Pipeline2, Issue #74: X-MEN DVD


[X-Men]I love it when two of my loves come together. Thanks to the release of the X-MEN movie DVD this week, I can finally do a full-scale DVD review column. While the disc isn't perfect, it is worth adding to your collection, either if you're a comic fan or a DVD fan.

I got my first DVD player as soon as I got my first real job - July 1998. It was just a drive and a card for my computer, but it got me started. I upgraded to a standalone set later that year for Christmas, got myself a Dolby Digital 5.1 decoder and a basic set of speakers, and have never looked back. DVD is the only way to go. I have purchased a couple of VHS tapes since then, but only because there weren't any DVDs in sight. (Really, do you think PBS will ever go to DVD with their documentary on Netscape, CODE RUSH? I think it's a safe bet that it won't happen.)

Heck, I even wrote a short-lived DVD review column for a short-lived web site earlier this year.

You can't beat the sound or video quality of DVD. You can't beat the extras. You can beat the sheer unmitigated coolness of something else that's purely digital. As a nifty side effect, you'll even find yourself becoming a movie junkie, if not a cinema purist. Those pan and scan movies you see on the networks every weekend? You'll get nauseous at the way the camera keeps moving to track the action so that they don't have to present the show in letterbox format. You'll learn the loathe the concept of fast-forwarding and re-winding, when a couple of clicks on a remote will take you anywhere you want on a disc.

You'll buy a movie you don't otherwise like just to show off the sound or video system. Those explosions and crashes have never looked or sounded better.

That brings us all back to the X-MEN DVD. Yes, it was rushed. The people who made the disc admitted this when they said that they only had 5 weeks to master the DVD for replication. That's an insanely tight schedule. Of the close-to-45 minutes worth of rumored deleted scenes, only 10 minutes made the disc. Even those were presented in the evil format that is seamed branching. That is, when you see the annoying X-MEN logo pop up in the corner of your screen, push a button and it'll throw in the upcoming deleted scene at the appropriate time. It's also Bryan Singer's wishes that it be done this way. He wanted to preserve the integrity of the movie as it stood in the theaters. But I would have loved an option in the main menu for seamless branching so that the scenes came up automatically. You get all the extra material, and none of the ugly bugs.

Another part of the problem with this, of course, is that the film stock is often different with the deleted bits. They aren't always completely finished. The color is slightly washed out and the sound quality suffers a bit. It wouldn't match the look of the rest of the film. (This was a problem with THE ABYSS, where scenes added back into the director's cut were on different film stock and had to be adjusted to blend in seamless with the rest of the movie.)

On the other hand, the extra scenes don't do all that much for the movie. If you're a Jubilee fan (I am), it's neat to see her with a slightly extended part in the movie. If you're a fan of a tightly plotted movie, these scenes probably don't help. There's a scene with Ororo teaching the students that got heavily trimmed. I have to think this was to keep Halle Barry from sounding silly with that accent she was trying to affect. I just couldn't buy into it.

In the end, though, the one thing that counts is the movie itself. All of the rest of this stuff is gravy. (Ooh, I think I just inserted a Thanksgiving pun in this column!) The movie here looks and sounds terrific. It's presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen format, with nice big heavy thick black bars on the top and bottom of your television screen, unless you have a widescreen tv, naturally. The video is anamorphically enhanced. (Basically, that means the picture is stored in a stretched-out form to allow for greater detail and image density on widescreen televisions. We'll all be using those in a few short years. The DVD players then squishes it back down and adds in the black bars to your regular 1.33:1 ratio television. This is also the reason the X-MEN bug shows up on the movie frame, itself, and not in the black part underneath.) The sound is very much directional. Things go flying across the room and from front to back pretty clearly.

In other words, yes, the movie looks and sounds great. I really liked the movie, too. I reviewed it quickly back in the summer when it came out. There are some great Claremontian moments in the story. The characterizations are faithful to the comics without being slavish. And I really do like the costumes. A lot. They look great on the screen, something I can't see yellow spandex doing.

Yes, the movie has its occasional rough spot. James Marsden's Scott Summers doesn't really become likeable at all until the final action piece of the movie, when his dialogue with Wolverine goes from whiny pansy mutant boy stuff to a give-and-take kind of thing. That's when Cyclops appears to almost be enjoying himself and the little antagonism between he and Wolverine. Yes, the two characters are diametrically opposed in their philosophies, but Cyclops seems more of a whiner for the first three quarters of the movie. Halle Berry as Storm didn't bother me as much as much as it did some others. Hugh Jackman let slip a couple of Australian tinges to his lines in a spot or two, and Anna Paquin's Southern accent seemed forced once or twice. (Not too many actresses can do a southern accent that sounds convincing. Remember the one on ABC's WASTELAND last season?) But these are nitpicks on the larger canvas of a great comic book-based movie.

The movie is good; this is a DVD review.

The DVD opens up with a commercial for FOX DVD. Yes, it's pretty self-serving, but the sound and video on it are pretty good. =) You can skip past this easily enough by hitting the Menu button on your remote.

That brings you to the main menu, which takes its sweet time unfolding. It starts off with a slow pan around the Cerebro room, finally circling around to take you behind the console, where the Main Menu pops up. (You can circumvent this by clicking the Menu button on your remote control before it's done.) The menu is designed in much the same way as the web site has been, and offers you four choices. You can play the movie, go to the scene selection, look at the special features, or go to language selection. (The movie is available in standard English 5.1 Surround, English Dolby Surround, and French surround. You can also get captions in English or Spanish, if you so wish. I think there's a legal reason for this, but it doesn't seem to make much sense, does it? You can listen to it in English or French, or read it in English or Spanish. Odd.)

"Special Features" leads to eight additional choices, given to you while the background image plays Wolverine speeding through some upstate New York roads with loud motorcycle noises. This gets annoying really quickly. I'm a big fan of simple flat backgrounds. Give me a nice image in the background, and please don't feel the need to complicate everything. THE ABYSS is available in an unbelievably great two disc setup, but the menu system is laborious, too complicated, and often confusing. It integrates well with the movie sets, but it gets needlessly complicated.

The "Art Gallery" option provides you with looks of costume and location designs. You can also get a look at early designs for The Blob and The Beast here by choosing the faint image of Wolverine's dog tags on the menu.

The THX option just lets you calibrate your home theater with various tests.

The "Animatics" section is pretty neat. For those who don't know, animatics are basically computer-generated scenes. It's used to determine blocking and camera work and flow. Computer-animated figures are used as stand-ins on computer generated sets. The action is laid out pretty roughly, but it gives the director a good idea of what to expect with the camera angles he wants and with the script he's using.

On the DVD, you get two animatics, from the two big fight scenes of the movie - the train station scene and the Statue of Liberty. It's pretty neat. There's a small CD that comes with the package, also, which contains even more, albeit shorter, animatics that might be of interest to you. (The CD is smaller than a regular sized disc. So it works on my laptop CD player, where you have to insert the center of the CD onto the center of the disc player, but doesn't work at all on my desktop computer, which will only accept standard sized discs.)

"Bryan Singer Interview" lands you a menu with five highlights from an interview director Bryan Singer did on the Charlie Rose Show around the time the movie came out. It's not a terribly fulfilling or interesting section, but I suppose it's interesting to see the director himself. (I'd love a director's commentary, but Singer said he's saving that for the eventual second version of this disc. He wanted to save every bit possible for the movie on this disc.) My problem with it is something that I have a problem with most DVDs, in general, about. There are five separate menu items for the five separate interview clips. Why can't they just run them all together into one long piece, with little title cards between each clip? I don't want to have to keep returning to a menu to select a new clip and then have to wait a couple of seconds before it starts. That part annoys me. Other discs have done it much worse, though. The U.S. MARSHALLS disc, for example, had something like ten or twelve pieces of behind the scenes video business. The menu screen for it was hideous, with pictures from each clip spread willy-nilly across the screen. You had to keep going back and forth from the menu to the clip. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL has a series of brief segments talking about real life locations the movie was set in. The same thing happened there. You had to keep going back and forth between menu and clips. Just give me one long piece, with chapter stops if possible. That's what was done with the documentary on the MAGNOLIA disc. I'm glad that one wasn't cut up to be six separate bits.

"Hugh Jackman's Screen Test" is short, but illustrates a couple of interesting things. For starters, you can see where some lines of dialogue were changed around before the movie was shot. The screen test uses the scene with Anna Paquin where Wolverine and Rogue are getting to know each other in the cab of his truck. Some dialogue is moved around between here and the finished movie. Also, you get to see what Jackman looks like without all that extra facial hair. He does do an amazing American accent. I guess they're easy to do, because there are a lot of Australian actors in movies today doing them, such as Russell Crowe and one or two people from THE MATRIX. Now if only those Canadian actors could learn to do a better job. :: duck grin run ::

There's also "FOX Special: 'The Mutant Watch'", which you might remember as the half hour special that was on the FOX Network prior to this movie's release. It's just some hokey setups for interviews with the actors (and even Stan Lee) and clips from the movie.

"Theatrical Trailers & TV Spots" gives you a pair of movie trailers, three television spots, and the commercial for the soundtrack. The not-so-well hidden rose in the upper left corner of the menu lets you see the much talked about Spider-Man appearance on the set.

"Extended Branching Version" gives you the option of seeing the bugs in the corner of the picture every time a cut scene comes up, or of seeing the cut scenes separately. I talked about this above already.

For more information on the X-MEN disc, including some bits of news from Bryan Singer, skip on over to The Digital Bits, an excellent DVD web site that attended the recent X-MEN press event. Singer comments on the second DVD, and the approach directors today have to DVD from the outset of any movie project. It's interesting stuff. There's also some other FOX DVD news. (Yes, SIMPSONS and BUFFY are both coming next year, in season boxed sets!)


I get back to comics reviews at Pipeline Commentary and Review on Tuesday, as well as some of the prerequisite bits of industry commentary. There's plenty of interesting stuff going on over at Marvel, from the release of the original script to BIG TOWN to the news of X-cancellations. Hope to see you then!

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