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» Reel.com DVD Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

by Ken Dubios

Congratulations, first of all, to all the comic-book collectors out there who were compelled to express their opinions on X-Men in chat rooms, blogs, and other cyber communities: You are now controlling a major motion picture studio. Those piles of Mylar-sealed comic books that are turning your bedroom into a fire trap still have no monetary value, but at least you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you are making decisions at the highest levels, with millions of studio dollars at stake. And now you have something good to talk about if you ever go out on a date.

According to the two commentary tracks on the DVD release of X-Men III: The Last Stand, the film's producers, writers, and director could hardly make a move without considering the opinions of the X-Men "fans" (the term "comic book geeks" slips out once) and they continue to throw them shout-outs and credit as they talk through the film. In the more amusing track, Director Brett Ratner teams up with co-writers Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, and between wisecracks the three manage to provide a good deal of interesting information about what they were trying to convey with their story, and how the dialogue was fine-tuned to get their points across. Ratner spends a lot of time explaining which parts of a shot are "practical" and which parts are CGI (almost every scene includes some digital enhancement) but also has a lot to say about the overall structure of the piece. Most interesting is his decision to take a major scene from the second act, involving a very large bridge, and use it instead as the big finale. He wanted to make the film his own way (and the way the fans wanted it made) while paying homage to the first two moviesin the franchise (directed by Bryan Singer). The trilogy is really like one long film, Ratner says, and The Last Stand is just the final third of the story.

Producers Avi Arad, Lauren Shuler Donner, and Ralph Winter provide the other commentary track, a pleasant chat about the various snags encountered in the production, and the ways they overcame obstacles to create their baby. The three have been working together on the X-Men films for seven years, and it's clear they love everything about the franchise. Like Ratner and the writers, the producers mention often what the fans expected of them, and they are more than satisfied they delivered. But if the production went as beautifully as they say, is there a chance that The Last Stand will not really be the end of the X-Men series? Producer Arad, thankfully, doesn't play coy: "The time will come to make another," he says. "Absolutely."

Twenty-four deleted scenes are included in the Last Stand DVD package, including three alternate endings for the film. Unfortunately, of all these scenes there is hardly a frame worth watching, including the endings, which are dull wrap-ups that don't change the film's outcome a bit. Some of the deleted scenes are no more than a few seconds—a single line of dialogue—and the longer ones are barely different from scenes in the finished film.

X-Men: The Last Stand is fun and entertaining, and an excellent example of state-of-the-art film technology, in which live action, backgrounds added by "green screen," and computer generated images are seamlessly combined. It looks amazing, and that's certainly a good thing, but it also provides an enormous safety net for the director; he can concentrate on filming the actors with the knowledge that virtually any other part of the scene can be added or altered in post-production. Actually, the actors can be altered, too, as Ratner notes: In a short opening scene, set "twenty years ago," the faces of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are made to look younger by a computer program designed just for that effect. So much for make-up. In the final battle scene Hugh Jackman was wearing shorts when they filmed, but they decided he'd look better in pants, so they CGIed the trousers right onto him. So much for wardrobe. And, when it came time to film a certain crucial scene with McKellen and two other actors, McKellen was far away in England, so the actors were filmed separately and the images overlapped, with a San Francisco backdrop thrown in behind. So much for the age-old tradition of actually meeting the other actors in your scene.

In his commentary for the final battle scene, Arad says, "What a great performance," but the object is unclear. Is he praising Hugh Jackman, the actor's CGI pants, or the off-screen hydraulic ramp that throws flaming automobiles a hundred yards through the air?

Rating: 4 out of 5
DVD features: 1 ½ stars

Source: www.reel.com

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