It seems that when a studio runs out of creative plot lines they head back to the old standards to work from – television shows or comic books. With X-Men being a well-developed example of both, they certainly had a lot of source material to extrapolate from. But trying to incorporate it all in a single film that’s logical to both seasoned veterans and the complete layman can be, well, a bit challenging. X-Men does actually succeed at being an enjoyable experience, though it seems that this is almost a setup for things to come. There are so many characters introduced that it’s difficult for most of them to develop much of a personality. So much history and back story is hinted at that it can be a little confusing as to who does what, when, and why.
The plot: the world is beginning to experience a "mutant" phenomenon – people who have unusual talents, such as the ability to control magnetism, shoot lasers out their eyes, move objects by mere thought or control nature. A group of political "normals", fearing for the safety of normal mankind, are trying to start up a registry of all mutants – but one mutant in particular, Magneto, will do anything to prevent this from happening. Another more peaceful mutant, Xavier, has instead started up a secret specialized school where mutant children can come and both learn to control their abilities and live a life free from discrimination. They soon discover that Magneto has developed a machine that generates a particular type of radiation that would speed up the mutation process in all humans. But the process is flawed – since the changes are artificial, the subject’s body rejects them and dies. After enlisting two new recruits, Wolverine and Rogue, Xavier and his superhero X-Men team head out to put a stop to the powerful Magneto and his own evil superhuman crew.
Although I rarely ever watched the cartoon, I was told by a friend who did that it’s best to go into the film and absorb it as a separate work, without expectations based on previous material. I will say that the film felt too short – I still wanted to see and learn more when the credits started to roll. Hopefully Fox will see fit to complement X-Men with a sequel or two – at least then the original’s story should be completed.
X-Men’s DVD video quality is up there with the best. Although the original film was quite dark in the theater, like many others it comes out much brighter on the small screen. Most of X-Men takes place at night or in dark conditions, and while the DVD provides the ability to see greater shadow detail, this doesn’t detract from the film’s moody ambiance. With all of this darkness a well calibrated black level is important, so I was pleased to see that X-Men featured rock solid levels. The transfer contains bright, saturated colors with accurate skin tones. Detail levels are perfect in the widescreen anamorphic transfer with no visible film grain or chroma noise. A small amount of artifacting is evidenced during some high-activity scenes, but you have to look hard to find it. The dual-layered disc contains 7.8 gigabytes of data and is divided into 28 chapters, complete with animated scene selection screens. The layer change occurs at an appropriate point at 2.44 into chapter 9, or 0:32.36 into the entire film.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track on X-Men is, put simply, fantastic. Pleasingly excessive and attention-getting use of the rear channels is combined with an impressive amount of bass to create a particularly active mix that really shows off a well calibrated system. The dialogue track is loud and easy to understand at all times, without unwanted hiss or other background sounds. Trebles are well constrained and won’t grate on your ears, while the soundtrack on the whole is mixed very evenly – this is one movie you’ll be able to crank up without fear of sudden acoustically detrimental surprises. The disc also includes English and French Dolby 2.0 Surround soundtracks plus English and Spanish subtitles.
X-Men’s extras all lead off of snazzy animated menus – unfortunately they can take quite a while to complete their gyrations. After viewing them several times you’ll wish for a faster form of navigation. Despite being labeled on the box as a "Special Edition", this DVD only seems to contain a small sampling of what extra features you’d imagine could have been available – perhaps they are saving them for a deluxe edition. First, there’s "The Mutant Watch", a 22-minute mockumentary that Fox used to promote the movie on television. Next is an interview with director Bryan Singer, divided into five sections. Hugh Jackman’s (Wolverine) screen test is available, although only a few minutes of it. Two theatrical trailers are included in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 video and 2.0 audio, plus three TV spots and a CD album ad in full-screen video.
An art gallery includes still shots of character and production design, while an "Animatics" section includes 3D computer rendered storyboards for two action sequences. Although the package announces 10 additional unseen minutes of footage, this is not rolled into the actual film. You can enable a branching version of the movie from the Special Features menu, however all it does is let you press a button at specific times to access a separate insert. If you prefer, you can watch the six additional unfinished – and non-anamorphic – scenes individually. X-Men, although only on a single disc, is presented in its own customized package. Why studios feel the need to create a brand new DVD box style every few weeks is beyond me. THX OptiMode system calibration tests are also included.
Fox has had a turbulent ride when it comes to DVDs – but X-Men only goes to strengthen their new-found support of the format and all that it has to offer. With rumors of an astounding 45 minutes cut from the movie before its theatrical release, I do hope that Fox sees fit to restore the footage into a future edition – but for now, this disc is where it’s at.
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on November 24, 2000.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
Sony DVP-S500D DVD Player
Sony STR-GA8ES 5.1 Receiver
Sony 32" XBR250 WEGA TV using Component
Nuance Spatial Baby Grand 3E & StarSat