Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that the X-Men franchise is solidly in its teenage years. It’s going to start driving and dating soon.
The series is so significant to cinema history that it is responsible for launching the modern superhero film era. (Remember that this film came out only three years after Batman & Robin.) Without X-Men, there might not have been Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series or The Avengers films.
With Days of Future Past hitting the theaters, it’s time to look back to the year 2000 when superhero movies weren’t given $100m budgets and unlimited power automatically. Writer/director Bryan Singer had something to prove with X-Men, and with a limited budget and a production schedule shortened by five months, he succeeded.
Five months into shooting X2: X-Men United, Singer recorded a commentary for his groundbreaking film for the X-Men 1.5 DVD, which is preserved throughout subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases. Here’s a chance to listen in on what was happening at the dawn of the modern superhero movie.
Commentators: Bryan Singer (writer/director) and Brian Peck (actor)
1. Singer designed the opening concentration camp scene of the film to be grounded in real-world history, and to have a seriousness behind it so it wouldn’t be simply a cartoonish comic book movie.
2. More than 300 extras were used in the concentration camp footage. One of them actually went into shock because of the harsh conditions of the rain and the mud, but she came back the following day for work.
3. Even though an X-Men movie had been in development for years with multiple scripts, Singer decided to start from the treatment stage when he took over the project.
4. During Jean Grey’s (Famke Janssen) speech at the opening of the film, there was originally an animated sequence that explained what mutants were and how they worked. It was animated by the same person who animated the expository sequence in Jurassic Park. However, as a late addition, Singer added Patrick Stewart’s narration at the top of the film, and the animation was dropped because it became superfluous.
5. The original script had prologues for Cyclops and Storm. However, in the interest of not having too much opening material, Singer decided to focus on Magneto, Rogue, and Logan.
6. The truck driver (George Buza) who drops Rogue at the bar in Alberta is the actor who provides the voice of Beast for the 1990s animated X-Men series.
7. Hugh Jackman was not the original choice for Wolverine, and he was brought in at the last minute when the actor who was originally cast had a scheduling conflict. This is why Jackman appears to be in less shape in various scenes of the film. It also necessitated the use of prosthetic mutton chops.
8. The cage fighting scene with Wolverine was written during the film’s Christmas break when two-thirds of the movie had already been shot, which is why Jackman is in such great shape with his shirt off. Singer wanted an introduction similar to Marion Crane’s in Raiders of the Lost Ark, so the scene was designed to introduce both the character and his mutant name.
9. Depending on the shot, various Wolverine claws were used, including CGI animated claws, metal or plastic prosthetics, as well as a hydraulic prosthetic to show the claws emerging.
10. On the day they shot the scene where Logan pulls Rogue (Anna Paquin) out of his trailer, a crazy guy ran the road block to the closed set and started screaming at the cast and crew.
11. Tyler Mane once left his Sabretooth contacts in for too long and was blinded for a day.
12. The line “What do they call you? Wheels?” was improvised by Jackman on the set.
13. The scene of the student teleporting during the basketball game was achieved by using a set of triplets, whom they painted out as needed, rather than a complex motion-control set-up.
14. Normally, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) wore yellow contacts, which greatly obscured her vision. She was afraid she would accidentally kick Bruce Davison in the helicopter when Mystique subdues Senator Kelly, so Romijn asked to have her eyes digitally painted in post production. However, she ended up kicking Davison in the face accidentally anyway. “If she wasn’t a supermodel, he would have been pissed!” recalled Singer.
15. Even though he is just under 5’11” tall, James Marsden was significantly shorter than both Jackman and Janssen, so in all of their scenes together, he had to stand on apple boxes and raised tracks.
16. During the scene in which Mystique pretends to be Bobby (Shawn Ashmore) and tells Rogue to leave the school, the actor’s breath can be seen. However, Paquin’s breath cannot be seen. After the release of the film, fans complimented Singer on his choice to make Ice Man’s breath appear, but in reality this happened simply because Ashmore’s coverage was shot in the morning, and Paquin’s was shot later in the day when the weather had warmed up.
17. To make Sabretooth’s hair stand on end before he is struck by lightning in the train station, the crew connected Mane to a Van de Graaff generator. However, because he was holding Halle Berry by the neck, her hair stood up as well, resulting in complex resets for each take.
18. During shooting for the scene outside of the train station, Singer wandered into the crowd of onlookers. While he was there, a cop who did not recognize him, asked him to leave. This crowd of spectators is later seen in the film while Magneto (Ian McKellen) is walking to the helicopter. Singer kept them in the shot because he reasoned that were an event like this to happen, onlookers would gather.
19. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) shows up at the train station in a Bentley. After the production, a collector bought that car for a million dollars because it was featured in the X-Men movie. However, most of the shots of the car never actually made the final cut.
20. The X-Men uniforms were so uncomfortable for the actors that they had trouble moving and, in particular, climbing onto the set of Ellis Island. In fact, Jackman often split the crotch of his pants and ripped the arms of his coat.
21. The Mystique make-up took 9 hours to complete each day.
22. Many of the crew intended to take home the sign that says “Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.” On the last day of shooting at the school, Singer had his assistant grab sign and throw it in the trunk of his car before anyone else on the crew could pilfer the prop for themselves.
23. Neither Patrick Stewart nor Ian McKellen played chess, so the production hired a chess expert to come in and teach them how to play and handle the pieces for their final scene together.
24. In response to being accused of making the film too short, Singer says he considers the movie to be a prologue of sorts to X2: X-Men United.
Best in Commentary
- Singer: “The reality of this would probably be very horrifying.” (regarding Cyclops destroying the ceiling to the train station)
- Singer: “One day, I read on the Internet that I was fired.”
- Singer: “What does happen to a toad when it gets hit by lightening?”; Peck: “It croaks.” Singer: “Oh, where were you then?”
Overall, this is an informative and entertaining commentary. Singer brings in plenty of information about the production, both trivial and technical. The fact that it was recorded in the infancy of both the franchise and the superhero movie craze gives a unique historical perspective to the entire process.
Because Singer gets nervous about being able to fill a commentary by himself, he invited his friend Brian Peck to join him. Peck adds an upbeat and humorous angle to the commentary, making Singer talk a bit freer than he might otherwise. However, a quick internet search reveals that shortly after recording this commentary, Peck was arrested and later convicted for sex crimes, requiring him to register as a sex offender. Obviously in light of the current accusations against Bryan Singer, this taints the enjoyment of the commentary somewhat.
Still, if you can look past these real-life circumstances, this commentary offers a lot of cool insight into the start of this franchise and the challenges faced to make the film accessible to the fans and general audiences alike.