"When they come out, does it hurt?"
You're probably thinking that you recognize that quote. You recall it as being a great, humanizing line for the character of Wolverine. And you'd be right. However, this line could just as easily be a part of this conversation that takes place at your favorite local DVD store:
"I love Tuesdays. All the new discs come out, and there's so much good
stuff to choose from!"
By this point, I am going to venture the hypothesis that everyone already knows about X-Men and isn't necessary to go into a full analysis of the film. While you're certainly going to get my opinion on the film, I am instead going to focus the majority of this review on the differences on the two discs and try to draw a conclusion on whether it's worth the double dip or not.
Facts of the Case
The evolution of the human species from Homo sapiens to Homo superior has begun, and it has manifested itself in a few individuals who now exhibit strange and fantastic abilities. These so-called mutants are being victimized because of their powers, and this has led a faction of mutants to declare war on their persecutors. However, not all mutants believe in this course of action, and they will confront their brothers to prevent a vicious attack on mankind.
Surprising everyone with a triumphant debut back in July 2000, X-Men once again proved that a comic book could be successfully transplanted to the big screen. There are just a few key elements that are necessary, and, most radically, these ingredients are the same for any good movie: a smart script, a solid director backed up by a talented crew, great actors, and a vision. Bryan Singer brought his realistic vision of the popular comic book heroes to life creating what will undoubtedly be another strong franchise for 20th Century Fox. In a hurry to capitalize on their hit, Fox rushed the DVD to shelves in time for Christmas that year. While the transfers were certainly done well, the rest of the package left fans a bit upset due to the lack of any worthwhile and significant bonus features. Now, while we all tout that it's the movie and not the features, I think very few of us would deny that there is a lot to be said for a DVD with quality extras, when available. Everyone was aware that there was material available, thus causing the dismay and clamor. Now, only some fifteen odd months later do we finally get to see what the original DVD release should have been like. Finally we have received a well-rounded package of goodies to sate the soul of any X-Men fan.
But before we get into that analysis, allow me a moment to regurgitate some of the reasons, all of which you already know, of why I believe that X-Men worked. On the whole, it's the excellent combination of factors that I mentioned before: a quality script that didn't get silly, a talented director and crew that really tried—against huge odds—to make a faithful film, wonderful actors, and an idea to ground this fantasy in reality. That's certainly a far too simplistic analysis, yet I feel guilty if I begin to prattle on about how well Singer brought the characters to life, how each actor (for the most part) embraced their character, and how all the pieces came together to make a fun movie. Ah, who said I had a conscience?
With nearly forty years of stories and histories to utilize, how do you cull all of that into a movie that can please both fans of the comics and those who've never picked up a comic? Carefully. Singer was able to distill the essence of what makes the comic so successful and put it on the big screen. Well, at least that's my take. I guess I should mention that I am not a comics guy, but that has never kept from away from a comic to screen movie. Singer's realistic portrayal of the tortured souls of the mutants allows you to connect with the characters. You care about their plight and can relate to it, thanks to a smart historical comparative—giving you the basis for Magneto's plans.
As much as this is an ensemble movie with a superb cast, the movie does boil down to being Wolverine's tale. He's a fan favorite, and the story is propelled forward by his actions. Hugh Jackson does a great job as a last minute replacement, and he carries the heavy burden of making everything fall correctly into place. Of course, let's not discount the strength of this ensemble cast that turns in a solid performance, in a genre normally discounted as summer fluff.
But, I am already prattling on too much. Who already doesn't know of Singer's talents, as evidence here and in The Usual Suspects? Who doesn't know of the talents of Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and Anna Paquin? Who doesn't already know of the last minute story of Hugh Jackman? Who already doesn't know that Halle Berry couldn't act her way out of a paper bag if her life depended on it? Who doesn't know that Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is the hottest blue babe around?
Everyone already knows all this and more, so I shall move on. If it weren't a great movie with a great cast and a great story, it wouldn't have succeeded and we wouldn't be seeing a sequel in just a short while. Then again, Hollywood will make a sequel out of just about anything. But, fortunately, in this case, the original is surely worthy of its sequel.
What does this 1.5 version have to offer that may entice you to join in the evil double dip? Quite a bit, actually. Let's take a look.
The saving grace of the first DVD release was (and is) the transfers. As noted in our review of that release, Fox didn't drop the ball in porting these to the digital medium, with both the video and audio transfers faithfully reproducing the movie. However, unlike my esteemed colleague, I have never been overly impressed by the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. I feel it's a passable transfer that's a tad underpowered and weak.
After carefully watching 1.5, I took out my 1.0 disc and did a side-by-side comparison of the two. While I do have two players, one is progressive hooked up via component cables while the other is non-progressive through S-Video. Nonetheless, I watched them side-by-side, switched the discs from player to player, and analyzed several key scenes to try to make a determination if there was any difference in the two video transfers. My unscientific analysis of the two leads me to say that there is no difference between the two discs on the video transfer. I could not find any discernible differences between the two DVDs on my 42" widescreen TV. And, that's not a bad thing, as the transfer was quite well done in the first place. With the same transfer, you still get excellent, accurate, rich colors with nice black saturation on a sharp, detailed image without any errors. I saw no pixelization, moiré patterns, edge enhancement, or anything else that would ruin your experience.
On the audio side, there is now a 5.1 DTS track in addition to all of the same previous transfers. As I mentioned before, I've always thought the DD 5.1 track to be only adequate for the movie, being just a little less powerful and expansive than you'd expect from a recent, big budget action adventure. The inclusion of a new DTS track rightly fixes all of the original limitations of that original 5.1 track. The new DTS track absolutely rocks and shows you what this movie is all about. Every channel is alive and active with clear dialogue, sound effects that will immerse you, and powerful supportive bass. In comparison, switching over to the DD 5.1 track (which is the same one from the original release, as far as I can tell), I was stunned at the clearly audible difference between the two. While the DTS track is expansive and commanding, the DD 5.1 comes across as an anemic cousin. If you have DTS capable equipment, this track will easily because reference for showing off your system. The DTS is fantastic.
And now for the moment all X-Men fans have been waiting for: the extras. This is indeed a true special edition in that there is a wealth of bonus material for you to view. All in all, there are honestly five hours of bonus materials for you to view. And the best part is that almost all of it is new! A few items from the first disc made the jump, but a few items were left behind.
• Enhanced Viewing Mode: Quite similar to the design from the first disc, this mode allows you to watch X-Men with additional bonus features sprinkled throughout the film. In this mode, six deleted scenes have been "inserted" back into the film. First, these are the exact same six deleted scenes from the first release. Second, the scenes are not really put into the film. When you approach the spot, you are taken out of the movie and shown the clip. After it's played, you go back into the film where you left off. Third, in this mode, you have to watch the deleted scenes. Additionally, unlike the deleted scenes, you have the choice to watch seventeen behind-the-scenes (BTS) featurettes. The X-Men symbol will pop up from time to time. When it does, you hit your enter button and you'll see additional information related to the scene. On the whole, I do not much care for the enhanced viewing mode. Foremost, all of these scenes should have been available via a submenu for you to watch at your convenience. To be able to get to this information only by watching the movie is irksome. In fact, while there are seventeen BTS spots, I only caught fourteen. The symbol does pop up and disappear quickly, so if you aren't looking, you may miss it. Further, you should also be given the choice, as with the BTS segments, if you want to watch the deleted scenes or not. You shouldn't be forced into watching them. I will say that, overall, the BTS sports are good and impart some interesting additional information on the film and filming process, but if we only had the submenu to make it all easier…
• Screen Specific Commentary with Director Bryan Singer and Brian Peck: A very informative, fun, and entertaining chat with the two "Bryans." Peck coaches Singer along with questions and comments about the film. That sparks a wide range of discussion on mistakes they made, their fondness for practical effects over CGI, and a lot of insight into the characters and actors. This is one of the better commentaries out there, and a superb addition to the film.
This is where most of the extra features reside. I had thought I had gone through them all, for it took well over two hours to watch everything on that menu. The next day, I went back to check something and found a second menu. Oops! And on that screen was close to another hour's worth of material! Of note here is that this disc starts up with a special introduction from Bryan Singer. Don't be fooled to think that it's going into one of the documentaries, as it isn't. It's a cute intro where Singer somewhat apologizes for the double dip.
• Evolution X: This is the meat and potatoes of the bonus material. Clocking in at just under two hours, this feature covers just about everything you could want to know about the making of X-Men. It's a great feature that grabs you and almost compels you to watch every minute of it in one sitting. This documentary rises to the top of the stack in quality of how to prepare a segment on the movie making process. But, wait…there's even more! To make it even bigger, this feature (actually all of the features have this option) has an enhanced viewing mode that will put up that X-Men symbol allowing you to see additional, quick featurettes. As this is such a mammoth piece, it has been broken down into three subsections. You can choose to watch it in its entirety or you can choose to watch each segment individually. And, you can watch them with or without the enhanced mode turned on. Fortunately, if you turn it off, there are further submenus allowing you to see those inserted segments (which is true for all the features here too). The three parts that comprise Evolution X are:
• The Uncanny Suspects (24 minutes): This examines each of the
major actors and their perspective on their character. As it turns out, none of
the actors calls themselves a "comic book person." On this feature's
submenu, you can additionally watch Hugh Jackman's first reading with Bryan
Singer (Note: I did not see this pop up during this part of the feature, but it
could be there and I just simply missed it) and a character photo gallery.
Moving on to even more bonus features…
• The Special Effects of The X-Men (17 minutes): Special effects supervisor Mike Fink talks about the various techniques used to bring life to the comic book heroes. It's light on technical details, but it still full of great information.
• The Marketing of The X-Men: Here you will find the three theatrical trailers and seventeen TV spots you also found on the first disc, but also with the benefit of a "play all" feature. Additionally, there are twelve "Internet Interstitials" (12 minutes total) that gives a brief snippet of info on the film and a specific person/character.
• Reflection on The X-Men (9 minutes): A quick compilation of thoughts from the actors on the movie's success. The two BTS featurettes (also available on the submenu) here are worthy of note as they run another 23 minutes in length.
• X-Men 2 Sneak Preview (8 minutes)
• Daredevil Trailer
And, again, keep in mind that all of the features on disc two are available with or without an enhanced viewing mode. If you choose not to watch, then there is a submenu to watch the BTS segments; however, as the Evolution X segment is so large, not all of the BTS segments are available there. So, you will have to watch that in enhanced mode at least once.
On the whole, I am very impressed with the wide array of information available to us in these new bonus materials. There is extremely little redundancy in all the different segments, and each presents its information in a concise and interesting fashion. It's a candid and fresh look at X-Men.
Of course, there are always a few odds and ends that I end up with that don't have a proper home. So, here you go:
• The menu design in this set is infinitely better than its
predecessor. It doesn't feel like an eternity for your choice to be
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's a double dip. If Fox wasn't in such a rush to cash in and make a quick buck at the fans expense, then this is the disc we should have had from day one. But, that's not how the studios think: let's rush out a disc and rake in the money. Now that there's an impending sequel, we'll release another disc with the features they've been clamoring for. Studios need to get sent the message that DVD aficionados do not like these infernal double dips.
To partake in the double dip or not to partake in the double dip? That is the dreaded question. Do we encourage the studio by giving up our hard earned cash twice for the same movie? Is version 1.5 worthy of consideration for purchase? Is it simply worth purchase?
As much as I hate to encourage the studios in a double dip, I believe in this instance that it is warranted. The wealth of great bonus materials coupled with a fantastic DTS track makes this disc thoroughly worthy of being on your shelf. If you own the first one, give it to a friend or try to sell it for a couple bucks. Either way, I encourage you to pick up X-Men 1.5. This edition is a solid improvement over the disappointing original release. If you enjoyed the movie, then you can't pass up this chance to own the definitive version of the film. Buy X-Men 1.5.
Perhaps we can put a positive spin on this vile double dip. Instead of looking at the fans as being ripped off by having to buy the movie twice, maybe we can see this as positive encouragement to the studio to release the best version of the movie possible. Okay, I'm dreaming.
20th Century Fox is sentenced to one year for participating in the Double Dip Conspiracy. That sentence is reduced to time served for the vast improvement made with the special edition.
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Scales of Justice
• Screen Specific Audio Commentary with Bryan Singer and Brian Peck
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