|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Sunday, 05 August 2001|
Here’s a pretty solid test of a film’s entertainment value – watch it on DVD when it’s still fresh in your mind from theatrical viewing and see how it holds up. If it engrosses you all over again, it’s a keeper.
Such is the case with ‘X-Men,’ a huge hit when it was released in theatres this summer. One doesn’t need to be familiar with the enduring Marvel Comics series it’s based on to enjoy it. ‘X-Men’ is more than vigorous enough to earn its action stripes, but also thoughtful enough to satisfy those who want plant and characterization along with their explosions.
During the Holocaust, a young boy unleashes a magnetic storm at the gates of a concentration camp. Flash forward to the near future, when approximately one in 10 children born has some form of mutation that usually manifests in adolescence. The mutants usually (although not always) look like normal humans but have some very peculiar abilities, which fascinate some and horrify others. Senator Kelley (Bruce Davison) wants all mutants registered and rounded up. On the mutant side, the brilliant but embittered Magneto (Ian McKellen), the grown version of the child we’ve met in the prologue, has determined that ordinary humans are a threat to his kind that must be neutralized by any means necessary. Somewhere in the middle is Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has exceptional powers of telepathy and telekinesis. Xavier hopes that humans and mutants can peacefully co-exist and has founded a haven for young mutant outcasts that doubles as a training ground for his relatively altruistic disciples. As the world cranks up the pressure on mutants, Magneto is determined to turn the tables, and it’s up to Xavier and the 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 virtually immortal, metal-clawed Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the unwillingly deadly young Rogue (Anna Paquin) is unexpectedly affecting, and the prickly commonality between Xavier and Magneto is surprisingly dimensional and complex. The script by David Hayter, from a story by Tom DeSanto & director Singer, in turn based on the Marvel Comics characters – has enough elements in it to stock a trilogy – which seems to have been the plan. Some questions are raised and deliberately left unresolved, while others provide vibrant detail that makes the world of ‘X-Men’ that much more intriguing. Magneto’s scheme has immediate visual impact, along with far-reaching, thought-provoking implications. Nothing about ‘X-Men’ is either optically or morally black-and-white. Even the dialogue, while it has a few flat expository stretches, is largely clever and occasionally rises to true wit.
The ‘X-Men’ 5.1 soundtrack makes excellent, discrete use of the rear speakers, often separating them to create spatial relationships and movement across the soundstage, instead of simply employing them for audio surround effects. 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. Chapter 7 again makes inventive use of the rears to get us to jump as a specific window explodes in a place we didn’t expect. In Chapter 8, when Wolverine is telepathically herded from room to room by voices in his head, we hear individual whispers coming unpredictably from each station along the center-main-rear configuration – it’s impressively disorienting. Chapter 14 lets someone sneak up on the viewer to suddenly announce a position in the left rear speaker. Chapter 20, one of the movie’s several all-hell-breaks-loose sequences, has objects flying from side to side and forward and back, across the soundfield just as in the image.
Visually, there are some remarkable moments as well, with notable character revelation moments in Chapters 6 and 9. Chapter 16 has an amazing optical transformation effect and Chapters 14 and 20 have full-tilt-boogie fights that employ everything from flying wires to CGI to collapsing masonry. The cinematography by Newtom Thomas Sigel is pretty snazzy, and the mutant characters look great. The glowing blue Mystique, as embodied by the already-striking Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, is a real attention-grabber.
The DVD comes with a number of deleted scenes and two ways to view them. In the Special Features section, before viewing the film altogether, you can select the "Branching Version," which will play ‘X-Men’ from the start, dropping the deleted scenes in where they were originally slated to go, then return to the place where the release version deviates from the version with the different footage. Alternatively, the deleted scenes can be viewed individually within the Special Features menu. The "Mutant Watch" featurette is a nice way of working in a bit of drama – there’s a lot of original material with Senator Kelley hectoring his colleagues shot just for this – with the usual making-of interviews and teaser footage. Hugh Jackman’s screen test is informative (it’s a longer version of a scene in the film). Curiously, although there’s an interview with director Singer in the Special Features (taken from a TV appearance), there’s no audio commentary track.
‘X-Men’ is a lot of fun. On home video, it’s easy to go back and savor nuances that may have gone under the radar on first viewing, and it remains engaging on a number of different levels.