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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The X-Men Trilogy


Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
RRP: £39.99
Certificate: 12
Available 20 April 2009

Exploding onto players everywhere is the X-Men Trilogy Blu-ray collection. This franchise, along with Blade (1998), finally saw the start of Marvel's pantheon of superheroes getting the treatment that they richly deserved. The box set contains six discs, two for each of the films X-Men (2000), X2 (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)...

Until Superman (1978) and the dark expressionistic world of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) comic book adaptation’s were generally kitschy affairs and Marvel had had its fingers burnt on a number of occasions with some generally poor work which did little to promote comics as a serious art form.

Okay, the Spider-man animated show had a catchy tune but a repetitive and uninspiring way of telling stories. The genre limped along with some good, but mostly bad films being produced until X-Men changed all of that with an intelligent script shot by a reputable director. Comic book adaptation’s had finally come of age.

Based on one of the most successful and long running comics, X-Men was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The original team consisted of Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast and Jean Grey. Two things set the book apart from its contemporaries. The first is that, unlike previous Superheroes, the X-Men had been born as human mutants. Their powerful, and sometimes frightening, abilities were an innate part of who they were and this was generally seen as both a benefit and a curse. This duality, and the fear they engendered in the general population, allowed the comic book to explore themes of both family and racism.

The X-Men are feared just because they are different and the mutant community is split between its reactions to the greater human population. Charles Xavier, a powerful telepath, creates a school which will teach mutants to use their powers for the common good. Magneto the Master of Magnetism, scarred by his personal experiences in the Nazi’s death camps, cannot see a way for the two strains of humans to live in peace, and would rather kill before he and his kind are hunted down and killed.

X-Men (2000 - 1 hr, 44 min, 20 sec) was directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects (1995), Valkyrie  (2008)) from a screenplay by David Hayter. The film won eleven awards, including a Hugo and a Nebula, and was nominated in a further twenty-three categories.

What sets this film apart from many of its predecessors is its concentration on both character and the dialogue between the two opposing camps about how best to deal with the problem of mutant and human coexistence. The film opens with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) arguing against Senator Kelly’s (Bruce Davison) Mutant Registration Act. Overseeing this is Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). Although the bill concerns Charles he tries to take an understanding stance, hoping to persuade the humans that mutants pose no threat to them. Magneto, however, sees resonances of Nazi Germany and fears that the humans will round them up for extermination. The movie moves away to show us Rogue (Anna Paquin), a mutant who can absorb other mutant's powers, on the run just for being different. Fate brings her and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) together and only at this point does the film introduce us to the other characters, including X:Men - Storm (Halle Berry) and Cyclopes (James Marsden), as well as members of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants - Sabertooth (Tyler Mane), Toad (Ray Park) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). Together they will fight for the life and soul of mutant kind and determine what sort of future will unfold.

There is a dastardly plot to foil, but the heart of the film lies with its characters, thus the film spends some time setting up this fictional world before plunging you into the action - and there is a lot of action.

One of the strengths of the film is that the characters are not only played by very talented actors but that their talent allows you to see past what could have been a two dimensional good Vs evil story. The opening scenes in the Jewish death camps, shows Magneto’s parents being killed and McKellen’s charm draws the audience into this multifaceted portrayal of a man who has seen the horrors which humans can produce. He vows that it will never happen again, presenting us with a truly sympathetic villain. For Magneto this is a war of survival of the fittest. Neither is it lost on the audience the tragic irony that, should it be required, he is willing to repeat the horrors which he accuses the humans of planning.

Charles Xavier’s position is also full of contradictions. Although the school is set up to help train mutants to be a benefit to society, Xavier is at the same time training his students to use their powers combatively. Not a very peaceful solution. It is these shades and nuances which produce no easy answer which make X-Men not only a great superhero film, but a great film in its own right.

The first disc has a pin sharp picture, as you would expect from a Blu-ray, however the quality of the picture is only the start of a plethora of goodies which makes the disc a ‘must have’.

Even as a big fan of Blu-ray, I was always a little disappointed that the technology just wasn’t being used to its full potential. But now, with the release of this box set, you really do start to realise just how different it is from DVD. Take the first film. You want to watch it in its original form? No problem. Would you rather watch it with all the deleted stuff seamlessly put back in? Still no problem. How about picture within picture with contributions from the cast and behind the scenes footage? Still no problem - even Stan 'the Man' Lee turns up. You can even go for a combination of the options of Bonus View (40 min), the Photo Gallery or the Enhanced Viewing Mode which adds six deleted / extended sequences and allows you to jump out of the film to watch other relevant material.

This is just the start of a boatload of extras. First up you have a full length commentary, by Brian Singer and Brian Peek, which consist of the usual insightful comments about making the film. There are six deleted and extended scenes (10 min, 35 sec). The Fox Special: The Mutant Watch (21 min, 57 sec) is part fake documentary featuring Senator Kelly discussing his Mutant Registration Bill, with contributions from the cast and crew, which sets the scene for the film.

Brian Singer provides an interview (6 min, 17 sec) talking about what drew him to the film and its exploration of prejudice. There are two silent animatics which cover the Liberty Head sequence (1 min, 04 sec) and the Train Station (52 sec), you get an art gallery with a generous 168 picture and three TV spots (1 min, 36 sec). Next up is a music video (31 sec) which is a television ad for the soundtrack CD and three trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2 min, 17 sec), which looks pretty good, X2: X-Men United (2 min, 26 sec) and X-Men : The Last Stand (1 min, 35 sec).

The movie comes with audio options for English 5.1 DTS-HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital as well as German and Spanish 5.1 DTS tracks, if you have a D-Box you can even turn that on.  The film is provided with English subtitles as well. For those with more patience than I have, there are three Easter Eggs to find, a Blooper Reel, some more stills and the X-Men Mutant Gene.

Disc two is a veritable smorgasbord of extra material, so take a deep breath as we dive in.

You can either watch the extras as one long piece or broken down into its component parts, so let’s looks at it this way.

Disc intro by Brian Singer, which consists of Singer conducting the on-screen band in playing the Twentieth Century Fox signature tune.

The Uncanny Suspects (24 min, 31 sec), with interviews from the cast talking about what they brought to their characters. Oddly enough few, if any, had been fans of the comic, which turned out to be a good thing as they were able to bring their acting talent to the screen, in creating believable characters, unhampered by worries about stepping on fan boys toes. Hugh Jackman’s First Reading (10 min, 57 sec). The first thing you notice is the transformation which Jackman brings to his portrayal of Wolverine. Out of character Jackman seems to be a pleasant man with smiling eyes, whereas in character he exudes pure menace. Hugh Jackman’s Screen Test (1 min, 55 sec) is a nice little tidbit thrown in here. These things always fascinate me. This section ends with Character Stills which consists of 69 stills from the film.

X-Factor: The Look of X-Men (23 min) which has a discussion by the makeup supervisor about how each of the characters were realised. Personally I felt the most sorry for Mystique, who had to be up at one in the morning to start her makeup process. Other than that he runs through the various characters to explain how they created each look, including showing the Cyclopes Costume Test (1 min, 16 sec), Storm’s Costume Test (1 min, 24 Sec) and the Toad Makeup Test (3 min, 25 Sec). This subsection also finishes with an Image Gallery which concentrates on the look of the film.

Still breathing, well we continue with the Production Documentary Scrapbook (1 hr, 3 min, 26 sec). Like many of the extras featured, this can be played as a standalone or you can enable the branching option to take in more material. The documentary gives you a backseat pass to watch the full creative process in action.

The Special Effects of The X-Men (17 min, 28 sec) does what it says on the box, with options for more branching as well as multi-angled shot for you to play around with. All the timings are based on their bare bones options; obviously each piece will be longer if you enable all the various options available. Reflection of The X-Men (8 min, 38 sec) looks at the reception that the film gained, as well as at the worries that the cast and crew felt about the project and their joy at the positive reception.

The disc rounds itself off with a look at some of the marketing created for the film including, nine Marketing the X-Men: TV Spots (4 min, 46 sec), twelve Marketing The X-Men: Internet Interstitials (11 min) - that’s internet ads to you and me. And finally, three Marketing The X-Men: Trailers (5 min, 25 sec).

X2 (2003 - 2 hrs, 13 min, 47 sec) and Bryan Singer is back in the directing chair, this time working from a script by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter. The film won four awards, including a Saturn, and was nominated for a further thirty-two awards. Having foiled Magneto’s nefarious plans in the first film, X2 takes time to introduce us to some more X-Men characters, some of whom were glimpsed in the first film, including Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming); Iceman (Shawn Ashmore); Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and Kitty Pryde (Katie Stuart).

The debate around how best to live with the general population continues, but this time the film concentrates on the mystery of Wolverine's origins. He may have great regenerative powers and an indestructible skeleton, with retractable claws, but like most of our heroes he has darkness at his heart, and whatever process gave him his skeleton also stripped him of his memories.

The film opens with Nightcrawler apparently making an attempt on the president's life, although unsuccessful it does prompt the president to call in General Stryker (Brian Cox) to deal with, what is perceived to be, the mutant menace. But Stryker is no good guy and with the help of Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) sets in motion a plan to rid the planet of mutants once and for all. With a threat to all mutant kind the X-Men find themselves in an uneasy alliance with their old nemesis Magneto.

What could have just been a cash-in sequel turns out to be just as good as its predecessor. With the pressure mounting the film uses more dark gallows humour, presenting its tone right from the first scene, when Nightcrawler attacks the president to a backing track of Mozart’s Requiem Mass, that this story is not going to end well.

Once more we get a full length commentary, this time with Bryan Singer and director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel. As an added bonus there is another commentary featuring Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter. This disc also has forty more minutes of Bonus view material as well as trailers and an Easter egg.  Audio options remain the same as the first disc.

On to the bonus disc for X2 and first up is The Secret Origins of The X-Men (15 min, 33 sec) is a little history lesson from Stan the Man, a great little piece for fans of the comics, informative and insightful. We also have Night Crawler Reborn (7 min, 30 Sec) with Chick Austin, the writer of the Nightcrawler comic book.

Three more extras come under the subheading of 'pre-production'. Night Crawler Attack: Multi-Angle Study, Evolution in the Detail: Designing X2 (18 min) and United Colours of X (8 min, 55 sec), which has more material from the production designer looking at the design choices which were made for the new film. This piece contains both designs and storyboards.

Next we move on to the 'production' subheading which includes Wolverine Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal (1 min, 23 sec); The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making X2 (59 min); Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler (9 min, 49 sec); Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal (2 min, 27 sec); Nightcrawler Time Lapse (3 min, 39 sec) and FX2: Special Effects (24 min, 58 sec). Together they give a comprehensive look at the production of the second movie.

Having dealt with pre-production and production we skirt across to the 'post-production' features, including Requiem for Mutants (11 min, 38 sec) which takes a tour around the films score and the importance of music as part of the movie's experience and the X2 Global Webcast Highlights (17 min, 2 sec), which has interviews with the cast and crew. Oddly enough they have chosen to place the Deleted Scenes (11 min, 58 sec) on the bonus disc; still you get eleven scenes to view, though some are extended rather than deleted pieces. The disc is wrapped up with an extensive series of stills galleries which cover Characters; Locations and Sets; Mutant X-Rays (Wolverine's); Nightcrawler Circus Posters; On-Camera Graphics and The Unseen X2, which interestingly covers, as well as set designs, both concept art for Angel and the Sentinels, which makes you wish that Singer had made the third film. There are literally hundreds of images here on offer. The disc is wrapped up with three trailers for the film.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006 - 1 hr, 44 min, 05 sec) was directed by Brett Ratner (Red Dragon (2002)) and following on from the commercial and critical success of its predecessors.

This is very much a case of "Oh my god, what were you thinking?" I don’t think that it is a massive spoiler to say that Jean Gray apparently dies at the end of X2, but Singer left in a sequence that hinted at the birth of Jean as The Dark Phoenix and this had fan boys, like me, salivating for the third instalment. The Dark Phoenix Saga was a pivotal moment in the comics evolution and one of the highest rated by fans, so to take this on would require skill and finesse, if the director were not to be strung up by his short and curlies. Unfortunately, rather than the epic fight for the soul of Jean Grey, Ratner produced an uneven and fragmented film. That said, the film won four awards, including a Saturn and was nominated for a further twenty-nine.

Having survived prejudice and outright extermination this time mutant kind has to face the threat of a cure for their condition. As outsiders this causes some to accept the cure and others to rebel against it. Magneto, as per usual, just sees this as another form of extermination and goes on the offensive. This time it's war. The film expands a little on the back-story and introduces a further three X-Men: Angel (Ben Foster), Beast (Kelsey Grammer) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore). Magneto extends his Brotherhood with the inclusion of Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones). Other characters from the comic book come in the form of Leach (Cameron Bright) and Calisto (Dania Ramirez). Whilst it is great to see even more characters, it does make the film a little unwieldy. That, and the two story lines, meant that it was never going to be as coherent as it should have been.

Like the previous two films, The Last Stand has forty minutes of bonus view material as well as two full length commentaries - the first from director and writer Brett Ratner, Simon Kinberg and Zack Penn, the second from producers Avi Arad, Lauren Schuler Donner and Ralph Winter. In truth they seem to have tried to please the fans of the comics. The film opens with a sequence in the danger room as the X-men face off against the Sentinels, but the inclusion of Dark Phoenix was their biggest mistake. The film should have been about Trask (Bill Duke) and his attempts to ‘cure’ mutants or The Dark Phoenix Saga.

You get the option to watch the film with a photo gallery imbedded. There are a number of deleted scenes (19 min 34 sec) with optional commentary; the most interesting is an almost silent fight between Xavier and Jean Grey which is more unsettling than the final cut. In fact the inclusion of most of the dropped scenes would have made for a better film. There are three more Easter eggs for you to find including Beast Recites Shakespeare, X-Jet Lands in D.C. and the old X-Men Mutant Gene.  The extras are rounded off with Marvel Universe Trailers.

The last disc of the set and we are set to plough though another excellent collection of extras, including Brett Ratner’s Production Diary (41 min, 21 sec) with loads of behind the scenes footage. X-Men Evolution of a Trilogy (44 min, 58 sec) with contributions from cast and crew which looks at how the trilogy has evolved from its comic book origins, with more intellectual discussions on the nature of prejudice. There is more behind the scenes footage and interviews in X3: The Excitement Continues (21 min, 16 sec). Next up is X-Men Up Close an interactive gallery with stills and video (20 min), where you can check out facts about your favourite X-man. Anatomy of a Scene: Golden Gate Bridge (12 min, 03 sec) deconstructed the sequence to show you how the whole thing was put together, including where the idea came from.

We continue on our journey through the X-Men with Generation X: Comic Book History (1 hr, 8 min, 32 sec) and as a massive comic book fan I’m in pig heaven with this intelligent look at the comic’s history, with contributions from the comic’s creators.

Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life after Film School (24 min) is a piece with some film students talking to Ralph Winter the producer of the X-Men films, it could have been subtitled 'Naïveté meets the real world'. Another in the same vein is Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session (10 min, 05 sec) and Stan the Man pops up again with a discussion on the importance of getting the casting right.

The last disc of extras wraps up with seventeen Previz Animatics, another Easter Egg: Colossus Throws Logan Into The Camera, which I still couldn’t find, seven Vignettes (all around 4 min), well worth a watch as it gives you some insights into stuff you may have missed in the films. There are four Blogs (14 min, 17 sec), trailers, Galleries: Character Stills and Concept Art: Storyboards and Models.

The box set of the X-Men films just blew me away with its technical excellence and its attention to detail. I don’t think that I’ve seen a film so lovingly presented since the release of the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy. This set contains over eleven hours of extras and additional material and even with the variable quality of the last film this has got to take pride of place in any Blu-ray collection as it show the type of immersive experience that this technology is capable of.


Charles Packer

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