Astonishing X-Men: Gifted Release Date: September 28, 2010 Studio: Shout! Factory Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Digipak Year: 2010 Rating: NR Running Time: 1:19:34 MSRP: $14.97 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1.78:1 anamorphic Mix of 4:3 and 16:9 Audio Dolby Digital: English 2.0 Stereo Subtitles None None The Feature: 3.5/5 Comic book collectors should be familiar with "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted," a six issue story arc penned by Joss Whedon and penciled by John Cassaday. The series won a 2006 Will Eisner Award for "Best Continuing Series" and the storyline has been praised by critics as one of the most important in the X-Men franchise's long history. Indeed, the conflict brought on by the discovery of a cure for the mutant condition is a powerful one, serving as both a thought-provoking allegory for current events and a compelling adventure for a set of beloved characters. For the "Gifted" motion comic, Marvel takes the award-winning material and gives it a new look, using an animation method first presented to the masses in "Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic." Not quite frame-by-frame animation and not quite panel-by-panel storytelling, motion comics are an interesting fusion of the two that could be dismissed as crude and rudimentary, but that can work quite well as a form of animation, in the hands of a savvy director. In this regard, "Gifted" director Neal Adams shows a lot of room for improvement - his adaptation methods simply aren't as impressive as the ones in "Watchmen" (which was directed by Jake Strider Hughes). Certain techniques - namely "skinning" computer generated wireforms with Cassaday's original illustrations - look clunky and frequently distorted. Frequent zooms into the images also reveal limits to their resolution, as they are often soft and pixelated. Though Adams and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Queseda admit that early efforts will be crude by their nature, this is also not the first time a graphic novel has been adapted in this way. Consequently there's a certain expectation around visual quality they haven't reached, at least with this particular title (the voice work, however, is consistently well executed and convincing). In previews for "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D." and "Iron Man: Extremis" the visuals look significantly more polished, so I haven't lost all hope for the future of Marvel's motion comics releases. As far as "Gifted" is concerned, it's an obvious first effort, redeemed only by the strength of the award-winning source material and a solid cast of voice actors. "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted" is composed of six episodes, which I assume line up with the original comic book issues: Episode One (13:36) Episode Two (14:13) Episode Three (14:26) Episode Four (11:50) Episode Five (12:05) Episode Six (13:24) Video Quality: 3/5 The motion comic adaptation introduces some issues inherent to the source - namely pixelation, softness and aliasing resulting from poorly executed image zooming. Ignoring those problems, the transfer is still somewhat of a mess with visible compression noise, color banding and edge halos. Colors are stable and well saturated though, and black levels and contrast seem appropriate for the illustrated imagery. It's just unfortunate that on top of some questionable production choices there's also a lackluster transfer. Audio Quality: 3/5 The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is dominated by dialogue and as such sounds very clean and intelligible. Support for the score and sound effects are placed well, establishing a respectably wide sound stage. Special Features: 4/5 The set of extras offers a nice balance of behind-the-scenes information and entertaining shorts. A Conversation with Joe Queseda and Neal Adams (17:11): Marvel's Editor-in-Chief and the Co-Director of "Gifted" discuss the motion comic concept, detailing the differences between traditional animation and creating moving images from original comic book artwork. Though the pair seem a bit optimistic about the future of the medium, they do make good points about the challenges inherent in the work. "Rise Up" Music Video (2:36): "Gifted" theme song by David Ari Leon and Guy Erez, featuring Bronx Style Bob and Christian Altman. Trailer (1:55) Character History: Though it provides helpful back story on the feature's various characters, the font is too small and the resolution too low to be very readable. Ironic, considering who is responsible for the information. Behind-the-Scenes: Marvel Knights Animation (5:12): A glimpse at the work done by voice actors, artists, and animators. Artist Gallery: John Cassaday: Seven slides featuring Cassaday's original artwork. Marvel Super Heroes -- What the ?!: Web series featuring Marvel characters in humorous situations, created with action figures and stop motion animation. Episode 1 -- There's No Business Like Snow Business (7:12): Ice Man Bobby Drake loses his powers and explores other career paths. Episode 2 -- Red Carpet M.O.D.O.K. (3:23): M.O.D.O.K. attends the premiere of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and interviews various attendees, including the star of the film. Episode 11 -- Deadpool FYC (2:32): Deadpool falls asleep during an awards show and dreams of success. Trailers: Previews of other Marvel Knights motion comic productions. Spider-Woman - Agent of S.W.O.R.D. (1:02) Black Panther (2:09) Iron Man: Extremis (3:13) Recap The Feature: 3.5/5 Video Quality: 3/5 Audio Quality: 3/5 Special Features: 4/5 Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5 Marvel's problematic first effort with motion comics gets an equally problematic video transfer, acceptable audio and a respectable set of special features.