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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: X-Men Trilogy



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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted May 02 2009 - 11:41 PM

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X-Men Trilogy (Blu-ray)
Directed by Bryan Singer, Brett Ratner

Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Year: 2000-2006
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 / 2.40:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 104/134/104 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French, Portuguese
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, others
Region: A
MSRP: $ 79.99

Release Date: April 21, 2009
Review Date: May 3, 2009


The Films


X-Men - 4/5

Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) believes that the mutant population needs to be kept on a short leash, and so he proposes a mutant registration law to make sure the government can keep tabs on these genetically altered beings who have a dizzying array of special powers. Two mutant factions react differently to the proposal. The Mutant Brotherhood, led by the rebellious martinet Magneto (Ian McKellen), proposes an all-out assault on humankind to prove that mutants aren’t to be trifled with or discriminated against. The X-Men, led by the more rational Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), is more about reasoning with the government officials offering arguments about equal rights and right to privacy and running a school for mutant children where they can find acceptance and aid in coping with their abilities within a framework of normalcy that flies in the face of Magneto’s combative energies.

Director Bryan Singer and writer David Hayter (based on a story by Tom DeSanto and director Singer) have turned an action movie based on comic book characters into a beautifully conceived metaphor against discrimination against individuals based on their differences from the norm. The movie’s fascinating array of mutant beings, all coping with their differences in degrees ranging from outright anger or denial to enthusiastic acceptance, constantly maintain the audience’s interest and sympathy. Even the “villains” among the mutant community take on a rather noble stature in their refusal to bend to the will of the majority when the majority is so clearly aiming toward a limiting of their rights. What’s more, despite the need to provide the obligatory exposition for those in the audience who are new to the franchise’s basic tenants, Singer has directed the film tightly with excellent action sequences that don’t become the be-all and end-all of the movie. Filming on a budget smaller than the norm for a superhero movie, much is accomplished with the limited resources. There is an appealing tightness and conservatism in the film’s production that makes it a very appealing kickoff for the series.

Hugh Jackman’s intense, confused Wolverine made him the film’s most notable breakout character, but Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, James Marsden as Cyclops (who’s running rivalry with Wolverine added conflict within the community of X-Men), and Anna Paquin’s desperate Rogue also developed large followings. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’ shape-shifting Mystique and Tyler Mane’s Sabretooth both score major points for the Brotherhood. And as the two heads of their factions, no better actors could have been found than Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart bringing surety and depth to their roles as their group‘s elder statesmen.

X2: X-Men United - 4.5/5

Dismayed over his son’s mutant tendencies which couldn’t be “cured,” former Army commander William Stryker (Brian Cox) declares all-out war on all mutants and concocts a plan to use Professor Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) Cerebro chamber to annihilate all mutants. To do that he must invade the Xavier School for the Gifted to take over the machine. Stryker’s alter ego Magneto (Ian McKellen) has an equally vicious vendetta against humankind and suggests his Brotherhood and the X-Men unite to fight their common enemy though he keeps his plans to use the Cerebro machine to wipe out humans to himself until he can gain the upper hand.

The sequel to the hit original film possesses grander production values and even more mutants on display. From the thrilling opening salvo against the President (Cotter Smith) by new mutant Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) to exciting set pieces including the invasion of the school and the pursuit of the X-Men by the government leading to an aerial dogfight, Bryan Singer’s direction of this second feature is even more assured than on the first film. Characterizations are richer and more deeply explored, the action more intense, and the special effects much grander than in the original film. It’s an altogether more visceral experience the second time around, and the film’s overwhelming box-office take, surpassing the original, left no doubts about producing a third film in the franchise.

Alan Cumming makes a spectacular introduction to the series in the opening sequences, and his sensitive performance as Nightcrawler adds pathos to the other stories of the persecuted mutants. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine again dominates the proceedings as we learned more backstory on this tortured mutant’s history. Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart (to a lesser extent since he spends a large part of the movie in a trance-like state) all continue to impress with their characters carried over from the first edition. New additions like Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman and Aaron Stanford’s Pyro prove exceedingly helpful to the storytelling expanding the world and giving the younger generation a group of mutants in whom they could identify.

X-Men: The Final Stand - 3/5

A scientist has come up with a serum which contains an antibody that suppresses the X-gene thus effecting a so-called “cure” for the mutant population, and while the government is offering it on a volunteer basis, rebellious-minded Magneto (Ian McKellen) is certain it’s only a matter of time before taking the drug becomes mandatory. So, he begins gathering a mutant army to combat the humans, find the serum, and destroy the mutant child (Cameron Bright) who‘s being used to manufacture the drug. The X-Men, disturbed by the mutants versus humans scenario, begin gathering their own forces to combat them. Magneto’s secret weapon is the all-powerful Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who rises Phoenix-like from Alkali Lake with powers intact but no allegiance to her former friends.

Brett Ratner’s continuation of the story is strictly comic book level heroics without exploring in much depth the metaphoric “cure” aspect of his story. The film is so crowded with mutants both familiar and new to the series that none of them get the kind of exposition that Nightcrawler enjoyed in the previous film (and he’s nowhere to be seen in this movie). Thus, the cluttered array of characters and the purely action-dominated scenario without any real depth of feeling render this third movie in the trilogy by far the least interesting. It’s flush with testosterone but fatally lacking in the subtlety and nuance that were hallmarks of Bryan Singer‘s two films in the series.


Video Quality


X-Men - 4/5

The film is presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The transfer is exceptionally clean, but it’s not quite as razor sharp as I was expecting. Color is solid, and flesh tones are natural. Blacks are truly excellent, and the image sports very fine dimensionality. There were brief glimpses of very thin edge haloes. The film has been divided into 40 chapters.

X2: X-Men United - 4.5/5

The theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 has been replicated here in 1080p using the AVC codec. While color, sharpness, and dimensionality are very good, the transfer just misses being reference quality. Contrast is just a bit under cranked resulting in an image that sports good but not great detail. Black levels, however, are excellent. The film has been divided into 40 chapters.

X-Men: The Final Stand - 5/5

The film is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The image is the strongest of the three films with contrast perfectly adjusted to result in an image that constantly impresses in its clarity and dimensionality. Though a bit darker than the other films, the image is still impressive, and color depth and flesh tones are exemplary as are once again outstanding black levels. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.


Audio Quality


X-Men - 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound makes terrific use of the soundfield with an energetic audio mix that accommodates both the action moments in the story and the quieter ones as well. There is directionialzed dialog on occasion, and marvelous use of the LFE channel.

X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand - 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix is beautifully designed and supremely enveloping for both movies. All available channels are kept noticeably busy with each film’s action-oriented content, and yet each is capable of great subtlety when scenes require a quieter ambiance. LFE is consistently impressive with both films.

There has been some question about the DTS-HD MA track on X2 with an irregularity on the disc that prevents certain Blu-ray players bitstreaming the audio to be able to get the full lossless experience instead of receiving just the lossy core. (Liner notes on the Blu-ray case state the sound to be only DTS 5.1.) The Playstation 3 which I used for the basis of this review had no such trouble decoding the full lossless DTS-HD MA track and delivering it with explosive power.


Special Features


X-Men - 5/5

Disc one provides an audio commentary with director Bryan Singer and associate Brian Peck. It’s a generally breezy commentary without weighing down the listener with a lot of technical detail.

The film may be watched in an enhanced mode which when engaged branches off into the six deleted scenes at their appropriate places in the film and seventeen brief behind-the-scenes glimpses of the cast at work. The six deleted scenes are also available on the main menu and can be viewed with or without commentary by Singer and Peck. Unfortunately, all of the branching segments as well as all of the bonus features in the set are presented in 480i.

“Fox Special: The Mutant Watch” is a faux news report used as an advertising tool for the original film. Bruce Davison reprises his role as Senator Robert Kelly espousing his negative views on mutants, all of which allows the film’s director, actors, and various crew members to respond about their work with the X-Men. It runs 22 minutes.

Bryan Singer’s appearance on The Charlie Rose Show is broken up into five segments. In typical fashion, Rose asks the director intelligent questions about his work on the first film. Together the segments run 7 minutes.

The disc offers two animatics computer storyboards: the train station fight lasts for ¾ of a minute while the Statue of Liberty showdown runs for 1 minute.

The viewer can step through an elaborate array of production art galleries and character design arrays to see the varied incarnations of the movie’s characters during the months of preproduction work before actual shooting began.

A Marvel trailer gallery includes trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, Daredevil, and Fantastic 4.

There are three TV commercial spots each running a half a minute and a music promotional spot for the film’s soundtrack CD which also runs half a minute.

Disc two includes the five part interactive documentary on the making of the film from preproduction meetings to the movie’s gala premiere. Together the documentary runs 136 ½ minutes though the viewer may also choose to watch only the five individual segments of the feature: “The Uncanny Suspects” (interviews with the principal actors on the movie), “X Factor” (which involves costume and make-up designs for the look of the film), “X-Men Production Scrapbook” (the most elaborate of the featurettes which begins with preproduction meetings, storyboards, early views of set and prop construction, location scouting, early principal photography through wrapping with each of the main actors on the shoot), “Visual Effects of X-Men” (discussing the CGI versus real world effects used in the picture), and “Reflections of the X-Men” (gauging the reactions to the actors to the finished film at the premiere). This elaborate documentary also has an enhanced mode which allows the viewer to branch off during each of the five segments into additional behind the scenes views which last a minute or two each (which is where, for example, Hugh Jackman's screen test with Anna Paquin can be found). The branching segments are also available for viewing separately from a main menu selection.

Three theatrical trailers and two TV commercial spots may be viewed on disc two.

Thirteen internet interstitials may be chosen for viewing featuring a ¾-minute look at each of the X-Men.

Disc three in the set is a digital copy of the film with instruction in the package for installation on PC and Mac devices.

X2: X-Men United - 5/5

Disc one in the set contains two audio commentaries. The first features director Bryan Singer and cinematographer Tom Siegel talking amiably about their work experience on the movie. A more involving audio commentary is the second one featuring producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter and writers Dan Harris, David Hayter, and Michael Dougherty. Though each group gets quiet on occasion, it’s not usually a long wait for someone to come up with an interesting or informative anecdote about the production of the movie.

Aside from the trailers, the bonus features are presented in 480p. They have all been ported over from the previous 2-disc DVD set of the film. The following are on disc two in the set.

“The Secret Origins of the X-Men” is a 15 ½-minute summary of the comic book series and how it was brought to the screen.

“Nightcrawler Reborn” gives the backstory of the beloved character in a 7 ½-minute featurette.

“Nightcrawler Attack” allows the viewer to see the magnificent opening sequence from four different selectable angles. The segment runs 2 ½ minutes.

Two preproduction featurettes cover the evolution and design of the sets featuring production designer Guy Dyas (18 minutes) and look of the costumes for the film with wardrobe designer Louise Ningeback (9 minutes).

“Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal” is a brief 1 ½-minute vignette showing the stars and their stunt doubles figuring out moves before shooting begins.

“The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Menis the set’s most elaborate extra, a 59 ½-minute documentary covering all phases of the movie’s production.

“Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler” spends 9 ¾ minutes showing the planned movements, look, and elaborate make-up needed to make this character come to life.

“Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal” shows both in animatic and live action form the preparations for the incredible opening action scene of the picture. It runs 2 ½ minutes.

“Nightcrawler Time Lapse” shows the application of make-up for actor Alan Cumming as the character, a five hour make-up job covered in 3 ¾ minutes.

“FX2” covers six major action scenes in the movie that involve elaborate special effects and how they were rendered: the jet chase, the tornados, Nightcrawler’s BAMF, the Plastic Prison, Cerebro, and the dam break. It lasts 25 minutes.

“Requiem for Mutants” details the writing and recording of the film’s score by John Ottman in an 11 ½-minute featurette.

Interviews with principal participants in the film are highlighted in 17 minutes of Webcast Highlights.

There are eleven deleted scenes available for viewing.

Six art galleries are available for step-through viewing. They’re arranged by characters, locations and sets, Mutant X-rays, Nightcrawler posters, On-camera graphics, and unseen X2.

Three theatrical trailers are offered in 1080p.

The third disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie with instructions for installation on PC and Mac devices.

X-Men: The Last Stand - 5/5

Once again, two audio commentaries are offered. Director Brett Ratner and writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg provide a sometimes silly, tongue-in-cheek conversation that imparts some information along the way. Better is the producers’ commentary with Avi Arad, Ralph Winter, and Lauren Shuler Donner talking more specifically about the differences between Singer and Ratner as directors and giving more generally worthwhile information about the film’s production.

Also on disc one are 24 deleted/extended scenes which can be played individually or in one 19 minute group. There is also available commentary by Brett Ratner and the writers which can be selected or not. All are presented in 1080p.

Disc two begins is “Brett Ratner’s Production Diary,” a 41 ½-minute compilation of video footage from preproduction meetings through location scouting, storyboard preparation, first day’s shooting, heading back to Vancouver for the majority of the shoot down to the last day of filming, wrapping production after 104 days and the film’s reception at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s presented in 480p.

“X-Men: Evolution of a Trilogy” is a 45-minute reel of highlights for the “making-of” documentaries attached to each of the three films. This feature is in 480p.

“X3: The Excitement Continues” is the EPK for the movie with the usual puffy interviews with cast and crew. It lasts for 21 ¼ minutes in 1080i.

“X-Men Up Close” is an interactive gallery presenting stills, text summaries, and video footage (both movie excerpts and behind-the-scenes footage) of the following movie characters: Beast, Angel, Storm, Charles Xavier, Rogue, Pyro, Colossus, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Magneto, Mystique, Iceman, Kitty, Juggernaut, Callisto, and Cyclops. Each character’s section is composed of Powers/History/Art Gallery/Xtras (video footage).

“Anatomy of a Scene” shows how the climactic Golden Gate Bridge sequence was constructed from storyboards to filming and the addition of both CGI and miniature special effects. The 1080i segment runs 12 minutes.

“Generation X: Comic Book History” is an exhaustive 68 ½-minute overview of the history of the X-Men comics from their birth in 1963 through many permutations. Interviews with many of the series artists down through the decades are provided. It’s in 480p.

Two Fox Movie Channel specials touch on the third film. “Life After Film School” is a 26 ¼-minute program with three film school graduates quizzing producer Ralph Winter about the intricacies of the movie business. “Casting Session” is more strictly a PR feature for the film with the cast, the director, selected producers, and creator Stan Lee providing sound bites for the film. It lasts 10 minutes. Both are in 480i.

Seven vignettes giving more behind-the-scenes information about the movie may be selected. They’re grouped as “Prophecies,” “Politics,” “Costumes,” “Make-Up,” “Props,” “On-Set FX,” and “Fly Stunts.” Together they run 27 minutes, but they can be viewed individually. They’re in 1080i.

Four internet blogs featuring Brett Ratner show additional behind-the-scenes information produced during filming. Together they run 14 ¼ minutes and are in 1080i.

There are twenty previz animatics showing computer mock-ups for important scenes in the film. They can be viewed separately or in one 25 ¾-minute grouping. They’re in 480i.

Step through galleries are available that feature character stills (repeated from the “Up Close” feature above), concept art, and storyboards.

Three theatrical trailers, all in 1080p, are available for viewing.

Disc three is the digital copy of the film together with instructions for loading it onto Mac and PC devices.

All of the films are BD-Live enabled.


In Conclusion

4.5/5 (not an average)

The X-Men Trilogy offers as comprehensive a set of bonuses as fans could want (only many lacking high definition enhancement), and the films themselves have never looked or sounded better. Even with the minor third entry in the series, the set comes highly recommended.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Virgoan

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Posted May 05 2009 - 09:21 AM

Wow! Thanks, Matt, for an extensive and thoroughly detailed review. I'm really impressed with the detail you give. It's obvious you spend hours watching and assessing these discs. I, for one, appreciate it.

#3 of 3 OFFLINE   David Deeb

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Posted May 06 2009 - 04:43 AM

Great review Matt. I have got to pick this up soon.

Love the first 2 & only "like" the 3rd. The 3rd would have been great if A) they limited new characters to just the Beast & given the original cast more screen time and B) not killed Cyclops - the stupidest thing in comic book movie history.

Like others have said elsewhere, I really don't have use for digital copies. And I wish the special features were put in HD. I mean this is the Blu-ray box set and yet we're treated to mostly SD features on the 2nd film's 2nd disc (is it actually a Blu-ray disc and if so, why?) and given 3 digital versions. It's like being given a lousy, greasy hamburger when you buy a fine steak dinner.

But the 3 films themselves are in HD and priced fairly so I guess its not too bad.