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Comic Superheroes Enter New Dimension

Television: A live-action movie tonight on Fox hopes to parallel the comic book's success. Strong ratings could spur a series or other films.

February 20, 1996|JAMES McCAFFREY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Can a group of mutant teenagers work together to avoid their own destruction and grab a TV following in the process? Fox, Marvel Films and New World Entertainment are betting $4 million they can.

The companies are behind tonight's live-action TV movie "Generation X," based on the comic book of the same name, which is a spinoff of the "X-Men" comic-book series. Issues of "Generation X" comics routinely sell more than 200,000 copies worldwide.

The producers are counting on the popularity of the comic book (and the "X-Men" Saturday morning cartoon) to carry over to the "Generation X" movie, which could turn into a TV series or a succession of films if the ratings are good.

The story picks up in a somewhat harsher and more repressive America. In this parallel dimension, some people are born with the "X-factor," a gene mutation that proffers strange and often uncontrollable powers to its carriers. The government passes the Mutant Control Act, declaring that individuals with the X-factor are mutants, not citizens, and requiring them to register and report to internment camps.

What's a teenage mutant to do?

Readers of the comic, created by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo, recognize the X-factor as an analogy for adolescence, mirroring the pressure and alienation teens feel when they fail to conform to society's expectations.

As in the original story of the X-Men, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1967, professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters recruits the talented mutants to groom them as X-Men.

Under the tutelage of the school's headmistress, Emma Frost, and headmaster, Sean Cassidy, (who themselves are X-factor mutants known as White Queen and Banshee, respectively), the young students learn about the origins of their powers and the tremendous responsibilities that come with them.

Naturally, there are bad guys--in this case Russell Tresh, a scientist and former colleague of Emma Frost who has become an underhanded advertising pitchman and is trying to capture a brain cell from one of the mutant teens. To do so would mean certain death.

The ethnically diverse Generation X team consists of Jubilation "Jubilee" Lee (Heather McComb), who has energy literally pulsing from her fingertips; Monet "M" St. Croix (Amarilis), an arrogant mutant with a wide assortment of abilities; Angelo "Skin" Espinoza (Agustin Rodriguez), who can stretch himself to incredible lengths; Arlee "Buff" Hicks (Suzanne Davis), an impressively strong girl weakened by her low self-esteem; Kurt "Refrax" Pastorius (Randall Slavin), whose X-ray vision allows him to see through solid objects and melt metal; and "Mondo" (Bumper Robinson), who can absorb the physical properties of anything his body touches.

The cast, which includes no one of actual Generation X age, also features "General Hospital's" Finola Hughes as Emma Frost and Jeremy Ratchford as Cassidy. Tresh is played with gleeful venom by former "Max Headroom" Matt Frewer.

"I enjoyed working with the kids," Hughes said. "They were so loose and seemed to have a great time. I can tell that this is sort of the way acting is going." As for her portrayal of the White Queen, "They really wanted me to make her icy and distant, but I had fun with it too."

Some of the most unusual characters from the strip didn't make the final cut.

"It was very frustrating for all of us," said executive producer Eric Blakeney, who also scripted the film. "One mutant we really wanted to include was Chamber. Chamber's visual features [which include a constant energy pulse emanating from his chest to lower face] were just too expensive to realize."

* "Generation X" airs at 8 tonight on Fox (Channel 11).

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