|Dodge's Fantasticar won't be seen in showrooms, but it'll appear on-screen -- and branded -- in next summer's 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.'
DaimlerChrysler's Dodge has paid several million dollars and committed more than $10 million in additional marketing dollars to brand the Fantasticar, the four-passenger vehicle that superheroes Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Invisible Woman and Thing fly around in as they save the day in next summer's sequel, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," from 20th Century Fox.
A vehicle did not appear in the first installment, which starred Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis, who return for the sequel. The tie-in makes Dodge one of the only automakers to have its brand emblazoned on a superhero's primary mode of transportation. The Batmobile has long remained unbranded. Spider-Man and Superman don't drive anything. The X-Men rely primarily on a jet.
But the Fantasticar could have been a Volvo.
Fox and the sequel's producers initially wanted an automaker to fully design the Fantasticar, with filmmakers planning to shoot a sequence in the car company's design studio to explain the vehicle's branding.
Volvo was to design and build the car, in addition to co-promoting the film's release. But Volvo ultimately had to pass on the project because of its considerable investment around the third installment of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. It was a partner around the second film last summer.
Several other companies also had been approached, including Ford Motor Co. and Audi. Audi had previously designed a car for Fox's "I, Robot." Audi wanted to build the vehicle at its facilities in Germany, which might not have allowed it to ship the vehicle to the film's Vancouver shooting location in time to meet production deadlines.
But some automakers wanted to change the way the Fantasticar looked from the comic books, turning it into a two-seater, for example, or requesting that it appear in a driving scene -- something producers just couldn’t go for, fearing they would alienate fans of the Marvel Comics property.
Because a deal couldn't be reached early enough, Fox had to rely on conceptual artist Tim Flattery -- who had a hand in creating the Batmobile in "Batman Forever" -- instead of an automaker to design much of the car. Dodge elements appear in the final design, such as its signature grill and company logos on the front end and on seats. Dodge is also written on the hood. It took 10 months to design and build the car.
Jeffrey Godsick, exec VP-marketing at Fox, confirmed that Dodge will be involved with the sequel on- and off-screen but said the details haven't been nailed down. He said Dodge fits well with the movie because "it's a very strong, cool American muscle brand."
Fox will use Dodge's marketing muscle to help promote the film, just as it relied on brands such as Burger King and Samsung to push the "Fantastic Four" in 2005.
But because the vehicle will never be built for the public, it's unknown if Dodge will create a branding campaign for its nameplate or link to a specific model. It's expected to spend north of $10 million around the campaign.
A spokesman for Chrysler Group declined to comment.
~ ~ ~
Jean Halliday and T.L. Stanley contributed to this report.