At Home With Popcorn Swiv
Created | Updated Apr 30, 2003
This was the first of the recent crop of comic-book movies, and it sets the stage for it.
Its dark, grounded in reality, has a fantastic ensemble cast, and is something of an unusual
beast. In some ways the film feels a little incomplete – it doesn't have enough action to feel
like a big action blockbuster, and it doesn't have enough character development to feel like a
drama. It's also only slightly more than 90 minutes long, and feels a little like an introduction
for a larger story. Still, it manages to be an enjoyable film, and I'm inclined to prefer it to
the bigger budget, flashier Spiderman.
Simply put, the story is set in the 'not-too-distant future' and is about Mutants – humans
who have evolved to have 'super-powers'. The darkness of the film stems from the fact that
these powers aren't particularly super – in many cases (such as Rogue, who cannot touch anyone
without drawing their life into herself) they are tragic flaws.
The plot deals with two groups of mutants: the 'heroes' are those who are peaceable and
want to live alongside humans, and are led by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) whose mutant
powers are the ability to get into people's minds. The 'villains' are those who believe that a
war with humans – who are afraid of the mutants' powers - is coming and who therefore take
the fight to them. They are led by Magneto (Ian McKellan), a powerful mutant who can create
magnetic fields and manipulate metal. The film is about the X-Men – Professor X's team who
work at his school – 'Mutant High' – and how they try and stop Magneto destroying the human
It is, fortunately for the cinema-going public, not that simple. Heroes and Villains is too
straightforward a division – Magneto certainly has a point, why not fight back when you are
coming under attack for something that isn't your fault. Of course – as Senator Kelly argues,
Magneto's actions will simply prove his detractors right. Professor X on the other hand, while
undoubtedly good and noble, seems to have few qualms about using his powers to get into other
peoples' minds in order to achieve his own ends. Wolverine (an electrifying Hugh Jackman)
encapsulates the problem – 'Are you sure you're on the right side?' he asks Halle
The acting is not, of course, uniformly excellent. Berry in particular looks uncomfortable –
and gets the worst line of the entire piece – I confess, she still hasn't convinced me that she
can actually act. Famke Janssen as Jean Grey is not nearly as interesting as she should be –
there is a lack of chemistry with Wolverine (of course, it doesn't help her case that Anna
Paquin as Rogue, has a definite spark with Jackman), and both she and James Marsden
(Cyclops) are given relatively little to do. The bigger players: Stewart, McKellan, Jackman
and Paquin – plus Bruce Davison as Senator Kelly, the mutant world's worst nightmare – are
pure class however. They are also well served by director Bryan Singer's obvious ability with
However, Singer seems less confident when dealing with action and effects – partially I
suspect (and hope, given that he's doing the sequel) because this was his film in which he had to
deal with it (his previous efforts, The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil). Given the lack of major
action set pieces this isn't a huge problem, and he makes up for it by making the film look very
good and his assuredness in dealing with the complicated themes.
It does, naturally, all look very good on DVD – I have slight problems watching things on
VHS nowadays it must be said – and the effects don't appear to have dated at all (unlike those
on Spiderman, which I already find look fake).
Also – as a bonus – the film has branching features. You can watch scenes that were deleted
where they would have been inserted in the film. They're not neatly re-inserted, rather you
flick out of the film and watch them. This is slightly distracting, and they don't add much to
the film so I don't recommend doing it more than once – or at all if you have either the
previous X-Men DVD, or the video with extra scenes on it, as they're the same. You also can't
get to them unless you watch the version of the film with them in (you can watch it without the
branching of course) – unless you, as I did, sit down with the film in your laptop and try to
find them all through various chapter and title menus. You can also watch the film with 17
behind the scenes slots that branch in the same manner. I confess to not having seen them all
yet as I got very tired of trying to find them all! The ones I have seen though are interesting
little snippets – and I just wish you could see them away from the film.
First of all – why '1.5'? Well, it's simple really – this is the second DVD edition of the first
X-Men film. I confess I haven't seen the first edition – but this seems to be simply an
upgrade, it has all the old stuff on it, plus a few nice additions – such as a director's
commentary and a large 'Making Of…' section. And all just in time for the release of X2 on
As a bonus, of course, the second disc has a 'sneak preview' of X2, which starts as soon as
you put the disc in. Of course – I'm now sitting here whimpering about how much I want to see
the sequel and not concentrating on the rest of the disc! It features several key cast members
talking briefly about the new film, and a small tour of the set with Bryan Singer – there's also
the trailer for it, which is why I'm currently wibbling.
The second disc has two sections: X2, and the Evolution X – which is the Behind the scenes /
Making Of segment. In Evolution X you have two choices – either you can hit 'Play All' and
watch over two hours of documentaries, or you can watch them individually. The one problem
with the 'Play all' feature is that the documentaries aren't divided into chapters – so unless
your player has a 'resume' function the only way to find a particular place is to fast forward.
There are also sections that aren't available through 'Play all' so you need to go to the
individual sections to find things like costume tests, screen tests and multi-angle shots.
First then: the documentaries: Special Effects, Design and three sections on the making – the
beginning, the filming and the reflections. Everyone who was in the cast is involved here, and
all are interesting an informative. The order of these, if you hit Play All, is different to the
order in which they appear on the menus, and is also slightly more coherent – so seems to be the
best way to watch them.
It starts with 'Bringing the X-Men to life' in which the cast and major crewmembers talking
about the making of the film. They're all interesting and amusing – and most of them hadn't
been into the X-Men comics at all. The extra-documentary stuff in this section is also sweet:
Hugh Jackman's first reading with Bryan Singer – which is a little long – and his screen test
with Anna Paquin, which is a gem. We should all be very grateful that the Mission Impossible
II shoot overran so that Dougray Scott couldn't take the part – he would have been good I'm
sure, but not this good.
Next up is 'The X-Factor': dealing with the costumes and make up side of the design. The
most interesting bit deals with Mystique's 'costume' – prosthetics and blue paint effectively –
which seems to have involved some new ideas taking shape. You can also see costume tests for
Cyclops and Storm, a make-up test for Toad and a gallery stuffed full of design images.
Production comes next: the documentary starts in a development meeting, and follows through
filming – effectively an hour long Behind the Scenes, in which chaos and uncertainty often
feature. Extras – not in the Play All – show the filming of a rehearsal and a scene from several
different angles. Post-production, naturally follows, detailing the Special effects work. This
moves character by character and focus' on the way in which they had to make the computer
wizardry fit in with the acting. There are also a couple of extra clips showing how it all fits
together: the gradual process of creating a key scene with Senator Kelly, and animatic/real
screen comparisons of several short scenes from the finale on Liberty Island.
Finally, 'Reflections': this is a brief documentary, filmed from the X2 set, in which Bryan
Singer doesn't feature. What comes across most clearly is the sheer terror of those involved
on the release of the film – they didn't have any previews to get audience reaction to the film,
fairly unusual for this kind of big movie. There is also footage of the premieres: official
stuff from the Ellis Island world premiere – to which Halle Berry appears to have turned up in
a bikini – and which has interviews with everyone involved. There's also some frankly bizarre
footage filmed by producer Tom de Santo's as he travelled to various premieres across the
Then, with the film itself, there is Bryan Singer's director's commentary. In fact it's
Bryan Singer, with 'the other Bryan' – whose relationship to the film I've not quite established
– but he's there because Singer doesn't like to do these things by himself. He doesn't need to
have worried – the other Bryan serves only to lead Singer on, most of the time the director
leaps onto his questions half asked. Singer is naturally informative and interesting, and
particularly likes to focus on the way the film is grounded in reality.
So there you go – just in time for you to go out to watch the sequel. And if the next DVD is
as solid as this one, well then we're in for a treat.