In the past, Iíve discussed the phenomenon of "cultural baggage" and how it can be hard to approach a movie without certain pre-conceived notions. As a life-long fans of the "X-Men" comics, I approached the "X-Men" movie with so much baggage that I needed a Skycap. I must admit that I was apprehensive about seeing the movie, and to be quite honest, I was prepared to hate it. Honestly, how were they ever going to do justice to the characters that I loved so much. Well, I am happy and relieved to report that I loved "X-Men". Granted, it wasnít everything that I would have wanted from an "X-Men" movie (no Danger Room?), but the movie is incredibly well-made and captivating. I am also glad to report that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has does justice to the film with its DVD release.
"X-Men" is set several years in the future, where mutants, humans born with special powers, are common. The film brings us into the middle of a war with three sides vying for power. There is Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), who is convinced that mutants are dangerous and wants to pass legislation forcing mutants to register with the government. Fighting this train of thought are two separate mutant factions. Magneto (Ian McKellen) has surrounded himself with a group of Evil Mutants (Toad, Sabretooth, and Mystique) and is willing to kill anyone who stands in his way to prove that mutants are superior. On the side of good, we have Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his mutant superheroes, the X-Men. As the film progresses, we are slowly introduced to each of these groups and we learn their motivations.
The film first introduces us to Rogue (Anna Pacuin) and Logan aka. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), two loners who meet in Canada. Rogue is on the run from life, while Logan is searching for his past. After an incident with the evil mutants, Rogue and Logan are taken to Professor Xavierís School for Gifted Youngsters, where they meet Professor X and the rest of the X-Men, Cyclops (James Marsden), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and Storm (Halle Berry). Rogue and Logan learn who the X-Men are, what they stand for. Meanwhile, Magneto is hatching a plan to attack a meeting of world leaders to prove his dominance. The X-Men learn of this plan, and a showdown of mutants begins.
The main thing that makes "X-Men" work is that it does the nearly impossible task of maintaining the mythos from the comic books while making the film accessible to a general audience. In this case, this balance is maintained by the characters themselves. The "X-Men" comics have always been very dramatic and character driven, and this carries over into the film. While there is plenty of action and science fiction plot devices, the sincerity and ultimately, the believability of the characters makes the film work. (Iím sure that it didnít hurt that Richard Donner, director of the greatest comic book adaptation ever, "Superman", was one of the executive producers.) Director Bryan Singer has made a wise move by side-stepping any comic book cliches and shooting the film in a very straightforward manner. Sure, there are plenty of "gee whiz" shots, especially during the climactic battle, but most of the film has a very realistic look and this adds to the believability of the film. There are some discrepancies from the comics, such as Rogueís age, but those become insignificant as this wonderfully entertaining film unfolds.
Those of you looking for an incredibly detailed overview of the DVD transfer are going to be disappointed. All that I can say is that the transfer is perfect. OK, Iíll go into some detail. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the image has been enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The THX-approved transfer is crystal clear, showing no grain or defects from the source print at all. Also, there are no defects caused by artifacting or compression problems. The framing of the picture is very accurate, and there is no shimmering or warping of the picture at the sides of the frame. The colors on the "X-Men" DVD are also utterly impressive. As stated earlier, director Bryan Singer has shot most of the film in a very "real-world" style, and this is reflected in the color palette. The white snow of Canada, the green grass of Professor Xavierís School, the shiny silver interior of the X-Menís headquarters - all of these colors come across remarkably true and realistic. The bottom line is that the film transfer on "X-Men" represents how every DVD should look.
Not to be outdone, the audio on the "X-Men" DVD is no slouch either. The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack offers a great soundfield, a wide dynamic range, and a ton of surround sound action. The surround sound speakers are used almost constantly during the film for both expressive purposes (any of the battle scenes) or subtle touches (as when Wolverine hears Professor X in his head). The onscreen action matches very well with the sounds coming from the various speakers. The bass response and especially the LFE activity is also worth mentioning, as there was a great deal of subwoofer usage during many of the battle sequences. I suppose it should also be noted that all of the dialogue is very clear and audible and there is no distinct hiss on the soundtrack. Iíd been informed by several people that they were impressed with how "X-Men" sounded in the theater. Well, get prepared to be blown away by how it sounds at home.
Given the near perfection of the audio and video transfer on the "X-Men" DVD, one would hope that the extra features would measure up as well. That question is a bit harder to answer, as the extras are quite a mixed bag. We start with six deleted scenes. The bulk of this is made up of additional material that was cut out of existing scenes. All total, this probably makes up about five minutes of footage. For a change, most of this footage is actually quite good, and one can only assume that it was cut from the film due to pacing or running time issues. These scenes can be viewed individually, or as part of the "Extended Branching Version". Once the "Extended Branching Version" option has been chosen, the additional footage will be incorporated into the movie. You are informed that you are watching a deleted scene by the small "X-Men" logo in the corner of the screen. I always like it when this option is available, as it is often easier to judge deleted footage when it is scene in the context of the completed film.
Iím sure that many of you are disappointed by the fact that there is no audio commentary on the "X-Men" DVD. In Foxís defense, I can imagine that any commentary ran the possibility of becoming very redundant. ("This was shot on a set. This shot is CGI. This was shot on a set...") I was hoping that any "making of" questions would be answered and insights provided by the Bryan Singer interview from "The Charlie Rose Show" which is included on the DVD. I am sorry to report that this isnít the case. The interview has been cut down to five individual segments which add up to a little over ten minutes. In that time, Singer is able to touch on several interesting topics concerning the making of "X-Men", but he isnít able to go into great detail. Also, the five segments must be accessed individually and canít be watched as a group, which is just plain annoying. One canít help buy wonder why Fox didnít include the entire interview, as most of it pertained to "X-Men."
Similarly disappointing is the "Mutant Watch" special. This special originally aired on FOX as part of the promotional campaign for "X-Men". "Mutant Watch" features a faux Senate hearing with Bruce Davison reprising his role as Senator Kelly. Throughout the 20-minute special, Kelly raises topics such as "Who are the Mutants?" and "How were they created?", which leads into snippets concerning the characters from the film and some behind the scenes footage from the film. When viewed simply as promotional material, "Mutant Watch" is entertaining and very clever. (For further amusement, check out the accompanying website) But, once youíve actually seen the film, "Mutant Watch" comes across as a bit silly, and those looking for in-depth "behind-the-scenes" information will be left high and dry.
The remainder of the bonus features are more standard fare. We have two theatrical trailers for the film, and three TV spots. (And I still say that the TV spots make the movie look very convoluted.) Also with these promotional materials is a short commercial for the filmís soundtrack CD. Next, we have Hugh Jackmanís screen test, in which he acts out a scene with Anna Paquin. (I especially enjoyed his car wreck pantomime!) This short scene is interesting as Jackman is not sporting his Wolverine sideburns yet. The DVD also contains an art gallery with contains dozens of images illustrating the progression of the character design and production design. Finally, there are two computer animated storyboards scenes, namely the train station battle and the Statue of Liberty battle. These two scenes contain no audio, but both are very interesting for two reasons. One, itís fascinating how closely they follow the action that eventually ended up in the film, and two, note that Sabretooth and Magneto are wearing their authentic costumes in the animatics.
For those of you who are fans of the "X-Men" comics, I urge you to drop your prejudices and go into this film with an open mind. Readers who are already admirers of the film, Iím glad to report that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has brought us the "X-Men" film in pristine condition on this DVD. While the extra features may leave a bit to be desired, the DVD is definitely worth owning simply because the movie and the transfer are both so good. Now, I must exercise my mutant powers by picking up the remote control and watching "X-Men" again.