The Movie:(Movie Review Originally Posted July, '00)
I'd been looking forward to "X-Men" for quite some time. I've never read the comic book, but I've been looking forward to see what director Bryan Singer("The Usual Suspects") can do with a bigger budget. Although his "Apt Pupil" was a dissapointment, "The Usual Suspects" and his debut, "Public Access", remain two of my favorite films. 20th Century Fox pushed this production to its limits, with a small budget and an even smaller time to get the film completed. The odd thing is that even though the film was rushed, it feels well-crafted and detailed; the story, on the other hand, feels like it's in a rush.
That's not really a complaint, either. In a time where I feel that some films overstay their welcome, "X-Men" seemed to be over before it really began. Although the film clocks in at about 96 minutes or so, it felt like about an hour. Singer starts things quickly, then really never looks back. The question that's probably on the minds of most is, "if I've never picked up the comic book, will I understand what's going on?" The answer is definitely yes. The plot is sort of a new twist on the good vs. evil routine. In the future, some humans have evolved into mutants, humans that have special physical or mental capabilities.
A senator(Bruce Davison) is proposing a bill that will force mutants to register with the government as the movie opens. From there, we are introduced to the two teams of "mutants"; one that believes that humans and mutants should peacefully co-exist - the other that wants to strike the first blow in what they believe will be a war between the two sides. The "good guys" are lead by Professor X(Patrick Stewart), who is a telepath; following him are Cyclops(James Marsden); Jean Grey(Famke Jansen); Storm(Halle Berry) and the newest two, Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) and Rogue(Anna Paquin). On the opposing side, there's Magnito, a holocaust survivor who can move metal objects; Mystique(Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Toad("Phantom Menace" and "Sleepy Hollow"'s Ray Park) and Sabertooth(Tyler Mane).
It's a large cast of interesting characters, and obviously, in a movie this busy(and this short), some characters are going to get less screen time than others. This is particularly apparent with the supporting villians, who aren't given enough of a chance to be menacing enough to be much of a threat. The characters who do get some attention, like Wolverine, Rogue and Storm, definitely do manage to be engaging. The plot, which involves Magnito's desire to turn humans into mutants using a device that sort of reminded me of a set piece from "Event Horizon".
I liked that an attempt has been made to make this film a mix of smart dialogue and the usual Summer effects; rather than just having the special effects wash over the audience, the story is detailed enough and the screenplay contains enough great one-liners to keep audiences interested. I haven't even gotten to the effects and look of the picture yet - both are extremely well-done. Although there were a couple of small sequences that didn't quite seem seamless, the majority of the action sequences deliver some dazzling visuals. This is certainly aided by the cinematography of Newton Thomas Siegel, who is gaining a reputation with films like "Usual Suspects" and "Three Kings" as one of the most interesting and creative cinematographers in this business - and it's definitely a reputation that's well deserved.
If I have one thing to say about "X-Men" is that I actually would have liked more. I found the characters and their individual powers fun to watch, and I actually found myself dissapointed when I realized that the film was almost over. A little more screen-time could have fleshed-out some of the supporting characters, but probably would have set the film's budget over the set $75 million dollar mark.
It's been a pretty quiet Summer so far, and obviously that has built up even more expectations for this film. After watching it, I definitely think it delivers and should live up to, if not surpass, the expectations of Summer movie audiences.
Note: This DVD edition was reportedly going to feature a new cut of the movie, possibly with newly filmed scenes (Hence the "1.5" title), but that did not happen. Still, this "re-release" certainly doesn't seem like a mere attempt to cash in on the upcoming "X-Men" sequel. An excellent new DTS track is offered, there are plenty of new features and there's even an up to $12.00 (Geez, are there theaters now where tickets are $12?) movie ticket coupon that can be used on either the "X-Men" sequel or "Daredevil".
VIDEO: This new edition of "X-Men" offers the film in THX-Approved 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, as did the prior release. This is essentially the same transfer as was included on the previous edition, which really isn't a bad thing, in this case. Sharpness and detail are both great with the exception of a few brief moments which look slightly soft. Newton Thomas Siegel's cinematography is often gorgeous, and the presentation here brings every stylish shot to life quite well.
There are only a few very brief instances where a trace amount of pixelation is visible, but this definitely isn't a distracting problem. The print used is completely clear and clean, free of even the smallest speckle. Flaws really weren't much of an issue at all here - even edge enhancement was only present in minimal amounts in a couple of scenes.
The film's rich color palette appeared accurately rendered, with the film's rich, deep colors looking crisp and well-saturated. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural.
SOUND: "X-Men" offers both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 options here, where the original edition only offered the Dolby track. While this may not exactly be demo material, the film's soundtrack certainly does usually deliver the kind of aggressive surround use that one likely expects from this kind of sci-fi/action picture. The surrounds kick in for plenty of sound effects, including voices in some scenes. Considerable low-bass is also present throughout many of the intense action sequences. Audio quality remained exceptional, as dialogue was especially clear and clean, while the score and sound effects sounded rich and bold. Although the Dolby track was perfectly fine, the DTS track clearly improved a few aspects of the experience, as the entire soundtrack remained more seamless and crisp in DTS. Bass also seemed richer and deeper on the DTS track.
EXTRAS: This new DVD edition does offer a lot of new supplemental features, although some (a 20-minute promotional featurette, a few other odds & ends) from the original release have been dropped here.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Bryan Singer and friend Brian Peck, who joins the director on the track to serve as interviewer. While this isn't quite as classic as the track with Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie on "The Usual Suspects", it's still a very funny and informative commentary. This commentary starts off a little awkwardly, but soon enough, both are chatting about the technical aspects of the production, the story and joking about some of the stories from the set. At a few points throughout the track, Singer also hints at what might be seen in the upcoming sequel. This is a great commentary that is both equally informative and entertaining, as the two don't always take things seriously and offer some very funny comments.
Extended Viewing Option: This option allows viewers to use branching to add six deleted scenes into the movie. Additionally, at 17 places throughout the film, the viewer will also be given the choice to jump to a featurette about the making of the film. Problems: while the film is presented in anamorphic widescreen, the scenes are not. The deleted scenes are also not accessible from the menus, which I found odd - you have to see them within this feature.
Also on Disc 1: THX optimizer a/v tests.
Intro: Director Bryan Singer provides a short introduction to the DVD before the menus for the second disc come up. The menus are split into two sections: one that offers promotional fare for the sequel and another ("Evolution X") that offers a lot more about the original film.
X-Men Production Scrapbook: The most substancial extra included on the second disc, this documentary lasts for a little over an hour. Taken from a great deal of footage from the production, this documentary takes the viewer into the behind-the-scenes experience. Unlike most promotional fare, this piece is simply a camera walking around with many members of the crew as they go to work. There are a few interviews scattered throughout the hour, but they're mainly just picked up on-the-fly.
A lot of this documentary deals with the small-to-mild decisions that have to constantly be made during every moment of the day on a production like this. Singer checks over and evaluates the props, the crews discuss the sets amd locations and planning for nearly every aspect of the schedule has to be thought-out and rethought. As the documentary heads towards the middle, we start to get more on-set footage and are able to watch the crew try and get everything together. Branching is also offered here to allow the viewer to jump to additional featurettes during this piece.
Also included in this area are two "Multi-Angle" supplements - one focusing on the film's fight rehearsal, the other on the train sequence. The rehearsal sequence offers 2 different angles, while the train sequence offers 4. At the bottom of the "Production Scrapbook" area, a tiny clip of the Prime Minister of Canada apparently paying a visit to the set is included.
Moving on, we find "The Uncanny Suspects", a 23-minute piece that gives a good general overview of the story, history and production. We learn more about the characters, more about Singer's involvement, casting issues and other aspects. While it does give a good general overview, it doesn't go into much depth and there are some stretches that are slow or tell things that are already known. Branching for additional short pieces is also offered for this documentary. Viewers will also find a few other options in this section, including a first reading and screen test for Hugh Jackman, as well as character profiles.
"X-Factor" is a documentary that focuses on the look of the movie. We hear from the costume designer, make-up designer, Jackman, Singer and others about how they assisted director Singer in realizing the look that he wanted, while also trying to keep the fans of the comic book pleased with his vision of how the characters and their world would look. Branching for additional short pieces is also offered for this 22-minute documentary. In this section, viewers will also find costume tests, Toad make-up test and an image gallery.
"Marketing the X-Men" includes 3 theatrical trailers, 9 TV spots and 12 internet ads. "Reflections of the X-Men" has members of the crew discussing what it was like to work on the first film, as well as the kind of expectations involved with the making of the film. Also, they talk about their feelings on seeing the final film for the first time. Jackman's discussion of finding fame after the film's huge opening weekend is (he wanted to "renegotiate" his terms on the film he was shooting as "X" opened) is amusing. Branching for additional short pieces is also offered for this documentary. We also get footage of the film's Ellis Island premiere, as well as an additional featurette focusing on premieres of the film from around the world. The second "premiere" feature is a lot of fun and lasts nearly 20-minutes.
"Visual Effects of X-Men" offers a 17-minute discussion of the film's mixture of computer and practical effects. We hear from many members of the FX crew in interviews throughout this featurette, but what was really nice about it was the fact that it's not only people in front of computers, but there is also some footage of discussions on-set. As with the other major documentaries on this set, branching can be used to give the viewer the option of watching additional short pieces. There are also a few other extras available in this area: we also get a breakdown of the Senator Kelly sequence (no audio, just showing the different layers that were put together to make the sequence work) and multi-angle (animatic versus final) comparisons of the "Liberty Head", "Toad Vs. Jean Grey", "Wolverine Vs. Mystique" and "Wolverine Vs. Sabre Tooth" sequences.
Lastly, the "X-Men 2" section includes a trailer for "Daredevil" and an interesting 7 1/2-minute preview of "X-Men 2". The "X-Men 2" preview starts off with a fun little tour of one of the film's stages, lead by director Singer. Of course, the majority of the piece is focused on discussing the story, characters and how the sequel is considerably bigger than the first film. The piece ends with the trailer for the sequel.
Final Thoughts: While certainly a way to promote the sequel, this new Special Edition clearly isn't just a rushed effort. It really does offer a lot of terrific supplemental material (along with a DTS track). There's also the movie ticket, which adds even more value (and can be used on either "Daredevil" or "X-Men 2"). Highly recommended.