X-MEN 1.5

Director:  Bryan Singer

Starring:  Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman

Two rival groups of mutated humans with supernatural powers battle against prejudice and fear. 

One of the most tiresome aspects of being a movie fan as the format reaches critical mass is a phenomena known among the DVD internet communities as "double dipping". It's when a video company reissues an existing title with new features to tempt fans of a film to buy a second copy. Often this is done with good intentions, often to upgrade an early transfer in order to offer improved picture or audio quality. Sometimes it's simply done to re-promote a title to raise its profile when a sequel is due to hits theatres. Increasingly some discs are initially released as a bare-bones titles simply because of time pressure, and the desire to release product - because that's what it is, make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen - while a title still has some of its theatrical buzz. Sometimes, the lack of input from cast and crew is unavoidable: if, for example, there's no enthusiasm among key participants to revisit a film soon after  production ends, or after the arduous chores of promoting the theatrical release have been completed. Sometimes people just need to regain some perspective on a project. The release of a no-frills DVD if a film has been a hit naturally breeds cynicism among consumers, who justifiably feel exploited when they're offered a bare-bones release, suspecting that a much better version may be in preparation. (Panic Room, anyone?) It's the curse of the movie fan: how many of us would buy a film-only disc of Star Wars, for example, even if we knew for certain that a five-disc Special Edition was to be released six months later?

It's unlikely that anyone felt completely ripped off when Fox released the original version of X-Men back in November 2000. The disc wasn't feature packed, but it did have a very nice twenty-odd minute promotional featurette, The Mutant Watch (which cleverly extended one aspect of the film's story, using additional material featuring Bruce Davision's character), screen test material featuring Hugh Jackman and Anna Pacquin, trailers, design galleries and six deleted scenes. At that point two-disc Special Editions were relatively uncommon, as manufacturing and authoring costs were quite prohibitive. However, it was clear to everyone that this wasn't the definitive document on what was, after all, Fox's Big Summer 2000 Blockbuster (a film that had grossed almost $160m at the US box office). The disc contained hardly any behind the scenes footage, and the film's director, Bryan Singer, was only represented by a short extract from The Charlie Rose Show. The Mutant Watch Featurette and the Charlie Rose Show interview are missing from the 1.5 version, so hardcore fans of the film will want to hang onto their copies of the original disc. 

Fox has remedied the inadequacies of the original disc with a spectacular "X-Treme Edition", somewhat confusingly titled X-Men 1.5, as if it was something more than simply a reissue of the original movie. The new Region 2 version offers plenty of incentives for fans of the film to upgrade, not least of which is the groovy new packaging (a much more dynamic design than that used for the UK and US versions of the original release, and that used for the American release of 1.5).

Not all potential customers will be particularly interested in the copious new bonus materials, but they may well be swayed by the greatly improved DTS 5.1 audio mix (at 754kbps), which offers much better clarity and fidelity than the 5.1 Dolby Digital track on the original disc (and the 5.1 Dolby Digital track on the new one, for that matter). The Dolby 5.1 mix on the US version is delivered at 448kpbs, the UK version at 384kbps, so people reliant on the Dolby Digital track may want to keep that in mind when making their buying decision. The UK disc has dropped the French and Spanish surround tracks that are on the US version.

The image transfer on the original release was virtually perfect, and, while the 1.5 version isn't appreciably better, it's certainly no worse. The average bitrate on the US version of 1.5 is 6.8Mb/sec, the UK version is 6.58Mb/sec. The old US disc had a bitrate of 6.51Mb/sec (because of the way the original UK disc was authored, it isn't possible to offer a comparative figure). 

X-Men 1.5  offers a huge amount of behind the scenes footage spread across the two discs. On the first disc this is accessed by a menu option that, on the US disc, offers a Follow the White Rabbit-style mode where an X-Men symbol will intermittently appear. Clicking enter when this is on-screen will lead to either one of seventeen behind the scenes featurettes (most of which are a few minutes long) or one of the six deleted scenes (which are the same as those on the original disc, and still in grotty-looking non-anamorphic transfers). A menu option selects if you want the option to watch the film with behind the scenes material, the deleted scenes or both. The Region 2 version is authored differently, and allows the viewer to select a viewing mode (with or without the deleted scenes and / or behind the scenes clips), but then simply unspools the film, switching to the optional sequences as applicable. Neither method offers any real advantage over the other, but the US version is more intuitive, more elegant, and offers a degree of viewer interactivity. The behind the scenes material (on both discs) offers a great feeling of being on-set, often allowing the viewer to eavesdrop on intimate moments between the director and his stars. Most of the material on the first disc relates to on-set filming (rehearsing stunts, blocking fight scenes, that sort of thing). Unfortunately there's no easy way of accessing the behind the scenes material or the deleted scenes, other than by watching the film through. This is incredibly annoying. How hard would it have been to offer a couple of menu options so that viewers who only wanted to see the deleted scenes or behind the scenes material would be able to?  

The first disc also features a commentary track, by Bryan SInger, who is joined and prompted by friend Brian Peck (who appears in a cameo role in the film, as a man buying a hot dog from vendor, played by X-Men creator Stan "The Man" Lee) . There's a lot of useful information, and it's probably best to listen to it before embarking on the other supplements. It's a good, chatty commentary track, with Peck asking questions that a viewer might want the answers to. Singer frequently draws your attention to on-screen details you might have missed, and is very specific about trivial details. He also drops a few hints about what's going to be in X-Men 2. The commentary track will also help to orientate those fans of the film who aren't already steeped in X-Men comic book lore. 

The second disc begins with an introduction by Singer, who apologises for making fans buy a second DVD version of the film, but explains that he hopes that the bonus material will compensate. The viewer is then offered two menu options: X-Men 2 and Evolution X

Evolution X (subtitled From Concept to Screen to X-Men 2) offers an extensive fly-on-the-wall-style look at the filming process, covering almost every aspect of the film, from early pre-production, right through to intimate footage of the cast promoting the film at theatrical premieres in several different countries. It's all pretty anecdotal, though, and doesn't necessarily tell the whole story (there's practically nothing on the disc about the film's music, which was a last-minute replacement score, by Michael Kamen, and there are plenty of hints about things that aren't fully explained, like an abandoned introduction to Storm's character set in South Africa).  

The Evolution X section is broken down into five sections: Producing X-Men (titled X-Men Production Scrapbook on-screen and on the American disc's menus); Special Effects of The X-Men (on-screen title: The Visual Effects of X-Men); Bringing X-Men To Life (The Uncanny Suspects on-screen and on the US disc's menus, this section contains interviews with all the main cast members); Reflection of the X-Men (Reflections of X-Men on-screen, Reflection of the X-Men on the US menus, this offers more cast interviews from the set of X-Men 2); and X-Factor (subtitled The Look of X-Men, this is a detailed look at the film's costume and make-up work). Combined they run for about two and a half hours. Both the US and UK versions offer a "play all" option, but only the US disc has a White Rabbit feature where additional footage can be selected at relevant moments in the main programme. This extra material - footnotes, if you will - can (also) be selected from each documentary's sub-menu on both the US and UK versions. This bonus material includes the chance to see selected special effects sequences at various stages of completion, using the angles options on your remote. The American disc offers a sixth section titled Marketing The X-Men, which contains three theatrical trailers, nine TV spots and a dozen minute-long behind the scenes "Internet Interstitials", none of which are on the Region 2 disc. (A lot of this footage is also featured elsewhere on the disc).

Selecting X-Men 2 leads to several options, most significantly a sneak preview for the film's first sequel. Viewers won't learn much of any value, but they will at least get a teasing peek at some of the sets, and catch a few sound bites with some of the stars. Like most of the behind the scenes material on the disc, this section is a frustrating mix of anamorphic and non-anamorphic footage, and various aspect ratios. Some of the material is presented in 2.35:1 ratio, as if there was some thought to integrate it into the White Rabbit feature without a change in aspect ratio. Other material is presented in 4:3 mode, either in full-frame mode, or pillarboxed in anamorphic mode. It's all a bit of a mess, frankly, but it's not too irritating. This eight-minute section concludes with a trailer for the 2003 film (the one scored with Holst's Mars - Bringer of War). Oddly, there's a separate option to play this trailer in the Evolution X menu (which isn't on the US version). The UK disc also offers an exclusive trailer for Activision's The X-Men - Wolverine's Revenge game (1'33") and, like the US disc, a full (1'47") trailer for DareDevil ("This February").

There seem to be few other differences between the US and UK versions. The US disc has animated chapter selection menus, the UK ones are static. Both are poorly designed, and wouldn't enable a viewer who wasn't well-acquainted with the film enough clues as to each chapter's contents. In this respect a few seconds of moving footage is significantly more user-friendly than a still image. The UK disc's layer change is poorly place (in the middle of a shot, just after Rogue's line "The first boy I kissed ended up in a coma for three weeks", 48'33" into the film). The US layer change takes place between scenes (61'52" into the film, after Wolverine says "He's going to transfer his power to Rogue and use her to power the machine"). The US disc is THX certified, and has a feature which offers viewers the chance to tweak their playback levels to precisely match those used by the disc's producers. 

Whether you're primarily interested in optimum video and (particularly, in this case) audio quality, or simply enjoy becoming immersed in the film-making experience, upgrading to X-Men 1.5 should be a relatively painless experience.











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