|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Monday, 24 November 2003|
“X-Men” was an engrossing big-screen experience that was previously released on DVD in 2000 (it had opened theatrically earlier in the year) in a very well-made edition that was nevertheless somewhat sparse in the special features department. Now we have “X-Men 1.5,” a double-disc special edition that has a DTS 5.1 sound option for audiophiles and director audio commentary and literally hours of behind-the-scenes material for “X-Men”-philes.
In the near-future world of “X-Men,” approximately one in 10 children born has some form of mutation that usually manifests itself in adolescence. The mutants usually (though not always) look like normal human beings but have some very peculiar abilities, which fascinate some and horrify others. U.S. Senator Kelley (Bruce Davison) wants all mutants registered and rounded up. The brilliant but embittered mutant leader Magneto (Ian McKellen) has determined that ordinary humans are a menace to his kind. Somewhere in the middle is Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has exceptional powers of telepathy and telekinesis and hopes that humans and mutants can peacefully co-exist. To this end, he has founded a haven for young mutant outcasts that doubles as a training ground for his relatively altruistic disciples. As the human world cranks up the pressure on mutants, Magneto is resolved to turn the tables, and it’s up to Xavier and his X-Men (and X-Women) to stop their fellow mutants from wreaking havoc.
Director Bryan Singer keeps up a whirling pace that still allows time for emotional grace notes. The unique relationship between the metal-clawed Wolverine (a charismatic Hugh Jackman) and the unwillingly deadly young Rogue (Anna Paquin) is affecting and the prickly common bond between Xavier and Magneto is surprisingly dimensional and complex. The script by David Hayter, from a story by Tom DeSanto and director Singer, which is in turn based on the Marvel Comics characters – has enough elements in it to stock a trilogy, which was probably the general idea. (“X-Men 2” is due in theatres in May, and there’s an interesting making-of short and trailer for it included on Disc 2 here.)
The sound was already terrific on the 5.1 soundtrack of the original DVD, and it remains an option here. The new release has chapters in slightly different places (doubtless to accommodate the different amount of information on the disc), with the DTS track adding even more punch to scenes with myriad sonic details, both thunderous and subtle. Chapter 2 has a wonderfully enveloping rainfall that puts us mid-downpour, with almighty screams of sundered metal in the center and mains as a young mutant uses his power to destroy a gate. In Chapter 4, as a U.S. Senate gallery applauds a speech by Kelley, we can pinpoint individuals in the crowd behind as well as in front of us as they clap. In a fight sequence in Chapter 6, massive fist and body blow impacts reverberate in the center and mains, while atmospheric crowd sounds in the rears bring us further into the action.
Chapter 9 has a wealth of effects – a body thudding onto a car hood, crackling fire, and explosion that goes from distantly muffled to powerfully present, a musical score by Michael Kamen that complements but does not overwhelm the action, and the slight but distinct zing of Wolverine’s metal claws retracting back into his skin. Chapter 24 is a similar cornucopia of sound, with a monumental action sequence set in a train station having one menacing character announce his presence by roaring in the left rear, following by crashing glass, slamming doors, fracturing metal and plaster – and again, a small but perfectly audible crackle of static electricity as an oncoming weather effect causes one character’s hair to stand on end. The print does justice to Newton Thomas Sigel’s handsome, sharp cinematography throughout and the glowing blue Mystique, as embodied by the already striking Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, is a real attention-grabber every time she’s on screen.
Like its DVD predecessor, Disc One of the “X-Men” DVD contains deleted scenes, which can be viewed by going into special features and selecting the “enhanced” version of the film. The enhanced version has “branches” that drop the deleted scenes into the film where they were originally slated to go, then returns to the place where the release version deviates from the unused footage. An onscreen symbol informs us when a “branch” is about to show up, but there’s no remote jockeying involved. The enhanced version on the new DVD, unlike the older version, also contains 17 featurettes, accessed by clicking on the “X” symbol whenever it pops up. These featurettes show what goes into making a scene in unusual detail – we see the specifics of Singer instructing cast and crew, illuminating the thoughts that went into the final version. To view the original cut of the film, simply don’t choose the “enhance” option. An audio commentary track with Singer and Brian Beck (who mostly serves as interviewer) is available on both original and branching versions, with additional commentary over the branching scenes. The commentary track is enabled through the “languages” menu rather than the “special features” menu, so the branching version with commentary requires visits to two separate menus before you’re good to go.
The second disc contains an agreeable onscreen introduction by Singer, the aforementioned preview of “X-Men 2” and six different groupings of special features: Production Diary Scrapbook, The Uncanny Suspects, X-Factor, Special Effects of the X-Men, Marketing the X-Men and Reflection of the X-Men. Each of these six contains their own “branching” featurettes that can either be viewed as they occur within the larger special features by clicking, or selected from separate sub-menus. A 10-minute segment in the Uncanny Suspects section on Jackman’s audition for Wolverine, tight on his face as Singer makes directorial suggestions, will be revealing for anyone who wants to see how a director works effectively with a performer (or just plain fun for anybody who likes Wolverine and Jackman); branching footage in the Reflection section contains clips from various premieres of the film, including appearances by celebrities who aren’t in “X-Men” but simply happened to be there.
“X-Men” is an extremely involving, well-done science fiction drama with characters that are unusually well-drawn for this particular branch of the genre. Some version of the film is definitely worth owning. If you own the first DVD version and love the movie enough to care about details of its making and/or if you want it to hear the sound at its best, “X-Men 1.5” is a worthwhile second investment.