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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fishing in the Discount Bin - X-Men

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, one of my weekly viewings of a movie I own, then ranting about it.  This time out, I'm going to plow through the X-Men franchise, so we're starting at the start, 2000's X-Men.  I originally watched this and wrote it on June 22, 2014.

Well, I've had shiny new Blu-Rays of the X-Men franchise sitting on my coffee table for the past few weeks.  Finally got a bit of downtime this Sunday afternoon to crack them open!

The comic book fans will tell you that our current dominance of superhero franchises began with Blade back in 1998, but the film historians will tell you that it started with X-Men when it came out in Y2K.  When X-Men came out, it really did kind of mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of a next.  As we all know, X-Men dominated comic book shops in the 1990s, with it constantly being a best-selling title.  Coupled with that, the legendary animated series ruled Saturday morning television in that decade.  But, all TV series eventually end, and the comic book boom of the 1990s eventually went bust.  So while a movie at first seemed like a last gasp for the franchise, it instead reinvigorated things, and brought comic books out of the comic book shops and ushered them into the current mainstream.

As I've read online in the past few years, X-Men was a movie that no one wanted to make, especially after 1997.  In the post-Batman & Robin Hollywood, superhero movies were considered to be bad business.  And that started turning into a constant source of frustration for director Bryan Singer when he signed on.  From what I understand, reading the history of the online gossip, Singer was constantly being cut off at the knees by the studio, as they wanted to downplay the superheroic aspects of the X-Men, out of fear that they'd wind up with another Batman & Robin.  After all, that's the REAL reason why they all wound up wearing black leather suits and not their traditional comic book costumes.  Superhero costumes would have pushed it too far into the Batman & Robin direction. 

In fact, I have my own personal theory behind the black leather costumes.  What was the big smash hit movie about a year before X-Men came out?  The Matrix.  I have no doubt in my mind that, in order to push it away from the icky scary Batman & Robin-esque superhero movies, the studio started pushing to turn it more into a Matrix knock-off.  Hell, even the very first trailer seemed Matrix-esque. 

Yes siree, it's almost a miracle that X-Men got made because after the debacle of Batman & Robin, Hollywood was desperate to get out of the superhero game. 

As I said, the studio's attempts to play it safe with the film almost seemed like attempts at sabotage.  I mean, they started filming in January of 2000 for a July 2000 release.  For a major summer blockbuster, that is an insane filming schedule. 

And then there was the danger when they lost their lead.  As has been widely reported by now, Hugh Jackman was the third choice to play Wolverine.  Originally, it was offered to Russel Crowe, who was just becoming a superstar, and they couldn't meet his superstar salary demands.  Second choice:  Dougray Scott.  He was all signed on and ready to go, but, he was playing the villain in Mission: Impossible II, and production delays on that meant he had to drop out.  So, it fell to Jackman, who, at this point, was still best known for his work on whatever you call Australia's version of Broadway. 

Can't deny though, playing Wolverine made Hugh Jackman a star.  At this point, Wolverine is Jackman's James Bond. 

X-Men hit theatres in July of 2000, and I wound up seeing it in the theatres three times.  The first time was the very first, and to date only, midnight screening I've ever been to.  I mean, these days, a midnight screening of a much-anticipated blockbuster is par for the course.  But I think X-Men was the first time I ever heard of that happening.  When a friend of mine first told me about it, I started spreading the word among my friends, and we all gathered at Silver City in West Edmonton Mall to catch the show.  It was reunion of sorts, as we were all the same folks who stood in line for hours on end a year earlier for Episode I.

After the movie, we all drove down to Camrose, and crashed at my buddy's place.  And the second time we saw it was that very night, at the Duggan Cinemas in Camrose.  It was just as good the second time.

The third time I saw it was that November.  West Edmonton Mall still had a dollar theatre, and when I saw it was playing at the dollar theatre, I thought it'd make a nice break from Christmas shopping.

One constant in all these screenings.  Being in Alberta, and having seen it in Alberta three times, every time the title card "Northern Alberta, Canada," came up, the audience would cheer. 

Fun trivia fact:  originally Singer was going to Americanize Wolverine, and all the Northern Alberta scenes were going to take place in Alaska.  But after setting up shop in Toronto (where the movie was mostly filmed), and falling in love with Canada, Singer said, "Umm...no.  Let's keep Wolverine Canadian." 

Another fun trivia fact:  the only reason why Mystique is practically naked, save for some strategic scales, is because the special effects technology of 2000 couldn't handle the white dress that is her traditional comic book costume. 

Final fun trivia fact:  Beast was originally going to be in the film, but ultimately, it wasn't in the budget to bring him to the screen.  So his Ph.D. -- and most of his dialogue -- was given to Jean Grey. 

But you know, the fact that the studio wanted to downplay the superheroic elements, and remove the more fantastical things almost works to the film's advantage.  Without all that special effects-driven stuff in the story, director Singer was left to focus on the characters.  So we get more little moments...quiet moments where the characters can talk, breathe, and develop.  That buddy I mentioned...perhaps one of the biggest X-men fans in the world, and he often points to the scene of Wolverine and Rogue, when they first meet, and driving down the road swapping stories of the pain their powers have caused, as being one of his favourite moments in the film. 

Watching it again today, the fact that the more fantastical things aren't in the film, does make the film feel kind of...strange.  Because there is more dialogue and less fights, it seems smaller, more intimate, even quaint.  It is an awfully small film, compared to the franchise -- and the world of superhero films -- that it spawned. 

But despite the fears of Hollywood, and the interference of the studio, it turned out pretty good. 

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