, make its long-awaited debut in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which gets its first look here.

The vehicle, a staple of the Fantastic Four comic books, ranks right up there with the Batmobile and Ghost Rider’s flaming motorcycle as the wheels of choice among comic devotees.

But translating the flying car from the page to the big screen was no small effort, says Tim Flattery, conceptual artist for the Fantastic Four sequel, which hits screens June 15. He showed several designs to director Tim Story, including one based loosely on the Batmobile, which he designed for 1995’s Batman Forever.

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But Story rejected the designs as “too aggressive,” Flattery says. “He wanted something that looked less like a predator and more friendly. That’s always been the Fantastic Four theme.”

That family-friendly tenor helped the original movie rake in $155 million domestically and $330 million worldwide.

Flattery looked for more tranquil inspiration from the sea. He based the final design on manta rays and stingrays. “They have a natural flow and grace. We wanted something that looked like it could glide as easily as they do.”

Of course, stingrays don’t have to haul 500 pounds of superhero on their backs. The Fantasticar is built to hold four crime fighters: Thing, Human Torch, Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic.

In the movie, the Fantasticar is powered by a proton accelerator, can hover, fly at 500 mph and break into separate flying machines. And while the 4,000-pound model doesn’t move without the assistance of a crane or casters, it’s still an impressive piece of space-age polymer.

Flattery worked 10 months designing and building the Fantasticar, which will enjoy a life after the movie in sequels and on the auto-show circuit.

“It was like Christmas morning when we first saw it,” says Jessica Alba, who plays Sue Storm, aka Invisible Woman. “With all the dials and joysticks, we wanted to fly it. It’s the ultimate toy.”

For fans, though, it’s something much more, says Fantastic Four producer Avi Arad.

“There aren’t many vehicles that play a big part in the (comic) books,” Arad says. “So you have to get it right. We wanted it to look futuristic, but plausible. For fans, the car can be as important as the characters.”

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