xXx appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, xXx looked good, but some concerns made it a less than immaculate presentation.
Surprisingly, sharpness caused some of the main issues. Most of the movie appeared nicely distinct and concise, but noticeable softness appeared at times. Mainly this problem cropped up in wide shots, but even a few closer images occasionally seemed a bit fuzzy. The film never became badly ill-defined, but I thought it lacked the crispness I expected. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did discern some moderate edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, the movie remained clean and fresh from start to finish, as I noticed no signs of any external defects. However, some light artifacting mildly marred the image at times.
Due to the stylized photography, hues seemed somewhat erratic, but the DVD usually appeared to appropriately replicate the tones. At times I felt the colors looked a little pale even when I considered the forms of photography. Nonetheless, the hues generally came across as reasonably lively and vivid. Black levels appeared nicely deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not too opaque. In the end, xXx usually provided a positive presentation, but given the vintage and budget of the flick, it seemed somewhat lackluster.
However, I experienced very few problems when I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of xXx. I expected the mix to offer a non-stop auditory barrage on the senses, and I got exactly that. The soundfield provided material from all five channels much of the time, and it did so in a fairly aggressive manner. Much more active than normal, the score and thrashing music poured from all sides along with many different effects elements. While this could induces headaches at times, it made sense when paired with the movie’s visuals, so I won’t fault the sound designers. The effects blended together quite well, especially when various vehicles zoomed around the spectrum. Other pieces moved cleanly across the speakers, and the five channels integrated well to create a clean and concise sense of setting.
Audio quality also seemed solid. Dialogue was natural and crisp, as the lines lacked any issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music came across as bright and vivid, with nice bass fidelity throughout the film. Effects presented concise and accurate imagery, as they sounded detailed and distinct. Bass response could have been a little firmer and more visceral, but the low-end content usually seemed quite deep and powerful. Ultimately, xXx didn’t provide one of the all-time great soundtracks, but it worked quite well nonetheless.
One annoyance about the DVD: xXx loses the burned-in subtitles seen during the movie’s theatrical release. This means that when we see the translation of foreign languages or look at text that establishes geographical locations, we get these artificial additions. Some DVDs integrate the player-generated subtitles well, but those of xXx stand out and seem distracting.
When I compared the picture and sound quality of this package to those of the original DVD, they seemed virtually identical. However, Columbia also released a Superbit edition of xXx, and it offered decidedly stronger visuals. Sharpness and color both seemed distinctly superior on the Superbit version. Via that disc’s DTS track, audio also was slightly better, though I didn’t see as big an improvement in that department. In any case, the Superbit xXx remains the one to see if you want the best picture and audio.
For this “Unrated Uncensored Director’s Cut” of xXx, we get extras that mix old and new materials. I’ll indicate elements carried over from the original release with an asterisk, so if you don’t see that mark, it’s a new component.
On DVD One, we begin with an *audio commentary from director Rob Cohen. He provides a fairly lively and entertaining running and screen-specific piece. The veteran of commentaries for early films such as The Fast and the Furious and Dragonheart, Cohen clearly feels comfortable with the format, and he offers an engaging chat. He covers quite a few issues. Many of them deal with the movie’s myriad technical concerns, so we learn a lot about the stunts and effects.
However, the piece never becomes dry or tedious, and Cohen peppers it with other notes from the set as well as remarks about some directorial decisions. For example, he relates why he so frequently showed those close-ups on the “XXX” tattoo. I still hate those shots, but at least I understand his motives.
While most of Cohen’s chat seems interesting, I do need to note that he fades a bit after the midpoint. He starts to spend too much time simply reiterating the story, and he also degenerates into too much praise for the film and the other participants. Cohen’s tone appropriately becomes more subdued toward the end as well, when he notes the demise of a stunt man on the set. After that point, Cohen displays less fervor and zeal, but that makes sense given the tragic events in question. In any case, Cohen always seems to provide good commentaries, and this one doesn’t offer a notable exception to that rule.
Footnote: as I alluded, this is the same commentary included on the original DVD. That means Cohen presents no information connected to the upcoming sequel. In fact, Cohen’s speculation about the sequel is wrong, as he obviously assumes it’d include Diesel and would be called “xXx Squared”. Of course, since Cohen isn’t involved in the sequel, this makes sense. The commentary handles the scenes added to this extended cut with silence; no material pops up during those sequences.
The 14-and-a-half minute Starz! On the Set - The Making of xXx presents a standard promotional show. It includes shots from the set, movie clips, and soundbites from Cohen, producer Neal H. Moritz, military advisor Dave Kennedy, executive producer Arne Schmidt, and actors Vin Diesel, Michael Roof, Samuel L. Jackson, Asia Argento, and Martin Csokas. They tell us about the story, the characters, the cast and their training, weapons and gadgets, and some stunt sequences.
As usual for this sort of program, insight remains minimal. Instead, it mostly just hypes the flick, which makes it mostly expendable. Outside of a couple good notes like Jackson’s choice to make his character scarred, you’ll learn little from all the happy talk in “Starz”.
Next comes a collection of Multi-Angle Stunts. We can watch two sequences: “Exploding Barn Jump” (82 seconds) and “The Bridge Jump” (74 seconds). Each segment allows us to check out the action via a whopping nine angles. That’s a lot of coverage, and the plethora of options makes this a short but fun extra.
Since this DVD exists mainly to tout the sequel, the next two components work to interest us in the flick. Sneak Peek: xXx: State of the Union goes for two minutes, 59 seconds, while a Scene from xXx: State of the Union fills 88 seconds. “Peek” shows some movie clips, soundbites, and bits from the set. We hear from actors Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe, Ice Cube, Scott Speedman, Xzibit, and Sunny Mabrey. “Peek” just tells us a little about the story and characters, while “Scene” shows us how Jackson’s character recruits Cube’s to become a special agent. Both are here just to promote the sequel, so don’t expect anything more than that.
DVD One finishes with some Previews. This area includes trailers for xXx: State of the Union, DEBS and Full Throttle.
Over on DVD Two, we start with what will undoubtedly be this set’s most controversial element: The Final Chapter - The Death of Xander. This uses Khristian Lupo to play Xander and Leila Arcieri as “Jordan King”. The four-minute and 11-second short indeed depicts the character’s demise; the piece is graphic enough to leave little room for him to return.
I assume this short exists to explain the absence of Diesel from the sequel, but it nonetheless seems really cheap and mean-spirited. Surely they could have found another rationale, as this one craps on everyone who liked xXx and the Xander character. It doesn’t help that it’s a cheesy piece in which we never see Xander’s face or hear him speak outside of a looped soundbite from the original. This is an extremely weak supplement that will do nothing other that irritate and anger fans.
After this we move to a slew of video extras. The most extensive, *xXx: A Filmmaker’s Diary spans two parts: “US/Pre-Production” and “Prague/Post-Production”. Taken together, the pair run a total of 40 minutes, 48 seconds, and they partially consist of movie clips and interviews. In the latter category, we find credited contributions from director Rob Cohen, actors Vin Diesel, Asia Argento and Michael Roof, producer Neal H. Moritz, writer Rich Wilkes, professional skateboarder Tony Hawk, executive producer Arne Schmidt, songwriter/music producer Glen Ballard, singer Gavin Rossdale, and production designer Gavin Bocquet. Others speak from the set as well, but we don’t learn their names.
The majority of the program provides shots from the set along with a little narration from the director. At the start, Cohen tells us that he enlisted Todd Grossman to videotape all 82 days of the production, and “Diary” features highlights of the process. However, don’t expect a real documentary. We get a smidgen of information about topics like casting, the script, music and production design, but we mostly see images of the stunts and effects. Almost all of the “US/Pre-Production” half deals with stunts, and much of “Prague/Post-Production” follows suit. The documentation of the production offers some interesting material, but the program remains pretty superficial, and the incessant music occasionally becomes annoying. While “Diary” features some good material, it seems like a moderate disappointment as a documentary.
Next we get a collection of four “Featurettes”. *Building Speed: The Vehicles of xXx runs six minutes, 54 seconds and involves the usual mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from production designer Gavin Bocquet, art director Bradford Ricker, actor Michael Roof, and concept artist Harold Belker. The program illustrates a number of elements rated to the movie’s cars, with a particular emphasis on the GTO. The featurette lacks much depth, but it zips through design and construction issues pretty well and seems reasonably informative.
In a similar vein, *Designing the World of xXx takes 14 minutes and 34 seconds as it assesses production design. We get remarks from Gavin Bocquet, Bradford Ricker, actor Vin Diesel, supervising art director Jonathan Lee, and director Rob Cohen. They discuss sets, locations, general design issues, and props/weapons/gadgets in this brisk but useful documentary. We get some nice images of the plans behind some of these and receive a good look at the considerations that went into the film.
A less useful program, *Diesel Powered talks about its star. The six-minute and 50-second featurette includes statements from director Cohen, actors Asia Argento, Samuel L. Jackson, and Vin Diesel, producer Neal H. Moritz, weapons trainer Dave Kennedy, writer Rich Wilkes, and stunt coordinator Lance Gilbert. Though some of the behind the scenes shots seem intriguing and we learn a little about the actor’s training, mostly this piece just tells us how great Diesel is. Puffy and unsatisfying, “Powered” includes little useful material.
For the final featurette, we get Agent Shavers’ Gadget Presentation. This three-minute and 49-second clip presents Roof as he leads us through a comedic look at the movie’s devices. Roof’s attempts at humor don’t work, but we do get a mildly interesting close-up glimpse of the different elements.
This finishes the “Featurettes” area and we go to *Visual Effects How-To’s. This includes three different short clips that show effects deconstructions; we watch the various stages of those sequences. The bits last between 36 seconds and 77 seconds for a total of three minutes, two seconds of footage. We’ve seen these kinds of pieces in the past, but this section seems fairly interesting and well done. One can watch the clips with or without commentary from visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek, who offers a dry but fairly useful discussion of the elements.
The End Credit Sequence: Raw and Uncut lasts three minutes, 28 seconds. All this offers is the same end sequence but without the credits. I compared the two and saw no differences, so don’t expect any lurid here.
We find Storyboard Comparisons for two scenes. These present “Avalanche Scene” (five minutes, 30 seconds) and “Drug Farm” (5:01). They use the traditional splitscreen format with the boards on top and the movie on the bottom. I don’t think they’re special, but they’re fine for what they attempt.
A few minor extras round out the DVD, and these start with a *music video for Gavin Rossdale’s “Adrenalin”. A tepid rocker that sounds just like all his old work with Bush, the video offers the usual combination of lip-synch performance and movie clips. It’s very bland. I felt quite surprised to learn that Rob Cohen directed “Adrenaline” – keep your day job!
A second music video comes for Hatebreed’s “I Will Be Heard”. This mixes shots of the band on stage with movie snippets. The song’s not just bad - it’s hilariously bad, as it sounds like a parody of every shout-metal song ever recorded. The video’s just dull, though it’s a bit amusing as we watch the silly aggressiveness of band and audience members alike.
What does this package lose from the original release? Not much, but a few omissions occur. The main one stems from the absence of the collection of 10 deleted scenes. Some of these appear as part of the extended cut, but not all of them show up, and we also lose Cohen’s commentary about them.
The new set also drops a terrible featurette called “The GTO Is Back”. It was literally just an ad for that car, so it’s not missed. Otherwise, we also fail to get some “Filmographies” as well as the trailer for xXx. None of these are huge omissions, though it’s too bad some of the cut scenes don’t pop up here.
In its attempts to create a 21st century secret agent, xXx just falls flat and comes across like a lame rehash of better films. A loud and obnoxious affair, the flick tries way too hard to floor us with its “extreme” action, but it does little more than seem inane and pointlessly flashy. The DVD provides good but slightly flawed picture quality along with very positive sound and a sporadically useful collection of extras highlighted by a pretty interesting audio commentary.
Because I don’t think much of the movie, I can’t recommend it to folks new to xXx. Should already-established fans give this new “Unrated Uncensored Director’s Cut” a look? Only if they truly love the flick. I don’t care for the extended version of the film, and the extras that are new to this set don’t add a lot to the experience. Leave this one for the xXx fan who must own everything connected to the film.
To rate this film visit the original review of XXX