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review added: 7/2/02

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X-Men
2000 (2002) - 20th Century Fox

D-VHS D-Theater

A Few Words on D-VHS

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsHigh Definition 1080i

X-Men Film Rating: B-

Tape Ratings (Video/Audio): A-/B+

DVD Comparative Ratings (Video/Audio): C/B-*

*if graded on D-VHS scale


Specs and Features


104 minutes, PG-13, High Definition 1080i, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, clamshell case packaging, languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 - 576kbps), subtitles: none, Close Captioned

Ahhh... the superhero movie. There's nothing like a good comic book superhero, adapted well for the big screen. As any fan of the comics already knows, X-Men follows an Evil-fighting team of "mutants" - humans with enhanced powers. Their leader is the wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier (aka Professor X, played here by Patrick Stewart), who has started an institute to teach mutants to use their powers for good. Mutants must constantly be on guard from the fear and paranoia they generate in ordinary humans. This fear is so great, that one mutant has decided to wage a war against humanity - the devious Magneto (Ian McKellen). Now, mutants the world over are taking sides in this great battle, and only the X-Men can save humanity from extinction. Professor X will be aided in this struggle by the likes of Cyclops (James Marsden), Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry), along with two mutant newcomers, Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). And among the evil mutants they'll face are Toad (Ray Park, better known for playing Darth Maul in Episode I), Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Who will win? Well... you can probably guess. But I'm just betting that the potential of seeing a Halle Berry/Rebecca Romijn-Stamos grudge match got a lot of young men into the theaters.

This film actually works fairly well. If it has one main problem, it suffers from a lot of obligatory setup and backstory. We're getting to know the characters and the situation here and, as a result, the film lags a bit while we learn about Xavier's "mutant" Institute, among other things. Because of all this backstory, there's not as much actual conflict as one would want. And since you never see Magneto really doing much that's truly evil until late in the film, he isn't as effective a villain as he could be (and I think will be in future films). The other problem is that, as many of you know, this film was heavily edited before its theatrical release. Some 45 minutes was cut from the running time, and you can tell - there's a lot of story hinted at here (like Wolverine's mysterious past) that we get glimpses of but never see. But ultimately, I like these characters and the setup. Stewart, Jackman and the rest are solid. McKellen IS a good Magneto and I think we'll get a better feel for that if he sticks with the role. And aside from one really lame duck Halle Berry line about what happens to a toad when it gets hit by lightning, the dialogue works too.

On D-VHS, the video quality simply out-classes its DVD counterpart (reviewed here) in every respect. You'll see improved clarity and detail rendition (owing to the higher 1080i resolution), greater depth of contrast and improved color fidelity (thanks to the 28.2 mpbs compression rate) and a generally more natural and satisfying picture overall. The first bit of conflict in the film, between two of the X-Men and Sabretooth (as they fight over Rogue and Wolverine), perfectly illustrates the differences between the D-VHS and DVD in A/B comparisons. The flames and explosion from Wolverine's camper are much more vibrant and rich looking on the D-VHS. In addition, all that blowing snow that Storm sends Sabretooth's way has greater definition - you'll see every flake, without the sort of compression artifacting such chaotic motion can cause in a DVD transfer. Another good point for comparison between the two versions is the film's opening credits. All that CGI-animated, X-mutated DNA (I think that's what it is - is that what it is?) spins, twins and flys right at you on both the DVD and D-VHS, but the color is more vibrant on the D-VHS, with much greater rendition of depth and fine detail. You'll also see that in the metal door that slams shut behind the X-Men logo - you'll notice significantly more subtle grain and texture in the metal surface on the D-VHS version. It's truly an amazing viewing experience.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on D-VHS is also improved over what we got on DVD, but the difference isn't quite as striking (which seems to be typical of the soundtracks I've compared on D-VHS and DVD thus far). There is tremendous low frequency in the mix, with lots of nifty channel-to-channel panning and nicely active surrounds. If anything, the low end of the mix seems slightly more powerful on the D-VHS (also a trend I've seen thus far on the format), and there is greater smoothness and clarity to the midrange. I noticed somewhat improved resolution and definition in subtle ambiance, the more precise sound effects and in the film's orchestral score. Again, the D-VHS audio IS an improvement... just not a huge one.

The original DVD didn't include the bountiful extras we all wanted, but there were a number of fun features to be found, including a few deleted scenes (and that great "Spiderman" Easter egg). As one would expect, none of that is available here. What that means, is that unless you're dying to squeeze the extra few drops of picture and sound quality out of your home theater that the D-VHS will give you, the great majority of you would be smarter to wait for Fox's new X-Men: Special Edition DVD, now in production for release late this year (or very early in 2003). That'll give you more deleted footage, director's audio commentary and even your first sneak peek at X-Men 2. On the other hand, if you can afford D-VHS, and you're out there snapping up what few titles are currently available on the format, X-Men's high-definition eye candy should dazzle you plenty well.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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