X-MEN DVD - Image A Sound A- Extras B+
X-MEN 1.5 DVD - Image A Sound A+ (DTS)/A- (DD) Extras B+
starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen
screenplay by David Hayter
directed by Bryan Singer
by Bill Chambers While fans of the periodical on which it's based carp away about the shade of Jean Grey's hair colour and the composite personality of Rogue, I, not nearly as much a comic-book fan as I am a comic-book-movie fan, champion director Bryan Singer's sober approach to potentially silly material. X-Men is respectful in tone when not letter-faithful to the Marvel legend, if I understand secondhand descriptions correctly.
That mythology is reborn here as the story of Rogue (Anna Paquin), a teenaged belle who skips town after a first kiss leaves her boyfriend literally breathless, only to find herself a travelling companion to Logan (smouldering star-on-the-rise Hugh Jackman), an underground boxer with adamantium talons that handily protrude from between his fingers whenever danger is lurking nearby. She asks him if they hurt. "Every time," he answers, rubbing his swollen knuckles, but the look on his face says more: the claws have made him an outcast in a world that frowns upon genetic mutation and calls him Wolverine.
Sabretooth and Toad--fanciful henchmen, we'll soon learn, to camps survivor Magneto (Ian McKellen)--ambush the two kindred spirits in their journey. But the prime target of metal-bending Magneto's anarchic agenda is the McCarthy-esque Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), an operator determined to "out" the mutants (he demands the naming of names). Magneto also faces opposition from former ally Dr. Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the pacifist headmaster of a school for "homo superiors" that eagerly takes both Rogue and Wolverine under its wing.
After a record-breaking start at the box-office this past summer, X-Men's popularity rapidly dwindled, and I have this aching feeling that everything I love about it was responsible for its failure to retain sleeper momentum. The film has heroes--superheroes--but no arch villains; after having the nerve to set its prologue during the Holocaust, Singer owed us a story of some depth, yet audiences don't always want what they demand, especially in the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Which leads me to X-Men's dilemma that its dialogue scenes are more memorable than its noisy, effects-studded ones, the same for which cannot be said of the mawkish smash The Perfect Storm. Tender, grave exchanges between Rogue and Wolverine, or Xavier and Magneto, are riveting in their austerity.
I found the film engaging because it's the antithesis of that to which recent genre entries Spawn and the latter Batman sequels had conditioned us, and I recommend it on the grounds that it is gentle and sincere in its confab with a generation--my generation--of disenfranchised youth. (Though I will concede that David Hayter's screenplay offers few surprises, as far as a continually developing plot goes.) Singer has also distanced himself from the stylistic curlicues (restless camerawork, showy editing) that define his own previous work, bringing X-Men's characters and concept basic--that America is a never-ending cycle of oppression--to the fore. It's great filmmaking despite the odds.
I anticipated the arrival of X-Men on DVD as I have few other titles this year. This November 21st release is extra special in that it contains both the theatrical cut and an extended version made possible by seamless branching technology. (See below.) THX-approved (with Optimode calibration tests), this 2.35:1, 16x9-enhanced letterboxed transfer is very true to its celluloid origins, in that Newton Thomas Sigel's naturalistic colour and contrast schemes remain subdued. Shots that rely on available light appear softer than others; compression is invisible throughout--as it should be, since the studio abandoned a DTS track in order to increase image quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is not very active in the surrounds, although there are a number of sounds placed subtly, realistically, in the rears (a honking horn, a police siren). Bass is at its deepest each time Magneto deploys his powers of telekinesis.
Now for the added footage: If you intend to watch it incorporated into the body of the film (an "X-Men" emblem burn-in signals a new scene and shortly thereafter triggers a search pause), be warned that it is non-anamorphic, requiring God knows what kind of adjustments to a widescreen television. (5.1 also temporarily becomes 2.0.) Additionally, and this may change as finished goods are pressed in the coming weeks (I viewed a "check disc" sans silkscreening and cover art, therefore it's conceivable that programming configurations will vary slightly from my copy when X-Men streets), the branched version reverted to the theatrical cut if I so much as freeze-framed or skipped a chapter at any given point. This was the case with both my combi-player and DVD-ROM drive.
The deleted stuff itself, which I wound up sifting through separately, is relatively innocuous; the quick montage of classroom hijinks in the final product is just as effective as, if not more than, a whole passage of Storm (Halle Berry) teaching Roman history. (Plus, a little Iceman goes a long way.) Other features: the Fox special "Mutant Watch", a fairly routine making-of structured around a Kelly hearing; Hugh Jackman's screen test (notable for unused conversation between Logan and Rogue); brief clips of Bryan Singer on "Charlie Rose" (more, please); Animatics (or, X-Men meets "Reboot"-- computer-generated storyboards for a couple of action sequences); a very extensive gallery of costume and production designs; two trailers and three TV spots (none of them, disappointingly, the mock-campaign ad that ran on late night cable); a promo for the soundtrack CD; and two easy-to-spot Easter eggs (in one, an outtake, we're made privy to a hilarious, Marvel-centric practical joke) within underimagined animated menus. Originally published: October 30, 2000.
THE DVD - X-MEN 1.5
I hate to start off this review pissing and moaning, but in preparing the latest DVD release of X-Men, incomprehensibly titled X-Men 1.5, why didn't Fox remaster the deleted scenes--which, as with the previous disc, you can restore to the film via seamless branching--in anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 sound? They had almost two years to do so. Not only do these muddy-looking elisions still integrate poorly, they also make selecting the new DTS mix a give-and-take proposition. Then again, bravo to the studio for adding the option of DTS, for it renders the Dolby Digital track obsolete. Well and truly, you have not heard X-Men at home yet, and--in addition to fattening bass and improving the clarity of dialogue--DTS provides the film several moments you'll want to excerpt for guests, including Xavier's search for Rogue through the Cerebro and Magneto's hijacking of the train carrying Rogue and Wolvie. Maintaining its THX endorsement, video quality remains a shade below reference.
Another Brian joins Bryan Singer on X-Men's first commentary track because the latter feels self-conscious doing these things alone. Recorded five months into the shooting of this summer's X2, Singer seems like he'd rather be talking about that sequel--he's pre-emptively proud of it. Singer affirms his dedication to the Marvel fanbase, at least, and amuses with his admission that he was "sad when the tapes ran out" during a marathon viewing of TV's "X-Men" cartoon. He even owns up to not planning Iceman's visible breath despite being praised as a genius of detail for it. Note that separate commentary snippets were laid down for each of the deleted scenes. As well, seamless branching was applied (in the manner of The Matrix DVD's "White Rabbit" jump-to function) to fourteen fly-on-the-wall making-of segments shot with a camcorder that are presented windowboxed in a 2.35:1 frame if you're watching the DVD on a 16:9 display. THX Optimode signals round out the first platter.
Introduced by Singer conducting the Fox fanfare, Disc 2 is divided into two sections: "X-Men 2" and "Evolution X." The former's sub-menu leads to a teaser for Daredevil and an 8-minute sneak preview of X2, which begins with a tour of the set conducted by Singer and concludes with an ass-kicking trailer for the upcoming film. (I. Can't. Wait. For. May. 2nd.) Under the "Evolution X" banner, find extra goodies (some in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, some not--prepare for aggravation) of the featurette variety helpfully supplied a "Play All" function. (These have also been outfitted with vignettes accessible through White-Rabbit branching, if no other way; besides material that was on the old X-Men DVD, you'll encounter premiere footage and a sadly poignant quote from pretty-boy James Marsden: "I was clueless before I did the movie; I was clueless after I did the movie.") The Uncanny Suspects (24 mins.) is the worst of the mini-docs, chronicling the cast and crew's ignorance of the original comic book almost as though it's a point of pride. Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Anna Paquin come off best here as the two men speak of their unlikely sojourn into sci-fi and fantasy and Paquin defends, in her low-key way, genre pictures as a legitimate avenue for thespians.
X-Factor: The Look of X-Men (23 mins.) features make-up man Gordon Smith discussing his techniques and hoping he hasn't dug his own grave in revealing that McKellen wears fake muscles beneath his costume; fans of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos should delight in the clips of her full-body make-up application. Finally, Hugh Jackman, perhaps the most humble interviewee, gets excited long after the fact reminiscing about the X-Men's debut appearance together in costume. Handheld and unstructured, for all intents and purposes, the hour-long X-Men: Production Scrapbook is an endurance test from which the patient viewer cherry-picks items of interest, such as the occasionally prickly Singer thinking through the design of Xavier's wheelchair. Jackman shines with humility in the epilogue as he feeds his newborn whilst checking out a prototype of his action figure, declaring it "brilliant!" with wide-eyed glee.
In The Visual Effects of X-Men (17 mins.), vfx supervisor Michael Fink refamiliarizes us with the film's major effects pieces; branch here to a deconstruction of Senator Kelly's, er, meltdown, plus the pre-viz animatics of the 2000 X-Men disc. Lastly, a small number of cast and crew reflect on the success of X-Men on the eve of X2, Stewart well-spoken once more in equating the stakes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" with X-Men--he's somewhat adamant that "Trek" was the bigger gamble. Blocks of three X-Men trailers (5 mins.) and ten TV spots (5 mins.) and unavailing character bios for the nine major X-Men (initially broadcast on the web, they're one minute apiece) finish off this extraneous though not bootless double-DVD set. Originally published: January 21, 2003.