X-MEN: THE LAST STAND  [a.k.a. X-MEN III]

Region 2 (UK) Edition

Director:  Brett Ratner

Starring: Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen

THE FILM

Two factions of the mutants battle when mankind discovers a cure for their condition.

Fans of the X-Men movie franchise where aghast when X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer announced that he was jumping ship, to work on Superman Returns. Singer had managed to make two remarkably good movies based on the comic book series, delivering films with more depth and maturity than anyone might have reasonably expected, given their pulpy origin.

When it was announced that his replacement was to be Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, fans began to fear the worst. Ratner had not proved himself with a film of the complexity or scale of an X-Men movie, and he didn't have a track record in the genre (the nearest was his 2002 remake of Manhunter, Red Dragon).

They need not have been concerned. Ratner doesn't have Singer's flair for the dramatic, or his obvious affinity for the themes of the subject matter, but X-Men: The Last Stand is a fine effort, by any standard.

The film has a lot of ground to cover. It has a simple plot (the humans have created a cure for the mutant gene, causing civil war among the mutant population), but woven through it is a story arc for one of the key characters, Jean Grey, which is distilled from a landmark X-Men comic book saga. Ratner was also obviously under instructions to eliminate some regular characters, as a way of paring down costs for the next film in the series. He takes all this in his stride, introducing new mutant characters to the story, and creating several set pieces equally as good as anything Singer was able to conjure. It's true that not all these changes have met with the approval of the fans, but for every small liberty taken with one of the supporting characters, there's compensation in the form of a fleeting cameo, or reference to X-Men lore.

It almost goes without saying that X-Men: The Last Stand leaves the door open for further instalments (not only a hint that one of the villains survives with his powers intact - a frame-by-frame analysis of that shot should remove any ambiguity, incidentally - but also with a post-credits shot that will make little sense to anyone who's not thoroughly steeped in X-Men mythology), but it's a very satisfying conclusion to an exciting film trilogy.

THE DVD

Fox's UK division has, once again, delivered a two-disc set that trounces the initial single-disc Region 1 edition. There's a chance that, eventually, a Region 1 version will come along and go one-better than the current UK edition, but be content that UK customers are getting the best deal.

The first disc contains the film itself, two commentary tracks and the deleted scenes. It kicks off with a bunch of junk adverts and trailers, which can be skipped using the chapter forward button on your remote. In case anyone's interested, these are: Prison Break (DVD advert), Mars advert, My Super Ex-Girlfriend (trailer), X-Men III computer game (advert), 24 Season 5 (DVD advert), The Omen 666 (trailer) and Night at the Museum ("January 2007" trailer). The disc also features an Inside Look (trailer) for The Simpsons Movie, which shows a work-in-progress version of a scene with Homer driving a dogsled.

The film is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 format, with a choice of 5.1 Dolby Digital EX or 6.1 DTS ES soundtracks (at 448kbps and 768kbps, respectively). Also offered is a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio descriptive version (at 384kbps). There are English HoH subtitles for the film and the commentaries. The average bit-rate is a healthy 7.56Mb/sec.

The film has a virtually-flawless transfer, marred only by a slightly gritty look to some shots, and a touch of over-sharpening and edge-enhancement.

The film features a couple of "Ten years ago"-type captions (see example, above). These are presented burnt into the picture, and thankfully not player-generated.

The soundtrack is boisterous, and features many sequences that will give your home cinema system a good workout. The DTS version offers wide dynamic range, and excellent fidelity, particularly with John Powell's rousing score. You can toggle the soundtracks on the fly, if, for example, you wished to compare the Dolby Digital and DTS versions. Both tracks are excellent, and guaranteed to thrill.

BONUS MATERIAL

DISC ONE

Once past the trailers and adverts, the first thing that you see is a menu screen that offers you the choice: "Join The Brotherhood" or "Take a Stand" (i.e. the join-The-X-Men option). From there on, you see one of two sets of menu screens (which are very similar to those on the X2 disc).

You are also offered a unique set of bonus features, depending on the choice you make. Choose the Take A Stand option, and you get the Director and Writer Commentary by Ratner and writers Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn. Choose the Join The Brotherhood option and you're offered the Producer Commentary by Avi Arad, Lauren Shuller Donner and Ralph Winter. Both are worth listening to, although the one with Ratner and the writers is a bit frustrating, because very little is taken seriously, and there's almost as much disinformation imparted as information.

Once you've selected a side, there's no obvious option to go back - it seems at casual glance as if you have to re-start the disc. In fact each menu set features screens with the icon for the other faction, allowing you to toggle between the two. No doubt, though, there will be people who, having chosen one side or the other, and having watched the film, will forget that they're in one of two menu sets. They may not even realise that there are two sets of bonus features, and might easily miss out on half of the bonus features because of this. Fox is to be praised for creating some wonderful menu screens for their top titles, but sometimes you have to remember to cater for the lowest common denominator.

There are two sets of deleted scenes, depending on which of the two menu options you've selected.

Take A Stand Deleted Scenes (10m)

Xavier Voice-Over For Main Titles

Continuing the tradition of the first two films, a chunk of exposition. Dropped because it was deemed superfluous.

Alternate Version: Beast Meets Logan

A slightly more antagonistic first encounter between Wolverine and Beast.

Extended Fight Sequence at Jean Grey's House

A much more brutal version of the scene where Wolverine and Storm try to get into Jean's house. This includes more Wolverine and Juggernaut mano e mano, and a nice bit of business where Logan becomes a conduit to channel Storm's electrical energy into Juggernaut. Cut because it was "too long".

Alternate Version: Bobby and Kitty Skate

A "controversial" version of the skating scene, only this time they kiss, adding more of an incentive for Rogue's actions later in the film.

Plastic Weapons Manufacturing

Did you wonder where all those groovy plastic guns came from? Wonder no more!

Hank Warns Trask of Magneto's Plan

As the military prepare to enter Magneto's forest hideout, Hank calls to warn them that Magneto may be preparing an attack elsewhere.

Original Version: X-Men Board The Jet

A different version of the rallying scene between Wolverine and Iceman, shifting the emphasis to Iceman. Some of this version appeared in one of the trailers.

Jean Senses a Scared Little Girl

...an extension to the scene where a family, trapped in their car on the bridge, encounter Magneto. It also helped take the scene from daylight to dusk - it was cinematographer Dante Spinotti's favourite scene of the film.

Storm Creates a Wave

An addition to the attack on Alcatraz - Storm creates a deluge, to fend off a wave of attacking Brotherhood members.

Beast Breaks a Neck

Cut to ensure a PG-13 rating.

Bobby Freezes Phat

Remember the fat mutant at the church meeting, who shrank down in size so he could sit down? Well, here he returns, during the Alcatraz attack, where he is brought down by Iceman and Colossus. This scene was cut because it wasn't well-executed.

Alternate Ending: New School Year Begins

Shows Hank returning to teach at Xavier's school, instead of taking on the Ambassador's job.

Alternate Ending: Logan Returns to Alberto, Canada

An apparently-disillusioned Wolverines return to the inn seen in the original X-Men.

Join The Brotherhood Deleted Scenes  ( 9m)

Jimmy in Laboratory

Shots of Leech being scanned, and various scientific bits of equipment being used to create the cure.

Pyro Tells Magneto About The Cure Announcement - Clean Shaven Version

Short "They just announced it!" scene between Pyro and Magneto.

Pyro Tells Magneto About The Cure Announcement - Bearded Version

A different version of the same scene, only with a bearded Gandalf - err - Magneto.

Alternate Version:  Guard Yells at The President

A more expressive version of the scene where the imprisoned Mystique impersonates the President: "Mr President, shut the fuck up!"

"Psychic Battle" Voices

A version of the scene where Jean attacks the Professor, with just their various overdubbed lines of dialogue, (which are otherwise almost lost in the mix - "I am Phoenix!")

Original Version: Jean Displays Her Power at the Encampment

An longer version to the scene where Magneto emerges from his hideout, and tempts Jean into exercising her power on the cure gun. In this version Jean's powers flow freely, endangering the gathered mutants. It also reveals a continuity problem, discussed on the commentary track, where Magneto isn't carrying the gun when he emerges from his hideout - he has a metal cup, instead.

Plastic Weapons Manufacturing

The same as the version on the X-Men Deleted Scenes package, I think.

Magneto Asks Jean To Help In The Battle

A nice addition to the Alcatraz attack: Magneto sees that some of his pawns are being cut down by cure weapons, and demands that Jean step in to help. "You sound like him again", she observes.

Alternate Version: Here's Juggy

A version of the scene where Juggernaut enters Leech's cell, with dialogue paying tribute to The Shining.

Magneto Tortures Logan

Slightly extended version of the "You never learn" torture scene.

Extended Dark Phoenix Destruction

A apocalyptic version of Jean attacking the Laboratories.

Alternate Ending: Rogue Returns

A gloved version of the scene where Bobby greets Rogue on her return to the school...

All the Deleted Scenes have optional commentary by Ratner, Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, and, thankfully, this time there is a Play All option.

Easter Eggs

There are at least two Easter Eggs on disc one.

The last page of both versions of the Deleted Scenes listings offers a link to an Easter Egg (look for the Brotherhood or X-Men logo): a visual effects clips created to promote the film, in mid-2005, when the final act was to have taken place in Washington: X-Jet Lands in DC (1m)

Another Easter Egg can be found in the either version of the Scenes 10-12 menu screen, where an X-Men or Brotherhood logo links to a deleted scene called Beast Recites Shakespeare... "We few, we happy few... we band of brothers..." (1m).

DISC TWO

It's straight to business with the second disc, which offers the following options: Documentaries, Featurettes, Previz Animatics, Vignettes, Blogs, Galleries and Trailers.

Documentaries

Documentaries is split into: Brett Ratner's Production Diary; X-Men: Evolution of a Trilogy; and X3: The Excitement Continues

Brett Ratner's Production Diary  (41m)

Titled Brett Ratner's X-Diaries on-screen, this is a bit of a mess, and it doesn't help that it begins with a fast-moving sequence that suffers from interpolation and encoding errors, and then goes into a sequence which has very distorted (badly recorded) sound. It soon settles down, but it's hard to escape the impression that it's just shoddily-assembled scraps of video cut together. Some of the captions will be partly off-screen if your display has a moderate amount of overscan. There are some nice moments here, however, including Ratner joking around with his cast, including one scene where Ratner dons Wolverine costume and make-up to stand in for Jackman (see below). The last five minutes or so of the Diary follows the cast to the Cannes premiere of the film.

X-Men: Evolution of a Trilogy  (43m)

A primer on the three films, divided roughly into thirds. The sections on the first two movies might not be new. This is a handy overview of the trilogy, and shows how the filmmakers wanted to take the films forward each time.

X3: The Excitement Continues  (20m)

A pretty solid promotional piece examining the new film, and introducing some of the new characters.

Featurettes

Two Featurettes are offered: X-Men Up Close and Anatomy of a Scene: Golden Gate Bridge.

X-Men Up Close

A short video montage ends with a menu screen with images of various X-Men characters. Clicking on any of them leads to a sub-menu, offering written profiles, galleries and short sound-bite sized video clips. Fifteen characters are profiled in this manner.

Anatomy of a Scene: Golden Gate Bridge  (12m)

A detailed look at the creation of the Golden Gate Bridge scenes, focussing on the construction of a twelfth-scale model.

Previz Animatics

There are Previz Animatic sequences for the following scenes: Young Jean Grey, The Danger Room, Mystique's Interrogation, Jean Rises From The Lake, Logan and Storm Look For Scott, Jimmy Meets Mutant Playmate, Angel Escapes, Mystique's Prison Break, Jean Kills [SPOILER!], Angel Lands at School, Magneto Talks To Jean In The Woods, Logan Fights With Spike, Multiple Man Decoy, Magneto Moves Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Joins The Battle, Angel Saves His Dad, Ash Burns Soldiers, Omega Muties Break Into Lab, Juggernaut Chases Kitty and Dark Phoenix Finale.

These total about twenty-five minutes, and there is a Play All option. The X-Men films pioneered the use of Previz (see the featurette on the X2 disc), and it's interesting to see how they've evolved in the three years or so since that film was made. The evidence here shows that they're significantly more sophisticated - one or two shots might even pass for the finished movie! Some shots are offered with storyboards. Many have interesting data in the margins. A couple of these scenes didn't make the final cut. Since they weren't in the deleted scenes, either, they probably weren't filmed. Most notable are the shots of Angel landing at the school; the Jimmy Meets Mutant Playmate sequence (which has similarities with the scene where Beast visits Jimmy); and the rather silly Angel Joins The Battle sequence. Also, note the early interpretation of Juggernaut, who looks more like he did in the comic strip.

Vignettes

There are seven vignettes, totalling about twenty-five minutes, with a Play All option. They are: Prophecies, X-Men Politics, Clothing Vs Costume, Make-Up Chair Confessions, Weapons of Choice, On Set Effects and Learning to Fly.

Prophecies

A look at the hints of things to come in X-Men and X2.

X-Men Politics

An examination of how the films have tackled prejudice and minority persecution.

Clothing Vs Costume

How the characters' looks have evolved over the course of the trilogy.

Make-Up Chair Confessions

Comments about the make-up process from Kelsey Grammer and Vinnie Jones.

Weapons of Choice

An interview with Jimmy Chow, prop master.

On Set Effects

A cursory look at some of the film's practical effects.

Learning to Fly

Featurette on the film's wire work, notably the Storm flying sequences in the Danger Room, and Wolverine's fight at the forest hide-out.

Blogs

The fifteen-minute Blogs section offers four sections: Production Teaser, Live From The Danger Room, Marvelous Cameos and Editing Magic. These were used to promote the film on the www.thedangerroom.net website.

Production Teaser

A montage of behind-the-scenes clips, set to music.

Live From The Danger Room

More fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes footage.

Marvelous Cameos

An on-set report from the day when X-Men creator Stan Lee and Dark Phoenix author Chris Claremont shot their cameos.

Editing Magic

A look at the altered "tin cup" sequence, with editor Mark Helfrich, and a look at how the scene of Wolverine attacking Magneto's camp evolved, with fellow editors Mark Goldblatt and Julia Wong.

Galleries

Broken down into Character Stills and Concept Art, Storyboards and Models, and these are then broken down further into sub-categories. The galleries represent only a tiny fraction of the number of stills that would have been shot for a film of this magnitude. You could argue that this sort of thing is better presented in book form. Here it's a bit of a half-assed effort, although root around, and you will find some very nice art (in the Concept Art section devoted to the Phoenix Vs Wolverine section, for example).

Trailers

Three trailers: Trailer A (1'30"), Trailer B (2'20") and the action-packed Extended Trailer (6'55").

For all the bonus material on the second disc, there's very little of any real substance. There's plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, but very little effort has been made to explain to the viewer how particular sequences were created. We see lots of wire work, and some green screen, but don't see how these elements are put together to create the finished image. A more detailed look at the design, costuming and make-up for some of the new mutant characters (Callisto, Kid Omega, etc) would have been very welcome. (There's virtually nothing on the disc about how they created Angel's wings, for example). There are some good segments though - the one about the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Editing Magic blog spring to mind - and even those that aren't particularly focussed give you the feeling that you've been given a whirlwind tour of the set.

SUMMARY

Once again Fox's UK division has created a packed two-disc edition of a blockbuster that leaves the Region 1 edition looking positively anaemic. The transfer is fine, and the soundtrack will have nick-nacks falling off the mantelpiece. The bonus features are plentiful, but rather superficial. There are plenty of golden moments, though, and the experience of watching them is generally rewarding.

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