[box cover]

X-Men 1.5

Fox Home Video

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman
Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin,
James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Tyler Mane,
and Ray Park

Written by Tom DeSanto (story) and Bryan Singer
Directed by Bryan Singer

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Review by Damon Houx                    

When Alexandra DuPont concluded her review of the first X-Men DVD, she included this ripe sentence:

"Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if there's an extras-packed, two-disc edition of X-Men in the works — I've heard rumors of rumors at mysterious martini lunches, and of course Fox has a two-discer of Die Hard in the works, so why not X-Men?"

These remarks were prescient when the disc was released on November 21, 2000, as now — more than two years later — her vision has been realized: X-Men 1.5 is the two-disc bells-and-whistles special edition version meant to get the fans excited over the upcoming theatrical release X2 (due out on May 2, 2003) and provide the definitive release of the first film. Yet as many people are looking forward to this disc, there is also vocal detraction, as evidenced from the multitude of complaints lodged at the "double-dip." The double-dip, which has become a common occurrence in the DVD realm, is a euphemism for any film released on DVD twice, with the first release inferior to the second (and in some cases being developed when the first version was fresh on the street).

And for many, the main sticking point of this X-Men release is that it is a dreaded double-dip. Many wonder why this type of release wasn't done in the first place, since the movie was a huge box-office hit (it made $157 million stateside) and was well received — while others snark that this is just a money-suck meant to entice them with a little bit new, meant to make them want to once again "buy the White Album," and cross-promote an upcoming title. Fair complaints all.

Of course, much of this complaining comes from the Internet. And if the 'Net has a grander purpose or meaning, it is to show that no matter what the subject (be it Martin Luther King or "Girls Gone Wild"), somewhere, someone will complain about it. Yet the double-dip is often mocked and chided outside of these circles — even by filmmakers — though some companies have begun to take it for granted (it seems more and more Columbia TriStar films have a bare-bones original release and a stacked later edition). Granted, there are companies that have released the same film in different wrappers on numerous occasions — (cough) Army of Darkness (cough, cough) — but it seems few consumers look at the good side of double-dipping. And frankly, I'm sick of reading babble that consists of "We want more extras!" "We don't want to double-dipped!" "Where's my Spielberg commentary!"

Therefore, here is a top-ten list of why double-dipping isn't all that bad of a thing, and can actually be — well — great:

  1. Video windows: The consumer basically has two choices when it comes to DVD special editions. Choice #1 is get it when the video streets, or #2 is to get it when it's ready. With video releases generally four months (in this case, X-Men was released theatrically on July 14, and on disc 130 days later), it is nearly impossible to get everything assembled in time for a definitive disc to come out at the same time as the video. And if the DVD didn't come out the same time as the video, people would complain. Double-dipping solves the problem of the collector, but not the consumer.

  2. Special editions that are readied by the video window lack perspective: When DVDs are being prepared, often the SE material has to be made before the film is even theatrically released. To make a truly definitive presentation, films need to be looked at with some distance, and rarely does that happen with a recent release. Looking at supplements on a two-disc title from a year or two ago released alongside the video (like, say Hannibal) shows how often what once appeared to be insightful is now lacking, glad-handed, or just plain unwatchable.

  3. Most recent extras are just promotional material repackaged: Look at the recent Spider-Man DVD; outside of outtakes, the commentaries, and the screen tests, the extras about the film amount to vacuous featurettes, which have been scientifically proven to destroy brain cells. A retrospective documentary is one thing, but HBO specials rarely feature more than "So and so was great to work with." Or "We had fun." Or... well, you get the idea.

  4. DTS audio: Often added to include incentive for the double-dipper, there are those who swear by it, as (usually) DTS provides a stronger and louder mix. For example: Twister probably isn't worth a single dip, but the second SE release in DTS is the very definition of Demo Disc.

  5. Studios don't owe you a damn thing: Look, if you like a movie and you buy it twice, who's really to blame? "Damn you Fox, for making me buy a better version!" With the formatting war over Original Aspect Ratios on the horizon, it would be helpful if DVD consumers didn't sound like a bunch of petulant twits. And also, no supplements makes a movie better. Face it. You know it to be true. If you already have it you don't need another version, because...

  6. If the movie is the same, but you want the different extras, then you are not being ripped off if you buy it: Ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, a double-dip is a simply a better release (or one of Columbia's Superbits, which include DTS and are meant for the audio/visual enthusiast more than Joe Consumer). As for different cuts and stuff, that's not really true double-dipping (e.g., the four-disc The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). If great extras are what you want, you get them. And as I said before, they probably couldn't have been readied for the initial release.

  7. Pretty much any disc manufactured before 2000 can be improved: Simply put, the mastering technology has gotten better with time, and few recent releases aren't of reference quality. Many early discs weren't anamorphically enhanced and few reach the bar set by recent DVDs, including some of the discs that used to be reference quality. And also, who isn't waiting for Warner Brothers to get off their wallets and release non flippers versions of titles like The Wild Bunch and Goodfellas?

  8. Sometimes the best material isn't available: Films can be lost. And sometimes cut footage, and even the best source material, won't be known to exist until after a DVD is released. Hence Criterion's second edition of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, which also adds more to the plate to make it enticing as a double-dipper. But this does happen.

  9. Double-dipping gets folks excited about catalog titles: If you have a good-sized DVD collection (say, over 100), chances are there are titles you haven't watched since you bought them (if even then). With the double-dip, you may find yourself excited about buying a title that made its way to the dust covered corners of your collection. Which also relates to...

  10. Sometimes a new transfer can make a film feel fresh or different: Though there is no such thing as a second-time virgin, one of the great benefits of a new master or remix or re-release is that (and this could be a psychosomatic thing) it helps you look at a film with fresh eyes (as sometimes happens if one upgrades a system from stereo to surround, or from S-Video to component). A shiny new transfer can get you more involved in a film that you know all too well.

*          *          *

That said, let's go back to the topic at hand: The new release of X-Men 1.5. As for the movie, the rumors of more cut scenes, or scenes filmed during the (reportedly tumultuous) production of X2 to add to this disc did not come to fruition. But the movie remains the same, and one can read Ms. DuPont's original review here. She was even kind enough to add this to the discussion (via e-mail):

"So has time tempered my appreciation of X-Men? Well, yes, a little. I finally hauled the v. 1.0 DVD out of my library and re-watched it, and I must say the film's flaws are more apparent than ever — but then so are its strengths.

"Yes, the film's fight scenes and wire work — particularly in the wake of Crouching Tiger and its HK antecedents making their way to these shores — are almost uniformly made-for-television. And yes, the effects — particularly after viewing the dense digital mise en scene of Lord of the Rings et al — seem almost bare-bones. In short, all the stereotypical "comic-book" elements of the film, as I wrote before, are just dopey enough to make the movie feel like a two-hour pilot for an "X-Men" TV series. (And I'm sorry, but Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins staged a better fight on the Statue of Liberty. When's that movie coming out in a Special Edition DVD?)

"All of this, I might add, is very likely the function of a bare-bones budget and a famously truncated production cycle; Bryan Singer probably deserves a Purple Heart just for getting the damned thing finished on time, even if he couldn't get Halle Berry to say her stupid Joss Whedon-penned "lightning" line correctly. But the flaws probably do make X-Men ultimately "forgettable" as pure action narrative, much as I think Gladiator's narrative will one day be considered "forgettable."

"All that said, X-Men still seems historically important to me, for a couple of reasons:

"(1) It was the first superhero movie since Superman II to truly embrace character over carnage; it's got all the good human stuff from Batman Returns without, dear Lord, heavily armed penguins. By rejecting the arch tones of camp and treating its really rather silly characters with respect, it earns the respect of its audience — particularly during the moody first hour, which is funny and painful and melancholy. Without X-Men and its attendant success, there's no way in hell we'd be seeing Ang Lee directing The Hulk, or Spider-Man's production team carefully remembering that their franchise is about Peter Parker, not Spider-Man.

"(2) Second, and most important for my money, X-Men gave the world Hugh Jackman — an actor so charming and funny and charismatic that I actually paid full ticket price to see Kate & Leopold. As Wolverine, Jackman's elemental sex-magick and unpretentious way of wrapping his eyebrows around a line was revelatory; as I wrote a couple of years ago, in the last few decades I can only think of a few actors who've taken the reins of their genre roles with as much assurance: Christopher Reeve as Superman, Russell Crowe as Maximus, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Mel Gibson as Mad Max, and maybe Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn when he's not singing weepy little songs about his elf ho. It's a wee little fantasy pinnacle, apparently occupied by an inordinate number of Australians.

"So. Does that answer your question? The film's still good, not great, in my eyes, and the really solid character stuff is still moving and warm. And while I won't be watching this platter anytime soon — and while I'm really annoyed that the long-rumored "additional scenes" to be filmed for this DVD never were, owing largely I'm guessing to X2 being a rough-and-tumble shoot — I hear X-Men 2 draws heavily on the Wolverine backstory, and I for one can't wait.

"Warmest, Alexandra DuPont."

Though the film hasn't been altered per se, it does have a nice THX-approved transfer in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio, alongside a brand new DTS mix. The film was always a nice audio/visual treat, but in DTS the soundtrack is given a bit more oomph. Those looking to calibrate to this may wish to use the THX Optimode option, which is standard issue with most THX-approved discs.

The supplements on Disc One are quite light. First up is the scene-specific audio commentary with Bryan Singer, which is moderated by Singer's friend Brian Peck . At first Singer seems sluggish, as it's apparent this was recorded while he was working on X2, but the further the track goes on the more and more Singer gets into it. He also provides commentary for the Six Deleted Scenes, and can be viewed in the extended branching mode, while there is another option that shows an icon whenever a deleted scene is about to begin and a different icon where one can view the 17 mini-featurettes on the fly. These featurettes are about 1-5 minutes' worth of behind-the-scenes footage for whatever scene it accompanies. Unfortunately, these can only be accessed while watching the movie with the icon on (unlike the first disc which allowed separate access to the deleted scenes). For a full rundown on the deleted scenes, consult Ms. DuPont's first review.

Disc Two opens with an Introduction by Bryan Singer (1:11) done on the set of X2, where he says how he doesn't like double-dipping, but he's proud of this disc. Then the menu gives two options: X-Men 2 or Evolution X. The first offers a Sneak Preview of the sequel (7:51) hosted by Singer, where he tours the sets and offers snippets with stars Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, and Alan Cumming. This concludes with the theatrical trailer. Also included in this section is a teaser trailer for the Ben Affleck picture Daredevil.

Evolution X can be watched all at once (which in total runs longer than the feature film), or broken into sections, all of which have on the icons for more supplements (supplements of supplements, the mind reels). The first is The Uncanny Suspects (24:14), which concentrates on the actors and casting, and interviews all of the primary cast, Singer, producers Ralph Winter and Laura Schuler-Donner, writer Tom DeSanto, and Stan Lee. Of note, Halle Berry (who complained upon the film's release that she thought it was silly) says nothing to ingratiate herself to fans, James Marsden comes off like a pretty-boy, Anna Paquin comes off as cute as a bug, while genre stalwart Patrick Stewart says that he's "not even a science fiction fan." This can be supplemented by two featurettes: The first is Hugh Jackman's first reading with Bryan Singer (10:59), and the second is Hugh Jackman's Screen Test (1:59), which was also on the original disc.

Next up is X Factor: The Look of X-Men (22:48), which talks to Special Make-up designer Gordon Smith, Jackman, Tyler Mane, Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, and Ray Park about the intricacies of their make-up. This is best for revealing how long Stamos spent in the make-up chair, and has a shot of her from behind that would have guaranteed the film an R-rating upon release (her costume consists mostly of paint). This can be supplemented by three self-explanatory featurettes: Early Storm Costume Test (1:27), Creating Toad (3:29), and Early Cyclops Costume Test (1:19).

The X-Men Production Scrapbook is the longest supplement (63:23) and goes from pre-production up to the scoring of the film, spending a good chunk of time talking about locations, the props, storyboards, costumes, and the score, and features interviews with Bruce Davidson, Ian McKellen, Stewart and Jackman. This has two mini multi-angle featurettes, one on the fight rehearsal between Mane and Jackman (consisting of two angles and a "view both"), the other on the train station footage (four angles along with a "view all"). To conclude this segment there is a short (:21) gag footage sequence of people leaving a theater.

The Visual Effects of X-Men (17:27) plays like it sounds, and talks to Singer and special effects supervisor Michael Fink, James Marsden, and Tom DeSanto about how they wanted the film's effects to look and play. This has five featurettes: four multi-angle animatics that can one can watch with the finished footage in tandem (these were on the previous release), and the Making of Senator Kelly's Death which shows the 28 passes it took to create one shot.

Rounding out the doc is Reflections of X-Men (from the set of X2) (8:39), which interviews Laura Schuler Donner, Tom Desanto, Patrick Stewart, James Marsden, and Shawn Ashmore (who played the Iceman character in the first film and has a larger part in the sequel). This can be supplemented with Red Carpet Interviews (4:24) from the premiere, and Tom De Santo's Whirlwind World Premiere X-Men Tour (18:51) , which offers a more intimate perspective on the opening.

There is then the three Theatrical Trailers (running a combined 5:27), nine TV Spots (4:49) and 12 Internet Interstitials (11:04). Those who might be anxious to throw away their old set may want to hold onto them if they liked the Charlie Rose interview with Singer, the TV special "Mutant Watch," or the two Easter eggs, which are not included here. Though in the booklet with the film is an advert for the Alien Quadrilogy, which may put another thorn in the side of the anti-double-dippers.

— Damon Houx (with thanks to Alexandra DuPont)

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2003, The DVD Journal