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review added: 9/2/03



X2: X-Men United
Widescreen Special Edition - 2003 (2003) - 20th Century Fox

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

X2: X-Men United - Special Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/B-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/B+

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
133 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 76:28, at the start of chapter 21), Digipack packaging, audio commentary (with director Bryan Singer and cinematographer Tom Sigel), audio commentary with (with the producers and writers: Lauren Shuler Doner, Ralph Winter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Hans and David Hayter), animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (40 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1), Spanish and French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two - Supplemental Material
NR, 11 production featurettes (including The Secret Origin of X-Men, History of the X-Men, Nightcrawler Reborn, Evolution in the Details: Designing X2, United Colors of X, Requiem for Mutants: The Score of X2, X2 Global Webcast Highlights, Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal, Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal, FX2: Visual Effects and Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler - some 4x3, some 16x9), The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making of X2 documentary, "Nightcrawler Attack" multiangle scene study (4 angles), Nightcrawler make-up time-lapse footage, 11 deleted scenes, production design and graphics galleries, 3 theatrical trailers, an anti-drug PSA, DVD-ROM features (including weblinks), animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music


X2: X-Men United begins a few short months after the conclusion of the first film. Logan's been searching Alaska for clues to his past, Magneto has been contained in his plastic prison, classes at Professor Xavier's school for the "gifted" are in full swing and all seems right with the world. But in the film's thrilling opening sequence, a new mutant, Nightcrawler, attempts to infiltrate the White House and assassinate the President right in the Oval Office. The attempt fails... barely... but the action has sent the rampant fear and paranoia of normal humans about their mutant counterparts to an all time high. Prompted by the attack, the President authorizes a military team that's been investigating the mutant "phenomenon", led by Colonel William Stryker, to take action. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier launches his own investigation into the assassination attempt. He and his team of X-Men quickly discover that Stryker has found a way to control mutants... control that he's using to start an all-out war between humans and mutants. For some mysterious reason, Stryker's goal is nothing less than the complete destruction of all mutants everywhere... and he's close to obtaining exactly the tools he needs to accomplish this. Naturally, only the X-Men stand in his way. But when the going gets tough, our heroes will have to team up with their former enemies to stave off disaster.

Director Bryan Singer and his writing team intentionally patterned X2 after the great genre film follow-ups that have come before, namely The Empire Strikes Back and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Borrowing the best dramatic elements of each, and blending them into the unique world of the X-Men, they've managed to craft a superhero sequel that's not only better than the first film, but is also an exciting and entertaining film in its own right. With the original already in the can, this film has much more free reign to develop the story and the characters. We've already been introduced to these mutants and their powers, so now we can take them a step further, placing them in greater jeopardy to see what makes them tick.

Accordingly, the stakes have been significantly raised in this film, making it darker and more angst-filled than the original. It's also got some great set piece action scenes, including the aforementioned assassination attempt. The story here flows perfectly from the first film. Still, X2 isn't perfect. A little more depth to the character development would have been welcome, but it's sidelined in favor of the kind of quick development moments that come in brief pauses during the action. And of all the characters, Cyclops still suffers the most. He's not very sympathetic and he's given very little to do in this film.

All of that said, this is a great superhero movie, very faithful to the spirit (if not the letter) of the original comic books. All of the actors from the first film are back here, including Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, and they each turn in excellent performances. This film is also hugely entertaining and, like the first, is accessible even to those moviegoers not familiar with the X-Men and their vast and complex history. The character of Nightcrawler, in particular, is a great addition to this film series. The opening scene is excellent and there's at least one moment in this film I did not see coming, where Nightcrawler's unique abilities save the life of one of the X-Men in a tight scrape. Bottom line: X2 is great fun from start to finish.

The video quality presented on this DVD (in anamorphic widescreen) is generally excellent. Light film grain is visible throughout the presentation, with accurate (if muted) color and very deep blacks. Edge-enhancement is kept to a minimum and overall clarity is excellent. All in all, this video is very true to the original film presentation and should please most fans.

The audio is also very good, but I'm surprised to say that I wasn't quite as impressed as I expect to be by the dual Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Both are solid, and certainly do justice to the original theatrical experience. But neither is quite as completely immersive as I was expecting. The soundstage tends to be a little too front-centric, lacking in continuous atmospheric use of the surrounds. The rear channels do get very active during the action scenes, but only occasionally do they come into play during the rest of the film. That's not to say the tracks are bad - not by any measure. Most fans of the film will be quite happy, but audiophiles will find nothing particularly stellar here. Bass and overall dynamic range in both tracks are excellent, and I would say the DTS has a very, very slight edge in terms of general clarity. It may be just my own subjective opinion, but I was expecting a little more oomph, if you will.

In terms of bonus content, Disc One delivers a pair of solid audio commentary tracks. The first, and best, features director Bryan Singer and his cinematographer. It's very casual in tone, but includes some nice insights into the film, the characters and the production process. Also available is a second feature-length track with the producers and the writers. It's also occasionally interesting, but there are long moments where no one is talking, which makes this track even more laid back than the first.

The meat of the extras, of course, is found on Disc Two. What you get basically boils down to some eleven video featurettes, spread over several sections: History of the X-Men, Pre-Production, Production, Post-Production, Deleted Scenes, Galleries and Trailers. Each featurette is assembled from interviews with the cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. Starting with History of the X-Men section, The Secret Origin of X-Men is a very interesting look at the original comic book, the characters contained therein and some of the creators involved, including Stan Lee and Chris Clarmont. It also delves into the process of re-imagining the characters for the big screen. Nightcrawler Reborn, as you might expect, looks more specifically at the character of Nightcrawler as adapted from comic page to screen.

Moving on to Pre-Production, we find a multi-angle look at the film's opening scene in which Nightcrawler attempts to kill the President. You can choose to view any of four angles - the original pre-viz animatic, the scene as shot with unfinished effects, a comp of the first two together and the final scene as it appeared in the film. Also in this section are Evolution in the Details: Designing X2, which looks more closely at the film's art and production design, and United Colors of X, which examines the costume design.

The Production section features the longest of the pieces - an actual documentary entitled The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making of X2. Also available here is video of the stunt rehearsal for the fight between Wolverine and Deathstrike, Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler (which looks at the body movement training for the character), the Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal featurette (which features clips of the pre-viz compared with the on-set rehearsal), a time-lapse video of actor Alan Cumming in the make-up chair, and a look at the film's special effects work in a featurette appropriately titled FX2: Visual Effects.

Post-Production adds one featurette of interest, Requiem for Mutants: The Score of X2 (which is just what you'd expect - a look at the scoring process and philosophy) and one that isn't so interesting, X2 Global Webcast Highlights (which is nothing more than video of Bryan Singer answering fan questions via e-mail during an online chat held to promote the film).

The rest of the disc is very straightforward. You get eleven deleted scenes - more accurately described as extended scenes or deleted moments - thankfully in anamorphic widescreen. The best of these is a brief moment with the character of Jubilee in the museum, and two scenes in which Professor X believes he has escaped with Cyclops. The latter, had they been included in the film, would have at least given Cyclops a little more screen time.

There's a section of production art galleries, broken down by topic. These are nice, in that they feature lots of cool artwork and interesting imagery on the characters, the sets and locations, and miscellaneous graphics that appeared in the film (and some of which didn't). You get to look at the posters created for Nightcrawler's circus backstory, some of the on-camera computer screen images, the "mutant" x-rays, and even characters and locations that were proposed for the film but didn't make it to theater screens (like Angel, the Sentinels and the Danger Room).

Finally, there are three theatrical trailers for the film, as well as an anti-drug PSA (which doesn't seem to have any connection to the film, nor any reason for being on this disc that I can determine). This section also includes an offer for three free comics from Marvel, and a bit about the DVD-ROM features available on the disc (basically just weblinks).

Strangely, while most of the material described here is presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9), a few things are only 4x3. This surprisingly includes all the theatrical trailers. Why we have no idea, but there it is.

All in all, there's nothing on either of these two discs, save perhaps the film itself, that really strikes you as terribly unique or special. But the extras, in total, are solid enough that you end up being mostly satisfied. There's enough to sink your teeth into here that most fans will be quite happy with this special edition. And I will say this: Particularly welcome here are the insights of the original creators of these characters - the folks who molded them on the colorful page of the comic. Too often these contributors get overlooked and I was very pleased to hear from them at some length on Disc Two.

So in the end, if it's not likely to vie for Best DVD Special Edition of 2003 honors, this film is great fun and this disc is good enough to leave you content... and eagerly awaiting the already in the works X3. Our advice... serve with popcorn and enjoy.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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