4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“X-MEN: 3-FILM COLLECTION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2000, 2003, 2006; PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some sexual content, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes (4K), YouTube, Vudu
Best extra: Commentary with director Bryan Singer and longtime friend Brian Peck
MARVEL COMIC’S Stan Lee and Jack Kirby began one of their greatest creations – “The X-Men” – in the summer of 1963, to tell stories about the effects of racism and bigotry.
Meanwhile, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of thousands of Americans marched on Washington, D.C., in what became a landmark march for Civil Rights. It was the perfect zeitgeist moment.
Director Bryan Singer, who is Jewish and openly gay, seemed a perfect match to adapt the comic book series into a major studio film. Singer had also been adopted, which heightened his sense of being an outsider growing up in New Jersey. Like so many others, he could relate to the mutants, whose super powers became both “blessing and curse,” he says during one of the featurettes included on iTunes.
First off, the 4K collection on physical discs is missing a number of key bonus features that made the “X-Men Trilogy” (2009) on Blu-ray one of the best.
MIA are several goodies including “Generation X: Comic Book History,” a fascinating hour-long look at the history of the “X-Men” comic book; a Charlie Rose interview with Singer; “Brett Ratner’s Production Diary,” a fly-on-the-wall documentary (available on iTunes, unlocked by the digital code “X-Men: The Last Stand”) highlighting the production; and “The Uncanny Suspects” (iTunes, “X-Men”) where the majority of the cast and Singer confess they weren’t comic-book readers as kids. Actor Patrick Stewart, who plays Prof. Charles Xavier, thought he was up for a role in an “X-Files” movie when he first met producer Lauren Shuler Donner.
Singer’s vision would be more reality-based. He put his heart and soul into the project, while keeping core fans happy, says co-producer Ralph Winter.
All three 4K discs include the original commentaries, which are not available on the digital copies, carried over from previous DVDs and Blu-rays.
The "X-Men” commentary with Singer and Brian Peck is quite thorough as they examine the powerful opening sequence, filmed in deep shadows, with heavy rain. Here, young Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto bends an iron gate at a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, where he and his family have been imprisoned. “It’s rooted in our own human history, which helped set up the X-Men universe,” says Singer. He considers the trilogy more science fiction than action or comic book per se. Singer also reveals that, before he was hired, other directors had taken a stab at the X-Men through a number of scripts, but none worked. Once Singer was hired, he and co-writer Tom DeSanto started from scratch; they didn’t even look at the earlier work.
The big shocker is learning Hugh Jackman wasn’t the first Wolverine. Actor Dougray Scott played Logan/Wolverine for 45 days, but the “X-Men” production was behind schedule and Scott had to leave for his role in “Mission Impossible 2.” Singer and the producers decided they would reshoot all of the Wolverine scenes with a new actor, who just happened to be a little-known Australian actor.
Jackman arrived quickly – but not in the chiseled body he had planned. So the key scene in the introductory cage fighting sequence was filmed later. Jackman couldn’t have asked for a greater career boost. Logan became his signature character; he appeared in nine “X-Men” films over 17 years.
“X-Men 2” includes two commentaries, the best with Singer and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. The two had worked on four previous films, developing an “unspoken shorthand,” which kept production moving at brisk pace, says Singer.
He reveals they had to truck 40 tons of snow in for a scene where Wolverine searches for his origins in the Canadian Rockies. The enclosed Blu-ray features a trivia track not found on the 4K disc, featuring over a hundred factoids including: Professor X and Magneto first met while working at psychiatric hospital in Israel; character Jean Grey was the first female member of the X-Men, and her powers at age 10, manifested when her best friend died and she could “feel” her dying emotions.
“X-Men: The Last Stand” also features two commentaries. Singer left the series to make “Superman Returns,” so one features director Brent Ratner, now facing sexual misconduct claims in 2018 from multiple women. Co-producers Ralph Winter, Lauren Shuler Donner and Avi Arad provide the second commentary. Donner describes the visual effects software, “Lola,” that made Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart look 20 years younger in the opening sequence. They input younger photographs into the software and Oscar-winning visual effects expert John Bruno and his team did their magic. Here’s an odd bit of trivia: Professor X’s wheelchair was sold after “X-Men 2,” which meant they had rent it back for the next film for a lot of money.
Somebody wasn’t thinking!
“X-Men” has a new 4K scan made from the original camera negative, captured on Panavision cameras with anamorphic lens (2.39:1 aspect ratio). Sharpness is excellent from wide shots to close ups, but a slight reduction of clarity with composite special effects shots. There’s also a good dose of natural film grain balanced throughout the film. The HDR toning is darker and richer, giving the first “X-Men” installment a major bump in quality over the previous Blu-ray in shadows, mid tones and bright, bold highlights.
“X-Men 2” was also shot on 35mm film, but with Super 35 (2.39:1 ratio), and the overall sharpness is down a half a click from "X-Men" and the film grain is more noticeable as expected. Shadow detail is less refined and the blacks are less inky, but overall the contrast levels are within the HDR10 expansive parameters.
Close-ups are extremely detailed illuminating the finest markings on Nightcrawler’s skin, although the expanded effects shots suffer from the dreaded composite step that puts it a generation away from the original. Colors, as expected, are much richer than the Blu-ray.
“X-Men: The Last Stand” was also filmed on Super 35. This time the film grain is natural and slightly larger. It was also mastered in 2K, more likely from the abundance of digital effects, which equals the resolution between effects and the rest of the film. Even though the sharpness doesn’t match “X-Men,” I would give this HDR toning the second best prize of the three films especially for Kelsey Grammer’s blue-toned “Beast” facial toning and facial hair. The shadows are more controlled between complete black and middle tones, while highlights are bright and detailed for a truly cinematic look.
All three films have a six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack providing a lively experience for effects and musical cues from composers Michael Kamen, John Ottman and John Powell moving from speaker to speaker.
This collection began the whole comic book movie craze. It’s a must-have for all X-Men fans.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer