X2   [X-MEN 2]

Warning: this review contains minor spoilers

Director:  Bryan Singer

Starring:  Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry

The X-Men mutants unite to fight prejudice and a military scientist with a personal grudge. 

Director Bryan Singer calls X-Men a rehearsal for X2, and he's right: the sequel is a bigger, bolder and better film. It's obvious that everyone had more faith in the second film, following the enormous success of X-Men all around the globe.

Fox got a lot of flak for releasing a basic X-Men DVD and then following it up with the feature-packed X-Men 1.5 disc. This time they've done it right the first time, with an all-singing, all-dancing two disc version of X-Men 2 (which, incidentally, is simply called X2 on-screen).

The first disc contains the film and two commentary tracks. The film is presented in anamorphic format, in a ratio of  2.4:1. The transfer is excellent, with good detail, vibrant colours, perfect black levels and contrast. X2 is a much better looking film than X-Men, which had a relatively drab, gray colour scheme. X-Men was shot in Panavision, but for X2 the producers chose to use the Super 35 format, to allow for shooting in lower-light conditions. There's the slightest hint of edge-enhancement on shots where it would be most obvious (on areas where there are sharp, contrasting edges), and a few tell-tale jagged diagonal lines, but these problems are fleeting, and shouldn't irritate. There are no apparent MPEG encoding artefacts. The average bitrate is a reasonably healthy 6.34Mb/sec (during the end credits this plummets, and probably pulls the average down a touch). The bitrate on the US disc is 7.38Mb/sec (but this would include the two extra 2.0 audio tracks).

The film is presented over both layers of a dual-layer disc, with a good layer change (where there's no sound to be interrupted). This is about 1h1m7s into the film, between a shot of Bobby Drake on the X-Jet and the shot of Professor Xavier standing, looking out of the window. The film's one caption ("Boston") is burnt-in, and is not player-generated. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, on both the film and the supplements. The disc is coded for Regions 2, 4 and 5. 

The audio mix is dynamic, with good separation. Sound is frequently thrown into all the speakers, but much of the time it's weighted to the front three channels. The film doesn't have a reference quality mix, but is nevertheless generally impressive. There's a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448kbps) or DTS (at 754kbps) formats. The DTS track seems to handle things more smoothly when there's a lot going on, and presents more enveloping atmospheres in quieter moments. Unusually, the disc allows for switching audio tracks on the fly, so it's quite easy to compare the two. The American disc has French and Spanish tracks, but the UK disc is in English only. 

The disc carries two commentary tracks. The first, identified on the menus as "Bryan Singer", is by Singer and cinematographer Newton Thomas "Tom" Sigel. The second, listed as "Lauren Shuler Donner" is actually a group commentary, by Producers Ralph Winter and Lauren Shuler Donner, and writers David Hayter, Dan Harris and Michael Doherty. Curiously, all the contributors are credited on the US disc's menus.

Singer naturally dominates the first commentary. It concentrates on the technical aspects of the production, and is delivered in a matter-of-fact style. Despite Sigel's best efforts, it's almost entirely humourless. You will, however, learn plenty of trivia, like which shot was inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone, and why Singer's production company is called Bad Hat Harry Productions. More interesting are Singer's thoughts on the relative merits of using wire effects (and the associated wire-removal CGI costs), as opposed to the traditional methods of compositing. If you've ever wondered how a movie can cost $110m (as this one reportedly did), you'll also discover that they had to CGI the foam on the pints of ale that Mystique gives to the guard, to prevent an irritating continuity error! 

The group commentary is more informative (it notes where the "Danger Room" scene would have been placed, and where the Sentinel robot would have been used, for example), but is generally more anecdotal, and more entertaining. Both are worth listening to, although some information overlaps both tracks. There was a minor dropout problem around the 1hr 49m mark with the audio on this track, which should be corrected by the time the disc hits the shops. 

As is usual on Fox's discs, the presentation starts with a bunch of trailers, which can be only be skipped by using the MENU button. These are for Peter Weir's Master and Commander, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Fox's highly-anticipated Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set, and their forthcoming theatrical release Runaway Jury. These might have been more exciting if they'd been presented in anamorphic widescreen, and with 5.1 audio, but they're not. Once watched - or skipped - there's no way of getting back to the trailers using the menus: you'll have to re-start the disc.

The disc has some nice moving menus, with animated transitions between screens, but they don't feel particularly elaborate (the chapter selection menus are static, for example). 

The second disc contains all the other bonus features, which are broken down into seven categories: History of the X-Men, Pre-Production, Production, Post Production, Trailers, Deleted Scenes and Galleries. Some of the featurettes are presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 format, some are 1.33:1 (full-frame) format. There seems to be method to this, but since there's never a mixture of the two, it doesn't pose a problem, other to those people who need to switch their displays manually between 4:3 and 16:9 modes.

HISTORY OF THE X-MEN

This is divided into two sections: 

The Secret Origin of X-Men [sic]

A fifteen-minute potted history of the comic book and its transition from the printed page, via the TV series, to the movies. It includes contributions from X-Men creator Stan Lee, comic book writer / editor Chris Claremont and Bryan Singer. Despite its 2003 copyright date, this seems to have been made to promote the first X-Men movie.

Nightcrawler Reborn

An eight-minute interview with writer / artist Chuck Austen, focusing on the special X-Men 2 comic book that relates the events leading up to Nightcrawler's appearance in the film.

PRE-PRODUCTION

This is divided into three sections:

Nightcrawler Attack Multi-Angle Study

A 2'22" section that enables the viewer to toggle between four different angles of the scene where Nightcrawler attacks the President of the United States (animatic, unfinished effects, animatic / final film comp and unfinished effects / final film comp). The comparisons are interesting. The animatics are relatively crude, and the pacing of the finished scene is barely hinted at, but they do show a couple of ideas that were dropped from the completed sequence. The unfinished effects angle is the most interesting, because there are a number of shots showing how Nightcrawler's spectacular acrobatics were achieved. The unfinished effects / final film comp angle shows how the scene was tweaked during editing, but this sometimes makes it difficult to compare the two versions, because they drift in and out of sync. A fifth angle, showing the unfinished version correctly synced up to the finished version, would have been more instructive. This segment has some nasty interpolation artefacts (which were probably introduced in the NTSC to PAL transfer process). These  will be apparent to anyone wanting to go through the sequence frame-by-frame.

Evolution In The Details - Designing: X2

The on-screen title is Evolution In The Details - The  Design of X2. This is an interview with British Production Designer Guy Dyas about the look of the film, which encompasses the sets and the props. It offers a tour of some of the sets and locations, including a good look at the museum's mutant exhibition, which is barely glimpsed in the film (it would have featured in one of the Deleted Scenes). This featurette also includes a section looking at the film's recreation of the Oval Office of the White House. (18m)

United Colors of X [sic]

An interview with Costume Designer Louise Mincebach, who has worked on all of Bryan Singer's films, including X-Men. This section includes a teasing few seconds of costume test footage for some of the actors, including Halle Berry. (9m)

PRODUCTION

This is divided into six sections:

Wolverine / Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal

A two-minute montage of the stunt performers rehearsing, cut to the soundtrack from the film, without dialogue or narration.

The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making of X2

This is the core bonus feature: an hour-long documentary featuring interviews with all the key contributors, and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage. After discussing some of the new additions to the cast the documentary shifts to concentrating on a few action set-pieces: Rogue being sucked out of the X-Jet, Pyro attacking the police outside the Drake residence, and the Wolverine / Deathstrike fight, before finally teasing us with the prospect of a third X-Men movie. You'll find a nice outtake at the end of this segment, which is referred to in both commentary tracks. The interviews in this segment have an odd quality to them, as if they've been shot on video, but electronically processed to look like film. It may be like this on the original masters, or it may be the result of the NTSC to PAL standards conversion process, in which case it's an error. It's not terribly detrimental, it's just odd, because we're invariably used to seeing these things on video.

Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler!

Exploring the development of the Nightcrawler character, with contributions from Alan Cumming and Movement Coach Terry Notary. This section includes footage of Cumming rehearsing in full make-up and costume, a peek at some early make-up designs (which aren't in the Galleries) and a close-up look at Cumming having his make-up applied; a tedious process which took up to nine hours, poor chap. (10m) 

Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal

Similar to the Nightcrawler Attack Multi-Angle Study, in that it's a mixture of animatics and live action for the White House attack, set to the soundtrack of the finished film scene. This version is inter-cut with more footage of the stunt performers. (3m)

Nightcrawler Time-Lapse

A four-minute time-lapse film showing Alan Cumming being made-up, in one-second bursts.

FX2 - Visual Effects

A twenty-five minute segment linked by interviews with Visual Effects Supervisor Michael Fink, who says that there were about 750 effects shots in X2, compared to 520 in X-Men. Sections in this featurette show the wide range of special effects techniques employed in the film, and focuses on The X-Jet Dogfight Sequence (about the creation of the tornadoes), The Bamf Effect (developing Nightcrawler's teleportation effect), Escape From The Plastic Prison (enhancing a scene with CGI ), Cerebro (creating a CGI environment), and The Dam Breaks (looking at model effects).

POST PRODUCTION

Requiem For Mutants: The Score of X2

A featurette about John Ottman's orchestral score, and the phliosophy of film composing. Ottman, who acknowledges John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner as his influences, shows how the score can be broken down into the various themes representing each character. Anything that brings attention to the art of film scoring is to be commended, but this is no substitute for having an isolated score, dammit!  (12m)

X2 Global Webcast Highlights

Dull promotional web-chat sound-bites with Bryan Singer, actors Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos ("It's crazy-making!"), Alan Cumming, Famke Janssen, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford and Kelly Hu, and Producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter. (17m)

DELETED SCENES

There are eleven deleted scenes, totaling about eleven minutes. Several of them are only short extensions to existing scenes. The scenes are in anamorphic widescreen format, but aren't as sharp or clear as the main feature (they've probably not been through the final colour timing and grading process). The clips are in 2.0 stereo. Unusually, no attempt has been made to put these into context (although most are obvious), or to explain why they were dropped. The best guide to how these scenes were meant to fit into the film is to be found in the two commentary tracks, especially the writers and producers track. Another annoyance is that there's no "Play All" option.

Extended Wolverine / Deathstrike Fight

A marginally more visceral version of the fight at Stryker's base. Singer notes in his commentary track that they had to tone down the fight to appease the MPAA, particularly the sound effects.

Wolverine Kills The Intruder

Slightly extended version of Wolverine, in primal rage mode, killing a member of Stryker's SWAT team.

Mystique in Stryker's Files

An extension to the scene showing Mystique accessing Stryker's computer. In this version there are more files displayed on-screen, including some mutant X-rays.

Nightcrawler Bamfs to Save The Students

A very short scene showing Nightcrawler teleporting into the holding cell at Stryker's compound.

Jean and Storm in the X-Jet

Jean flexes her telekinetic abilities by auto-piloting the X-Jet. There's also a nice character moment between the two women, as Jean hears something that Storm mutters under her breath. Note that the view outside the windows hasn't been added, and the uncharacteristically clunky-looking control stick close-ups.

Jubilee at the Museum

One of the school pupils, Jubilee, wanders off into a part of the museum devoted to mutants, and, as her anger rises, electricity sparks from her fingers.

Pyro Starts The Campfire

Rogue goads Pyro into helping start the campfire. This is a nice character moment, showing that, even among his fellow X-Men, Pyro is still something of an outsider.

One of the Children is Sick After Bamfing

A completely superfluous twelve-second extension to the scene where Nightcrawler rescues the students

Rogue Helps The Children Escape

...showing how the film would have ground to a halt during the attack on the school as Rogue gives two fleeing students directions and advice.

Professor X and Cyclops Escape

A gruesome moment where Jason rises from his wheelchair to remove the Professor's headset, freeing him and enabling the Professor to rescue Cyclops. It's not clear from seeing this scene out of context, but this scene and the next were actually an illusion created by Jason - the Professor is actually still under Jason's control.

Arriving to an Empty School

A transitional scene showing the Professor and Cyclops arrive back at the school to discover the place has been abandoned.

GALLERIES

There are six galleries: Characters, Locations, Mutant X-Rays, Nightcrawler Circus Posters, On-Camera Graphics and The Unseen X2. Some of these galleries are broken down into sub-sections (for the different locations, for example). 

The Characters gallery is a little light (perhaps because the brief for the sequel was "the same but different"). Some of the others have much to offer: the Nightcrawler Circus Posters are terrific, and some of the On-Camera Graphics are very interesting (and, in one or two cases, quite amusing). Hardcore X-Men fans will get a real kick from The Unseen X-Men, which contains designs for Angel (Archangel), the Danger Room training arena (and storyboards for the sequence, which are very poorly presented) and a couple of design drawings of the very cool-looking Sentinel robot (left). 

There are hundreds of images here, but you don't get the impression that you've seen everything. There are some disappointing omissions, some of which are seen in some of the other featurettes (beautiful make-up designs for Nightcrawler, and some more circus posters, for example). It would also have been nice to see a gallery of promotional posters.

 

TRAILERS

There are three theatrical trailers (one teaser and two full trailers), all in non-anamorphic widescreen mode, with stereo audio. It's a shame that 5.1 versions couldn't have been used. 

Fox has put together a very satisfying collection of bonus materials to complement the film. Almost every aspect of the film's production is featured. They don't gel together like the best DVD bonus materials sometimes do, but viewers will find the answers to most of their questions here. 

The UK disc is missing a Public Service Announcement about drugs, which doesn't seem to be  directly related to the film, and a DVD-Rom link which isn't applicable to UK customers. There seems to be nothing to differentiate the UK disc from the US version. Unless you're particularly sensitive to PAL speedup, the UK Region version would appear to be the best option. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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