X-Men appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This new DVD replicated the picture quality seen on the original disc, which was a good thing since that one looked absolutely terrific.
Sharpness appeared crisp and well defined. At no time did I discern any examples of soft or hazy images; the movie always seemed very accurate and clear. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no noticeable concerns, but I noticed some light edge enhancement at times. I saw no signs of print defects; the film appeared free of grain, scratches, speckles, grit, hair or other flaws.
Colors appeared nicely clean and bright throughout the movie. They presented solid depth and were appropriately bold and rich. Since so much of X-Men takes place at night or in low-light situations, elements related to black levels became exceedingly important, and the DVD transmitted them in a deep and dark manner. Contrast appeared strong, and shadow detail was quite clear and appropriately opaque without any excessive heaviness; scenes like those in the truck between Wolverine and Rogue really looked great in that regard. Overall, X-Men provided a very distinctive picture that was always a pleasure to watch. Really, except for some halos caused by edge enhancement, the image appeared spectacular.
Also quite solid were the film’s soundtracks. The old DVD just offered a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, whereas this set added DTS 5.1 audio. For the most part, I thought the two seemed identical. The DTS version sounded substantially louder, and it demonstrated mildly superior bass response, but otherwise the two matched closely.
That was fine with me, as the soundtracks both offered terrific experiences. The soundfields appeared very broad and engaging throughout the movie. All five speakers got a strong workout as they displayed a lot of discrete audio. This made for a convincing environment as we heard plenty of atmosphere and objects swirl actively and appropriately about us. Some sample highlights included: Wolverine’s initial meeting with Professor X, in which the latter’s voice pops up all around us; the scenes in the “Cerebro” device, which create a somewhat similar “inside your head” effect; and the battle between Storm and Toad at the end of the film. Actually, any of the fight scenes were quite powerful, but this one seemed most exciting in the auditory realm.
Sound quality also appeared very good. Dialogue was crisp and distinct. Speech showed no signs of edginess or any problems related to intelligibility. I’m not sure if it counts as voice or effect, but I loved the richness of Sabretooth’s roar; it really seemed aggressive and bold. Effects were always clear and dynamic, plus they displayed virtually no signs of distortion even when the volume level jumped fairly high; throughout explosions, crashes, and various engines, the track stayed clean. Music sounded appropriately bright and accurate and portrayed the score appropriately. The mixes featured some pretty solid bass at times as the entire affair seemed nicely deep. All in all, the soundtracks worked well for the material and didn’t disappoint me.
Entitled X-Men 1.5, this new two-DVD set expands upon the roster of supplements found on the original 2000 release. It adds some materials and eliminates others. I’ll discuss the alterations when I finish my coverage of this package’s extras.
We begin with a new audio commentary with director Bryan Singer and his friend Brian Peck. The pair meld nicely and we get a very solid track. Singer covers a wide variety of topics as he chats about the movie. The director discusses the cast, the story and alterations made from the original script, effects and technical concerns, budgetary and scheduling problems, anecdotes from the set, and a number of other details. Singer also gives us some notes about what to expect from X-Men 2.
Peck performs the job of moderator well; he gets Singer in a chatty mood and helps prompt lots of different topics. He even tries to convince Singer to go into subjects he won’t discuss; Peck mentions an inappropriate actor who wanted to play Professor X, but Singer won’t reveal the man’s identity. Despite that tease, the commentary provides a nicely informative and enlightening piece.
On disc one, you can watch the movie either in its original theatrical configuration or as the Extended Branching Version. This provides two forms of material. Six times during the film, it automatically branches off for extended/deleted scenes. All of these relate to either the relationship between Rogue and the boy she meets in class or to the triangle between Jean, Cyclops and Wolverine. Most offer extensions of existing segments, which means that we often see these longer pieces and then watch the same material again when the full film resumes. None of them seem crucial, but I all of them appear fairly interesting in the ways the round out the characters.
The scenes last between 21 seconds and three minutes, 13 seconds, for a total of 10 minutes and 39 seconds of footage. Four of the added bits appear between the 27:15 and 38:19 marks of the movie; these were the longest segments of the bunch as well. The two shortest sequences can be found at 49:45 and 1:09:17. All of the clips are letterboxed in the correct 2.35:1 proportions and they generally look fairly good, though they aren’t up to the high standards of the full movie; the added sequences seemed darker and browner. They also don’t offer anamorphic enhancement, which made them look odd on my Sony WEGA. Since I use the “anamorphic squeeze”, this squished the scenes substantially. They feature Dolby Surround 2.0 sound, though in fact they appeared monaural to my ears; the tracks were restricted to audio from the set and displayed no music or added effects.
In a negative move, you can only access these scenes through the branching feature. The original disc also provided them from the supplements menu, but stupidly, the new disc doesn’t offer that option. If you want to see them, you must watch them as part of the movie, and that stinks. They break the pacing of the picture too strongly, and the squashed image on my WEGA made them even more distracting.
While all of these clips appeared on the old DVD, the new one adds commentary from Singer and Peck. These remarks come in the same spirit as those during the main track, and the pair continue to provide some fun information. Unfortunately, Singer doesn’t always tell us why the segments didn’t appear in the final cut, but his statements still seem interesting.
In addition to the deleted/extended scenes, the “Extended Branching Version” provides an interactive option. 19 times during the film, an X-Men insignia appears in the lower right corner of the screen. Hit “enter” on those occasions and you’ll see some raw behind the scenes footage. These clips last between 83 seconds and seven minutes, 11 seconds for a total of 51 minutes and 49 seconds of footage.
Wow – that’s a lot of material! And most of it seems pretty good as well. Basically we see simple shots from the set that correspond to the point of the film at which they appear. For example, the first clip – which shows up a couple of minutes into the movie – offers a look at some elements of the concentration camp sequence. Some of the more interesting snippets show different insults cast by Wolverine at Professor X, interactions between Bruce Davison and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos while they wait to shoot a scene, fight choreography, and behind the scenes of the Statue of Liberty battle. Overall, these pieces seem very fun and they add a lot to the package.
Unfortunately, as with the alternate scenes, you can only access the behind the scenes footage as you watch the movie. This creates a distraction that harms the flow of the movie. To avoid this, I simply noted the time marker for each of the clips and then checked them out after I finished the film. This is a bit of a hassle, but I prefer it to cutting up the flick so badly.
Also on DVD One was the THX Optimizer program. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.
When we jump to DVD Two, we immediately find an introduction from director Bryan Singer. He welcomes us to the extras, and we also see a shot from the first night of X-Men principal photography. The clip lasts 71 seconds. (By the way, it seems odd that Singer indicates his aversion toward multiple DVD releases of his flicks, since two of his three films have been issued more than once in the format.)
Once we move past the intro, we find two separate sections that contain all of DVD Two’s materials. The “X-Men 2” domain simply consists of a teaser for Daredevil - presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio – and an X-Men 2 Sneak Preview. The latter lasts seven minutes, 50 seconds and starts with a quick tour of a set led by Singer. We then get a fairly promotional montage of short movie bits, behind the scenes shots, and soundbites from Singer plus actors Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, and Alan Cumming. The X2 trailer finishes the piece. The whole package seems glossy and superficial, but it does make me look forward to the sequel.
The meat of DVD Two’s supplements show up in the area called “Evolution X”. This presents a series of new featurettes that can be viewed individually or connected via a “Play All” option. When you activate the latter, you start with The Uncanny Suspects, a 24-minute and 13-second program that mixes short movie clips, behind the scenes material, and interviews with director Bryan Singer, producers Lauren Schuler-Donner and Ralph Winter, X-Men creator Stan Lee, executive producer Tom DeSanto, and actors Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Ray Park, Famke Janssen, Tyler Mane, Anna Paquin, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.
Though not a great program, “Uncanny” gives us a decent look at the cast and the project. We learn of how the filmmakers chose which characters to use – plenty of comic book X-Men don’t appear in this flick – and also hear about casting and the actors’ approaches to their roles. At times the piece seems somewhat thin and puffy, but it offers enough insight to make it worth a look.
“Uncanny” also offers some material available via branching. Look for the same “X” that showed up during the main movie; hit enter and you’ll be able to watch a couple of different segments. We find a 10-minute and 57-second clip from Jackman’s first reading with Singer, and we also get a 118-second look at a rehearsal between Jackman and Paquin.
Those components also appear in the menu for “Uncanny”, as does a Character Gallery. It includes 69 pieces of character art used to design their looks. It’s a cool glimpse at alternate possibilities.
Called X-Factor: The Look of X-Men, the next documentary deals with visual elements of the production. It lasts 22 minutes and 45 seconds and uses the same format as “Uncanny”. For the interviews, we hear from special make-up designer Gordon Smith, actors Hugh Jackman, Tyler Mane, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, and James Marsden, executive producer Tom DeSanto, and producer Ralph Winter. More interesting than “Uncanny”, “X-Factor” provides a very entertaining glimpse at some parts of the production.
As implied by the title, “X-Factor” relates a lot of elements connected to the visual design of the characters. In some ways, it seems like this should be simple, as the roles already exist in comic books. “X-Factor” discusses variations made to costumes and looks, and we also get a lot of good information about the make-ups used to bring Storm, Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Mystique to life. (Unfortunately, we don’t get to watch a full make-up session with Romijn-Stamos, though.) The program gives us lots of insight into these methods and demonstrates the thought that went into character adaptation, and we learn of problems as well, such as the actors restricted movement in the leather suits. It’s quite entertaining and useful.
More branching material appears here. We get an 86-second early costume test for Storm as well as a 77-second early costume test for Cyclops. In addition, we find a three-minute and 26-second piece that details the methods used for Toad.
These clips also appear in the menu for “X-Factor” along with an Image Gallery. That domain splits into four smaller areas: “Hardware” (42 pictures), “Locations” (12 stills), “Magneto” (33 images), and “Xavier’s School” (26 shots). Although a couple of photos appear, mostly these collections offer interesting looks at concept art.
The most substantial component of DVD Two, the X-Men Production Scrapbook runs a whopping 63 minutes and 22 seconds. It alters the formula used for the first two programs, as it consists mostly of raw video footage recorded during the production. It offers some impromptu interviews from the set, and we also get a few formal soundbites from actors Ian McKellen. Bruce Davison, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and James Marsden. However, like the documentary called “The Beginning” from The Phantom Menace, the “Scrapbook” mostly provides “fly on the wall” glimpses of the production.
The ”Scrapbook” can’t match “The Beginning”, which offered one of the all-time great DVD documentaries. Still, it gives us a compelling look at the film. It starts early and goes through most of the production. We see Singer analyze different weapons, examine locations and sets, and work with the actors. We find lots of candid shots of the cast and crew as they do their jobs, and a few moderately testy moments appear as well. Most significantly, we see the anxiety and anger displayed by Singer and the crew when they learned the film’s release date got moved up by almost half a year. The “Production Scrapbook” provides a nice glimpse of the filmmaking process.
As always, we find more branching material during this piece. We see rehearsal footage of the fight between Wolverine and Sabretooth, and we also get shots of the elaborate “train-splitting” sequence. Both seem interesting but brief, as they run 65 seconds and 60 seconds respectively.
Two multi-angle programs let you check out additional views of the above-linked footage. The 60-second “Train-Splitting” piece lets you see four angles of that scene, while “Fight Rehearsal” lasts 65 seconds and includes two cameras. Both also display composite screens that show all available angles.
A bizarre extra, The Prime Minister of Canada runs about 19 seconds and shows that dignitary on the way to visit the set – I guess. We see him and his entourage walk through a hallway and that’s it.
After this we find another featurette called The Special Effects of X-Men. This last 17 minutes and 20 seconds and involves the usual mix of materials. We get comments from director Singer, visual effects supervisor Michael Fink, actor James Marsden, visual effects supervisor Theresa Ellis, and executive producer Tom DeSanto. The program offers good behind the scenes shots from the Statue of Liberty sequence, and we also get some general visual effects comments as well as specifics about topics like morphing of Mystique, Cyclops’ eyebeams, and Wolverine’s blades. The piece includes some good insight into the material and seems worthwhile.
As usual, we get some branching segments here. The longest is titled “Senator Kelly Effects Breakdown”; it runs four minutes, 59 seconds and depicts the various CG elements that created the sequences. The other four show animatics for different scenes: “Liberty Head”, “Toad Vs. Jean Grey”, “Wolverine Vs. Mystique”, and “Wolverine Vs. Sabretooth”. Also available from the main “Special Features” menu, these give us three angle options which allow us to examine the animatics on their own, the final film shots, or a composite of the two.
Next we get a section called “Marketing the X-Men”. This includes three trailers, nine TV spots, and 12 Internet interstitials. Taken together via the “View All” option, the latter run a total of 11 minutes and three seconds. Singer, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, executive producers Tom DeSanto and Stan Lee, actors Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, Tyler Mane, Ray Park and Anna Paquin. Referred to as “behind the scenes previews”, they toss out some exceptionally brief tidbits about the characters and the movie, but they really just advertise the flick. None of them seem very useful, but I appreciate their inclusion from a completist frame of mind.
The DVD’s final featurette, Reflections of X-Men lasts eight minutes, 35 seconds and it takes on a general summary of the first flick. We get notes from producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, actors Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, and Shawn Ashmore, and executive producer Tom DeSanto. They offer short valedictory comments about their experiences on the original film and their reactions to its reception. The program offers a decent conclusion but lacks much hard information.
This section also tosses in the requisite branching material. We get two segments that deal with early screenings of X-Men. The “Ellis Island Premiere” footage runs four minutes, 23 seconds, and mostly shows various X-Men stars as they arrive. We find some quick sound bites from Singer, Stan Lee, Stewart, McKellen, Berry, Mane, Davison, Romijn-Stamos, Paquin, Jackman, Janssen, and Marsden. “Premieres Around the World” lasts 18 minutes, 59 seconds, and it consists of candid video footage from a number of screenings. Some of this seems dull – how many times can we watch cast introductions? – but it includes enough fun impromptu clips to merit a look.
Most of the material from the original DVD appears on X-Men 1.5, but at least two omissions occur. The new set loses a glossy promotional documentary called “The Mutant Watch”, and it also drops about seven minutes of footage with Bryan Singer from The Charlie Rose Show. I have no idea why the DVD’s producers cut these pieces. Neither did much for me, but I still think they should have shown up on the new release.
The old disc also provided a couple of Easter eggs. I couldn’t find any here, though admittedly I didn’t try that hard. The eggs offered some cute bits, so if they fail to appear here, it’ll seem disappointing.
Otherwise, however, X-Men 1.5 totally blows away the prior DVD release. The movie itself remains a lot of fun, as it launches the franchise on a lively and entertaining note. It doesn’t quite live up to the heights of something like Spider-Man, but it succeeds for the most part. The DVD duplicates the fine picture and sound quality of the original disc, and it adds a slew of very interesting and useful supplements.
Because the extras mark the only real improvements found in X-Men 1.5, I have to aim my recommendation toward folks who love that stuff. If you don’t own the old DVD and want a copy of X-Men, definitely pick up this version instead of the 2000 release. If you have the prior one and love supplements, definitely grab 1.5. However, if you just care about the movie, stick with the first edition, as this one won’t give you enough bang to warrant your bucks.