Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Prince Caspian: A Darker and Grander Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian offers more action and greater CG interaction with actors, so Alain Bielik speaks to Dean Wright and Wendy Rogers about the latest set of challenges.
By Alain Bielik

Nine vendors worked on Prince Caspian for a total shot count of 1,600. CG Aslan was created by Framestore. All images © Disney Enterprises Inc. and Walden Media LLC.
In 2005, the first installment of the Chronicles of Narnia franchise met an enthusiastic response from audiences worldwide. It also garnered an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects, rewarding the remarkable work achieved by Dean Wright (overall visual effects supervisor), Bill Westenhofer (Rhythm & Hues), Jim Berney (Sony Pictures Imageworks) and Scott Farrar (ILM).
Two-and-a-half years later, the Pevensie children are back in Narnia in Prince Caspian (which opened May 16 from Disney), and most of the first film's creative team returns, too, including Wright as overall vfx supervisor. This time though, he shared his supervisory position with Narnia newcomer Wendy Rogers, a former colleague of director Andrew Adamson at PDI. "The scope of this movie is so much grander," Wright observes. "It really is an epic leap, effects wise. We had a lot more CG characters and much more physical interaction with human characters. We also had a large amount of environment work, which was minimal in the first movie. It was so much work that I was glad Wendy joined us to co-supervise the effects."

With a vfx shot count of 1,600, Prince Caspian has only 100 shots more than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Yet, the work turned out to be far more complex. "On the first movie, those 1,500 shots included 300 fix-its and miscellaneous effects," Wright notes. "So, we really had about 1,200 complex shots. On Prince Caspian, we had 1,600 very complicated shots! Ninety percent of them featured digital characters, sometimes hundreds of them…"

The film's major environment, Miraz Castle, was built as a miniature and was featured in more than 300 shots. Here, Edmund is about to embark on a night raid.

A New Narnia Made in London
Although Wright and his production colleagues were very satisfied with the work accomplished by the U.S.-based vendors on the original movie, they decided to turn to London-based companies for the sequel. "The first movie was shot in New Zealand and post-produced in L.A.," Wright recalls, "which made American vfx vendors a logical choice. This time, though, we shot in Prague, Czech Republic, and post-production took place in London. It made sense that all the key visual effects were created there too. It was also a question of resources: who had the capacity to produce so many shots in the time that we had? In the last show, the lead vendor did about 400 shots. This time, it was more than twice as much!"
Nine vendors worked on Prince Caspian, some of them working on shared shots, which explains why the total shot count of 1,600 isn't a sum of the individual shots.
• MPC -- 842 shots
CG Reepicheep, full CG Narnians, CG Narnian/actor hybrids (Centaurs, Fauns, Satyrs and all other CG creatures except those noted below) for all sequences (castle raid, final battle sequence, including CG trees attack, Council sequences, etc.), Telmarine army extensions
• Framestore CFC -- 514 shots
CG Trufflehunter, CG Aslan, CG squirrel Pattertwig, Dryad Dream, Tube Station transition, Magic Door (CG tree), set extensions (Buruna bridge sequences, including CG soldiers, trebuchets, etc.); Cair Paravel, etc.
• Weta Digital -- 296 shots
CG Bear, CG Werewolf, CG Ice and CG White Witch enhancements (hair and dress extensions); plus all Miraz Castle environment work, including miniature comps, CG set extensions, fully CG environments, 2D & 3D matte paintings
• ScanlineVFX -- 22 shots
CG River God
• Studio C --34 shots
CG breath and CG Hag eye enhancement
• Rising Sun, Cinesite, Rainmaker, production unit --141 shots
Additional vfx work

The filmmakers always had an onset human performer as a shooting reference. An actor dressed in a blue or green suit played the Werewolf (above), the Bear and Aslan, which gave the other actors something tangible to react to.

The Mother of all Miniatures
A critical decision was taken early on to create the film's major environment -- Miraz Castle -- as a miniature. A key location in the storyline, it was featured in more than 300 shots. "In the first movie, we had created the castle for the end sequence digitally, but it was a handful of shots," Wright remarks. "Miraz Castle played a central part in Prince Caspian. We already had a huge workload in terms of digital characters. By creating the castle as a miniature, we saved our digital resources for elements that couldn't be created any other way."
The castle was built at Richard Taylor's Weta Workshop, New Zealand, where most of the Lord of the Rings and King Kong worlds had been created. At 1/24-scale, it ended up being the largest single piece ever constructed by the studio. It was so large that the team had to tilt it at 30° for the camera to be able to capture aerial shots on stage. Another version was built at 1/100-scale and included the whole environment with a nearby village and background landscape. Weta Workshop also constructed separated miniatures of the village and the castle courtyard. The plates were later enhanced by sister company Weta Digital, under the watchful eye of VFX Supervisor Guy Williams, and combined with live-action shots of the actors on partial castle sets. "I feel that you always get better results when you have real elements in a shot," Wright adds. "They grab the viewer's attention and help sell the CG portions of the image. It was one of the advantages of having a real miniature that we could shoot, light and check in the viewfinder. We were able to get really tight on the walls and the surfaces would hold perfectly. We used the same approach for our crowd scenes: we always had a group of real extras in the foreground, and our CG army in the background. We tried to keep it all as real as possible."
Trying New Approaches
Having learned from the experience of shooting the first movie, Wright took new approaches to capture the visual effects plates featuring CG creatures. The first thing was to discard on set motion capture. On The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the technique proved very useful for Faun Tumnus, but not for the crowd scenes. The vendors ended up not using a lot of that data. "We decided to go for a more 'guerilla' approach on Prince Caspian," Wright notes. "We used three HD 24 fps 'witness' cameras to help capture the actors' performance. We would move them around the performers in order to triangulate their position in 3D space. Basically, it's the same technique that ILM used on Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3: you capture the live performance from varying angles, and then use that footage as a template to animate the corresponding CG character. It allowed us to add CG legs to the two-legged creatures, or a CG horse body to the Centaurs.
"Just like on the first movie, the performers were wearing blue pants or green pants, depending on if it was a day or night scene. The second thing that we did on set was to always have a human performer in the frame as a shooting reference. Most of the time, it was actor Shane Rangi in a big blue or green suit. He would play the Bear, the Werewolf, Aslan… His presence on set allowed the other actors to have something tangible to react to."
Building Creatures and Crowds
When the first movie had wrapped, Wright had gathered all the CG assets from the various vendors. Eventually, due to pipeline issues, most of the creature rigs had to be rebuilt from scratch by the new vendors. Textures were extensively upgraded too. That was the case at MPC, where the team led by VFX Supervisor Greg Butler was responsible for the creation of a huge menagerie: gryphons, big cats, wolves, bears, centaurs, minotaurs, etc. Some were full CG creations, others were a combination of live-action and CG body extensions. All required the development of complex fur or feathers. While working on 10,000 BC, MPC had developed a brand new grooming and lighting package called Furtility. The tool proved perfect for the array of creatures that had to be created for Prince Caspian. It allowed artists to vary the fur's look, texture and behavior creature by creature.

MPC used Furtility to create the new character Reepicheep, a swashbuckling mouse-chief.

The team was also responsible for creating a key new character, swashbuckling mouse-chief Reepicheep. The rodent was entirely designed by MPC's art department, and later voiced by Eddie Izzard. Captured on video, the comedian's performance provided a great reference for the animators in charge of bringing Reepicheep to life. Once again, Furtility enabled the team to create a detailed and believable fur. "Reepicheep is one of those characters that turns out to be quite difficult to nail down in animation," Rogers observes. "The question was: how much do you want to anthropomorphize him? How much can you open his shoulders before he loses his mouse-like quality? We also had to determine how he went from quadruped to biped position and reverse. Luckily, Andrew Adamson was very articulate in what he wanted. He would act out a whole scene in front of the animators, and very precisely show them the kind of emotion a character had to convey. Andrew was really instrumental in bringing these characters to life from an artistic perspective."
The final battle sequence proved to be quite a challenge for MPC. "We had about 5,000 Telmarines (human warriors) facing off 1,000 Narnia creatures of all kinds," Rogers adds. "For both armies, we had extras in the foreground in just about every shot. Then, MPC populated the background using their procedural crow system ALICE. The characters were animated using motion capture data augmented with key-frame animation when needed. Interestingly enough, the trickiest shots were not the real battle shots, but the ones in which the armies were standing still. It turned out to be real difficult to create a natural animation for characters that were just standing there. You have to find the right balance between motion and stillness."
For the centaurs, a variety of techniques were used, depending on the action that was required and the framing of the shot. A centaur could be a human performer with a CG horse body extension, or a real horse with a CG human torso extension, or a fully CG character.

MPC was responsible for the creation of a huge menagerie, including Asterius, the minotaur. Some creatures were full CG creations, others were a combination of live-action and CG body extensions.

The Return of Aslan
Meanwhile, at Framestore, VFX Supervisor Jon Thum and his team were busy tackling their own set of creatures, including the star of them all, Aslan. Voiced by Liam Neeson, the majestic god-like lion had been created -- successfully -- by Rhythm & Hues in the first movie. For the second movie, the team set out to make it look even better. Having recently created polar bears for The Golden Compass, Framestore had the perfect set of grooming tools to develop Aslan's mane. After months of development, the character was able to sport the most complex fur groom ever created at the studio.
Aslan's animation proved to be just as challenging, as the character's position in Narnia led to a specific behavior. "We tried not to over-animate him," Rogers observes. "He didn't need to move a lot to express his power, and we had to convey that by producing a subtle, even subdued performance, which is always difficult for animators. We spent a lot of time working on muscle structures and wrinkle placement to display emotions ideally. In one scene, Aslan is in full close-up and listens to what Lucy is telling him. The animators had to convey all his thoughts with minimal dialogue."
One of the aspects of Aslan that the team really wanted to improve on was his physicality. "We worked really hard to make him look and feel real," Wright says. "There is a scene in which young Lucy Pevensie hugs him and they both roll around playfully. We had to create a realistic interaction between Lucy's arms and Aslan's mane, which required a tremendous amount of work. First, we shot the plate with actress Georgie Henley hugging Shane Rangi wearing a fake Aslan head and torso -- we always filmed our 'stuffie' (KNB created a fantastic Aslan head with fake fur) as a lighting reference for every Aslan shot. Then, Framestore painstakingly removed Shane from the shots, and replaced him with the digital Aslan. A CG Lucy double was then animated to match the arms and head movements of the real actress. They were used as dynamics objects to generate realistic collisions with the CG mane, but the final composites feature the real arms and head. It was painstaking and complex work, but it really helped the character feel physically present in the scene."
Besides Aslan, Framestore also handled another key character, Trufflehunter. Since the badger is a newcomer in the Narnia saga, the team had to design and build it from scratch. Trufflehunter is considered by Narnians as the voice of wisdom, a character who remembers the old ways of their world. He had to deliver a lot of dialogue, but also feature typical badger behavior, notably when sniffing the air around him. Just like MPC with Reepicheep, Framestore's animation team worked hard to develop an animation style that would convey the character's acumen, while retaining his animal quality.

Framestore handled another key character, Trufflehunter, a newcomer in the Narnia saga. The animation team worked hard to develop an animation style that would convey the character's acumen, while retaining his animal quality.

Animating a Fluid Simulation
One of Prince Caspian's toughest animated technical challenges was tackled by ScanlineVFX, a German company (with a new L.A.-based office) that had recently garnered a lot of attention in the industry with its groundbreaking fluid simulation engine Flowline. "They had to create the River God, a giant character that is made out of the water of a river," Rogers says. "It constantly sucks water in a vortex motion from the river, spiraling up inside the body and pouring down again as his arms and hair. The character appears in only 22 shots, but they were all extremely complicated, as the team had to combine character animation and fluid simulation. And there's only so much that you can do to control a natural phenomenon before it no longer looks natural at all…"
To bring the River God to life, Scanline and VFX Supervisor Stephan Trojansky developed a system that allowed the artists to create directable fluid simulations within Flowline. It had to be a closed system where no single drop of water would disappear or could be cheated away.
The team developed a pipeline that based all simulation setups on a keyframe animatable polygon-character rig. Flowline was extended with features that allowed a realistic flow of the water with foam, splashes and bubbles, while following the keyframed motion of the character. One of the core features of Flowline is to allow rendering of all its simulation data in one beauty pass, including water, spray, bubbles, foam, self shadowing, global illumination and caustics. Indeed, the River God was created with just one beauty pass and some adjustment layers for the compositors to fine-tune the shots.
With all of its unique challenges, Rogers and Wright believe that Prince Caspian's visual effects succeed in surpassing the accomplishments of the first movie. "The second movie is definitely bigger, and I'm really proud with the work that was done," Wright concludes. "Most of the time, the vendors have actually exceeded our expectations. With Andrew's inspirational directions, they all did a fantastic job."
Alain Bielik is the founder and editor of renowned effects magazine S.F.X, published in France since 1991. He also contributes to various French publications, both print and online, and occasionally to Cinefex. In 2004, he organized a major special effects exhibition at the Musée International de la Miniature in Lyon, France.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Wolverine & The X-men (Trailer)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

About Wolverine’s Past in X-Men:
The Legend of Wolverine
Product Rating
Episodes of the X-Men cartoons that deal with Wolverine’s past
Inconsistencies with some characters in some scenes
The Bottom Line
X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine deals with Wolverine’s past and the first appearance of Nightcrawler. Fans of Wolverine or the animated X-Men show may like this DVD.
Full Review
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Since I saw X2: X-Men United, I have been on a bit of an X-Men binge. I’ve gotten two different books about the X-Men and X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine, a DVD. I’m still looking for other X-Men DVDs and I’m thinking of getting the comics. X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine contains four episodes of the X-Men cartoon that aired on Fox in the 1990s. I watched that cartoon all the time when it was on. In 2000, when the first X-Men movie was released, my local Fox station started to air the cartoons again during the week in the afternoon, and again I was watching the cartoon. I recently discovered that there is a new X-Men cartoon airing on Cartoon Network and I’ve started to watch it. The cartoon mainly followed a small group of the X-Men - Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Storm, Beast, Jubilee, and Professor Xavier. Other X-Men, like Nightcrawler, showed up in later cartoons. The X-Men battled enemies like Magneto, Sabertooth, Mystique, Sinister, and the Sentinels. A few things related to the history of the X-Men were changed slightly here and there, but it stayed fairly close to the original comic books. The cartoon depicted some important storylines from the comics like Days of Future Past and Dark Phoenix. The four cartoons included in X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine dealt with Wolverine’s past and how the X-Men first met Nightcrawler. Those things do tie in with events that occurred in X2: X-Men United. The first two cartoons on the DVD were Out of the Past parts 1 and 2. They both deal with the same plot. These two cartoons briefly touched on Wolverine’s past. A Morlock stole something from the Reavers, including Lady Deathstrike. They wanted the item back and ended up in the tunnels where the Morlocks lived. There was a spaceship in the tunnels. The Reavers wanted to get the technology from the ship, but they couldn’t get in. A force field was protecting the ship and it messed with Lady Deathstrike’s circuits when she attacked it with her claws. She was a cyborg with adamantium claws. She decided that she had to get Wolverine down there to open it with his claws. Lady Deathstrike had one of the Morlocks contact Wolverine to tell him that his former girlfriend was in the tunnels and needed him. Wolverine headed for the tunnels. Along the way, he remembered some things about his past and when the experiments were done to him. Gambit and Jubilee followed Wolverine in case he needed their help. When Wolverine arrived, Lady Deathstrike had some surprising news for him and she wanted him dead. There was some fighting and Wolverine ended up slicing open a section of the ship with his claws. The ship turned out to be a prison for a space monster. The monster escaped and sucked the souls out of people. The souls were trapped inside the monster. Professor Xavier sensed that something was going on and he summoned Cyclops, Jean and Beast and they went to help. The X-Men had to figure out how to stop the monster and rescue the souls that were trapped inside of it. The third cartoon was called Nightcrawler. A group of people in a small village in Europe were in a frenzy because they thought there was a demon in the village. The people were chasing after what turned out to be a blue, teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler. He was able to get away from them. Rogue, Gambit, and Logan were on vacation at a nearby lodge. Logan over heard people talking about the demon that was supposedly terrorizing the village. Logan decided he wanted to get after the demon. Rogue and Gambit went along. Gambit couldn’t ski too well and ended up having an accident. Then there was an avalanche. There was a monastery near by when they went to recover. One of the monks didn’t seem too happy about them being there. Rogue caught someone trying to kill Gambit. She went after the person, but lost sight of them. Then she met Nightcrawler. He lived at the monastery and was friends with most of the monks. Nightcrawler told them about how his mother abandoned him and a family of gypsies took him in. He use to perform in their circus. Someone told the people in the village that Nightcrawler was at the monastery and an angry mob headed there. The fourth cartoon was called Lotus and the Steel. Logan and Professor X were talking. Logan was worried about what he might do. During the talk, Logan remembered some traumatic events from his past, including when the adamantium was bonded to his bones. Logan felt that he had to leave the X-Men. He was returning to Japan, where he had lived before. Jubilee didn’t want him to go. She found a file and took a plane to follow him. Logan saw a monk who was an old friend and worked on helping to build a temple. Logan met the Silver Samurai. He had a group of men terrorize the local villages and force them to pay tribute to the Silver Samurai. A group of people from the village didn’t want to pay the tribute any more. Silver Samurai had the temple set on fire. There were still people who wanted to fight and not pay the tribute. Logan was struggling with his demons. He had dreams remembering things that happened in his past. I was only able to find a list of the principal cast for X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine. I couldn’t find which characters each person voiced. Principal Cast Cedric Smith Norm Spencer Catherine Disher Lenore Zann Chris Potter Cal Dodd Alyson Court George Buza X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine was released in 2003. The cartoons were originally made in 1994 and 1995. It was released on VHS and DVD. I got the DVD. It was released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, so there were previews for some Disney movies on the DVD. It was not rated, but the cartoons do contain a lot of fighting, so they may be too violent for young children. Parents should check it out before letting children see it. I enjoyed X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine. It had been a while since I had seen any of the cartoons included on the DVD, so I had forgotten things. I don’t remember seeing the last two cartoons before. I thought they were entertaining and I liked seeing the ones I didn’t remember seeing before. Three of the cartoons in X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine did offer some information about Logan’s past, but they didn’t focus on that. In three of them, he had some demons from his past to deal with and spent some time remembering things. When he remembered having the adamantium bonded to his skeleton, it was made to seem like it happened very quickly, but I think from what I know from the comics and the movies that it really took longer than that. Events were glossed over and some things were left out, but the general idea was still there. In the X-Men movies, Logan was struggling to figure out what happened in his past and he was only able to remember bits and pieces, though more did come back to him in X2: X-Men United. Things happened slightly differently in the movie than how he remembered in the cartoons, but it was still very similar. I think that a few characters from the comics were consolidated into one for the second movie. One of the cartoons showed how Nightcrawler first met the X-Men. That meeting is completly different from what happened in X2: X-Men United. From the reading I have been doing about the X-Men lately, it looks like what happened in the cartoon was much closer to how Nightcrawler was introduced in the comics. In the four episodes of X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine, not all of the X-Men characters showed up in the cartoons that were included. Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Jean, Beast, Jubilee, and Professor Xavier were the main characters for the cartoon series. Other X-Men turned up every so often. There were some cartoons that focused on only one or two characters, and others where everyone was featured. In the first two cartoons, Storm and Rogue were missing, and there was no explanation for where they were. In the third cartoon, only Rogue, Gambit, and Wolverine were featured, along with the first appearance of Nightcrawler in the cartoon. In the last cartoon, Only Wolverine, Jubilee, and Professor Xavier were shown. Again, there wasn’t really an explanation of where the others were, but it wasn’t really needed for that one since it was so clearly focused on Wolverine. Lady Deathstrike was in the first two cartoons and she looked very different from how she looked in X2: X-Men United. In the cartoon, she was a cyborg, and her claws were always out. That seems to be how she was depicted in the comics, though I think her history was changed slightly. Storm wasn’t in any of the cartoons. The animation was good in X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine. It wasn’t the same quality that is seen in animated movies today, but it was good for television animation. I did notice a few goofs in one of the cartoons though. In Nightcrawler, after the avalanche, Rogue lost the sleeves of her ski outfit. Once they were at the monastery, one of the monks gave her a robe to wear. In one scene, she and Wolverine were sitting at a table talking to the monks and Rogue had on the robe. She decided that she was going to check on Gambit, and the robe was gone. When she got to Gambit’s room, the robe was back. At the end of the cartoon, one of Rogue’s sleeves appeared and then disappeared again. Also, in that same scene, Gambit’s bare hand was touching Rogue’s bare arm, something that should have caused her to absorb his powers, but that didn’t happen. Those were the only errors I noticed, but those really stood out to me. There may have been some in the other cartoons that I didn’t spot. Almost all of the characters that were featured in X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine were mutants with powers. Several of them used those powers to fight a space monster, an angry mob, and the Silver Samurai and his goons. There was some violence in the fights, but it wasn’t extreme since this was a cartoon that was originally on television on Saturday mornings. The violence could be a little scary for young children, but it should be fine for older children who understand that this was just pretend. There wasn’t too much character development for anyone in the cartoons that were included on this DVD. I think the episodes originally aired later in the run of the cartoon, so by that time, the characters were already established. Nightcrawler made his first appearance in one of the cartoons, so he did have some development. People who aren’t familiar with the X-Men may be a little lost if they start with this DVD. CHARACTERS Professor Charles Xavier - He was the leader of the X-Men. He had powerful psychic abilities. He and the X-Men tried to protect normal humans. Wolverine - Logan was fighting demons from his past. He’d been captured and a doctor experimented on him, bonding the indestructible metal adamantium onto his skeleton. Wolverine had trouble dealing with his anger and went off in rages at times. He was worried about what he might do. Jubilee - She was a young member of the X-Men. She could generate explosive energy burst that looked similar to fireworks. She was impulsive at times. She was close with Wolverine and worried about him at times. Cyclops - He shot energy beams from his eyes and had to wear a special visor to control the bursts. He was a leader and seemed detached at times. He was in love with Jean. Jean Grey - Telepathic mutant. She was in love with Cyclops. Beast - He was a large, furry, blue mutant. He was very intelligent. He was strong and had athletic abilities. Rogue - If she touched anyone, she absorbed their energy and some memories. Rogued tended to wear clothes that covered her entire body to prevent that from happening. Gambit - He could charge items with energy and cause them to blow up. He tended to use cards that he would throw at enemies. He and Rogue were close. Nightcrawler - He had blue skin and a tail. He could teleport to different areas. That ability helped her to escape people who were chasing him. His mother abandoned him when he was a baby because it was so clear that he was a mutant. A family of gypsies took him in. He performed in their circus. He was very religious. He was understanding of people who feared him. Lady Deathstrike - She was a cyborg that had adamantium claws. She had more claws than Wolverine, and she couldn’t retract her claws. She was very angry at Wolverine and wanted him dead. She joined the Reavers and they made her a cyborg and gave her the claws. Morlocks - A group of mutants that lived in the tunnels below New York City. They didn’t want to be heros or villains. They just wanted to be left alone. Reavers - A group of criminals who have been changed into cyborgs. DVD EXTRAS There were a few extras on the DVD of X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine. There was another episode of the cartoon called Final Decision. Senator Kelly, Magneto, and the Sentinels were also in that cartoon. Magneto ended up fighting with the X-Men against the Sentinels. There was a short segment called Who is Chris Claremont? in which he talked about how he came to work for Marvel comics and write the X-men. He also discussed Wolverine. In Power Behind the X, Chris Claremont discussed the episodes of the cartoon that were on X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine. In Stan Lee’s Soapbox, Stan Lee talked about how he created the X-Men and came up with the idea that they were born with their powers instead of changing after being exposed to radiation or something like that. He also discussed how he thought that the hatred that the X-Men felt from humans was an important part of the comic. There was also an option to go online and register the DVD with Buena Vista. I have done that with my Disney movies, but haven’t done it for this one yet. I enjoyed X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine. It wasn’t the best cartoon ever made, but it is enjoyable. Fans of the X-Men may also like this DVD. People who enjoyed the cartoon series when it was on should take a look at this DVD. X2: X-Men United

I had been working some crazy hours for a while. Because of that, I haven’t been to the theater to see a movie since I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in December. There were several that I wanted to see, but I was just unable to get out to see them. I liked the first X-Men movie and I have been looking forward to seeing the second one, X2: X-Men United for a while now. I was finally able to go to the theater again when my best friend and I went to see X2: X-Men United. We both really liked the movie. And even though the theater was packed, no one sat in front of us, so we could see. Before I get into discussing X2: X-Men United, I want to give a little bit of background on the characters for people who are unfamiliar with them. There are a few spoilers to the first X-Men movie included in this, so if you haven’t seen it yet, and don’t want to know anything, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs. Though for people who haven’t seen the first movie yet, the new movie will have some spoilers. There are some people who are born with different abilities and powers. They are called mutants. There are some people who are afraid of all mutants and think things have to be done to keep track of all mutants and keep them under control. There were a lot of people who hated the mutants. Professor Charles Xavier was a very powerful telepathic mutant. He ran a school for mutant children when he and other mutants like Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm, taught the children how to control their abilities and powers. Optic blasts shot out of the eyes of Cyclops and he had to wear a special visor or glasses at all times. Jean was telepathic and telekinetic. Storm could control the weather. One of the students, Kitty Pride, had the ability to walk through walls or other objects. Bobby Drake could freeze things with his touch. Rogue absorbed energy from anyone she touched on the skin. John Allerdyce could control fire. The fact that the school is for mutants is not publicized. Charles believed that humans and mutants could live together peacefully. In the first X-Men movie, Logan ended up at the school. He was able to heal quickly, which also kept him from aging. His sense of smell and hearing was very strong. Sometime in the past, someone had done experiments on him and bonded adamantium, a very strong, indestructible metal onto his skeleton. Sharp metal claws would appear and then retract back into his hands. Logan couldn’t remember anything about his past. He ended up working with the X-Men though he wanted to find answers about his past. Erik Lehnsherr was another very powerful mutant. He could control metal objects. He and Charles have known each other for years. Erik does not believe that mutants and humans can exist together. Erik and his followers want a war with the humans so that the mutants can rule the world. Erik ended up in a plastic prison cell because of his actions in the first X-Men movie. Mystique, a mutant that could take the shape of any other person that she touched, worked with Magneto. Charles and the X-Men battle with Erik and his followers to stop that from happening. Sometimes they have joined forces to fight a common enemy. PLOT A group of people were touring the White House. President McKenna was in the Oval Office with some of the White House staff. A guard noticed something strange, and when he investigated, he discovered that a mutant had breached security. The secret service couldn’t catch him because the mutant was able to teleport to different areas very fast. When he vanished and reappeared, smoke appeared, making it harder to tell where he actually was. He made it into the Oval Office, but he didn’t follow through on his plan to kill the president. Professor Charles Xavier, Dr. Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, and the students for Professor Xavier’s school were on a field trip at a museum. Jean seemed to sense that something bad was going to happen. Rogue, Bobby, and John were in the cafeteria. Some other teenagers were hassling John, so he decided to show off his powers. Charles arrived and then they all saw a news bulletin about the attack on the President by a mutant, so they decided it was time to leave. Logan had left the school to search for answers about his past. Charles had given him a location that might help answer some of the questions Logan had. When he got there, Logan didn’t find anything. He headed back to the school and got there just in time to watch over the place while everyone else went to do a few things. Charles and Cyclops went to the prison where Erik was being held in a plastic cell. Jean and Storm headed to Boston to try to find the mutant that had attacked the president. In Washington, D.C. General William Stryker was meeting with President McKenna about the attack. Stryker had worked with mutants for years. He felt that something had to be done to control the mutants and prevent another attack. Senator Robert Kelly was also there, defending the mutants. Stryker had somehow gotten photos of the jet at the school. He wanted to go into the school. President McKenna gave Stryker permission to go into the school to ask questions, but he didn’t want any of the students harmed. Stryker had other plans. At the school, Logan and Bobby were talking when Logan heard something. The school was being invaded. Soldiers were using some sort of tranquilizer on some of the students and taking them. Many of the students were able to escape with the help of Colossus while Logan fought off the soldiers. Logan, Bobby, Rogue, and John ended up on the run together. A little later, some more information about Logan’s past was shared. The visit between Charles and Erik did not go as Charles had hoped. Jean and Storm found the teleporting mutant, Nightcrawler, and were ready to return to the school, but they couldn’t contact anyone there. An explanation for what Nightcrawler did was given later in the movie. They did eventually meet up with Logan, Bobby, Rogue, and John. Mystique discovered something that indicated all mutants were in danger. Stryker had plans. The X-Men, Mystique, and Magneto would have to work together to save themselves and all mutants. CAST Patrick Stewart - Professor Charles Xavier Hugh Jackman - Logan/Wolverine Ian McKellen - Erik Lehnsherr Halle Berry - Ororo Munroe/Storm Famke Janssen - Dr. Jean Grey James Marsden - Scott Summers/Cyclops Rebecca Romijn-Stamos - Mystique Brian Cox - Gen. William Stryker Alan Cumming - Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler Bruce Davison - Senator Robert Kelly Anna Paquin - Marie D’Ancanto/Rogue Kelly Hu - Yuriko Oyama /Lady Deathstrike Aaron Stanford - John Allerdyce/Pyro Katie Stuart - Kitty Pride Michael Reid Mackay - Jason 143 Keely Purvis - Little Girl 143 Shawn Ashmore - Bobby Drake/Iceman Lea Wong - Jubilation Lee/Jubilee Daniel Cudmore - Piotr Rasputin/Colossus Cotter Smith - President McKenna Shawna Kain - Theresa Cassidy/Siryn Alf Humphreys - William Drake Jill Teed - Madeline Drake James Kirk - Tommy Drake Steve Bacic - Dr. Henry McCoy/Beast James Bamford - Remy LeBeau/Gambit Brian Singer - Director Michael Dougherty and Daniel P Harris - Screenplay X2: X-Men United was released in May of 2003 and rated PG-13. The movie was just over two hours long. There was some sexuality and some violence in the movie. When I saw the movie, there were a lot of very young children in there. Personally, I don’t think this is a good movie for children that young because of the violence and fighting that is in the movie. I think it would be all right for older children. Parents should watch the movie and then decide about taking children to see it. There were a few different sub plots in the movie, and it jumped around between them, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with what was going on. There was a lot going on in the movie. X-Men and X2: X-Men United were based on comic book characters. The X-Men first appeared in comic books in 1963 that were created by Stan Lee. Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast and Angel made up the original line up. Since then there have been many new characters added and several spin off comics. The characters in the X-Men movies have been some of the more popular characters from the comic books. There were some characters, like Dr. Henry McCoy/Beast, that only appeared briefly in X2: X-Men United. According to the cast list I looked up, Gambit was in the movie, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I have always been fascinated with super heros and have enjoyed many movies, cartoons, and tv shows that had them as characters. I really enjoy those types of shows and movies. I’m not as familiar with the X-Men as some of their fans are, but I still knew enough to be able to identify who most of the characters were and follow some things that were going on. People who aren’t familiar with the X-Men may find it harder to follow things and may not enjoy the movie as much. Just about everything that happened in X2: X-Men United was unbelievable, but that is normal for comic books and the movies based on them. There are no super heros in the real world. People should know going into these types of movies that they will be unbelievable. This type of movie is meant to be watched for enjoyment, though the X-Men movies did touch on the more serious subject of prejudice. Many humans fear and hate mutants just because they are different, and the X-Men have to deal with those things. Overall, I think this movie was just meant to be watched for entertainment. X2: X-Men United was an action adventure movie. There was some violence in some scenes. It started off with a bang with the attack on the President by Nightcrawler, and it continued throughout the movie. Logan got into a battle with the soldiers at the school, and a lot of people were injured. Logan was injured a few different times as well. John showed off his powers in a big way, causing some explosions. Logan did more fighting later in the movie, including a fight with a woman mutant, Yuriko Oyama, who also had adamantium claws. Most of the fighting involved the X-Men using their mutant powers. Some people may think the movie is too violent, but I didn’t feel that way. There were a few more light hearted moments X2: X-Men United. Logan said a few things that were funny at times. Rogue and Bobby were trying to figure out how to have a relationship considering her powers and what could happen. The love triangle involving Logan, Jean and Cyclops turned up again. When he first arrived at the school in the first movie, Logan was immediately attracted to Jean. He still felt that attraction in this movie, and at one point he did something to act on it. X2: X-Men United was the second movie to feature the X-Men. There were some sub plots that continued over from the first movie, like Logan going to search for some answers about his past. I’m not sure how much time had passed between the end of the first movie and the beginning of the second. Some characters made some remarks regarding things that happened in the first movie at times, and from some other things that were said it seemed like not too much time was supposed to have passed. I saw the first X-Men movie when it was released in theaters. I think people should see the movies in order. If they aren’t seen in order, people could have trouble following what was happening. There will be a third X-Men movie, but I don’t know when it will be out. There were things that happened in X2: X-Men United that were hinting at what will come in the next movie. I figured out what was coming, and I’m not that familiar with the X-Men comics. I had thought that anyone who had some knowledge of what had happened in the comics or the cartoon would have figured out what was coming, but my friend knows more about them than me and she didn’t realize it until I mentioned it. There is a bit of a different lead in to what will happen than how it happened in the comics and the cartoon, but that has happened with a few other things too. There were a lot of special effects in X2: X-Men United. Most of the mutant powers of the characters had to be created through special effects. I knew when I saw things that they were effects, but they blended in well with the movie and what was going on. For example, when Nightcrawler was teleporting, I knew that was an effect, but it worked for this movie. They were very well done. The special effects were needed for the movie to make it work. The makeup for some of the characters was also amazing. Nightcrawler was completly blue, had a tail, and his feet and hands were different. He also had some sort of tattoos covering his body. He didn’t look like the actor who played him, Alan Cumming, at all. He had to spent several hours in make up every day. The character of Mystique also required a lot of make up at times. She could assume the form of anyone she touched, but in her natural form, she was completly blue and had some sort of scales on her skin. It required hours in the make up chair to achieve that look. When she wasn’t appear like someone else, she didn’t wear any clothes. For other characters, the make up wasn’t as dramatic, like for Logan. He just had a unique hair style and long sideburns, but Logan looked totally different from other roles Hugh Jackman has played. The make up was also very important to this movie. In a few scenes of X2: X-Men United, there were a couple of product placements that were rather obvious. In one scene, Logan found Bobby eating some ice cream in the kitchen. The ice cream was from Baskin Robbins. Logan then got a Dr. Pepper to drink. I have seen several commercials for Baskin Robbins that mention the movie and Wolverine is on the can of Diet Dr. Pepper I have sitting here now. In another scene, Logan and a few others drive off in a Mazda RX8. The Baskin Robbins ice cream and the Dr. Pepper showing up was more obvious than the car. Those were the only product placements I noticed in the movie, so it didn’t have as many as some movies have had. There were several characters in X2: X-Men United. Some characters, like Kitty Pride and Collossus only turned up briefly. Others were in much more of the movie. Several characters returned from the first X-Men movie. In that one, the movie seemed to be more focused on Logan and Rogue since they came to the school at the same time. Rogue was the only student that was really shown in that movie. Bobby turned up in a brief scene or two, but that was about it. Bobby had a much bigger role in this movie. Rogue was in less of the movie this time, like Logan was, but he was still very important. All of the X-Men seemed to play an equally important role in this movie. Some characters, like Nightcrawler and Stryker, were new this time. There wasn’t that much development for any of the characters. I think that Logan and Rogue are a little more developed than the other characters because of the focus on them in the first movie. The emphasis in the movie was placed on the action instead of character development. Most of the cast of X-Men returned for X2: X-Men United. The acting didn’t really stand out since most of the movie was focused on action, but it wasn’t horrible either. Patrick Stewart once again played Charles. I think that Patrick Stewart is perfect as Charles. He just fit that role. Charles is a bit different from other roles he has played. I have seen him in Star Trek the Next Generation and a few movies like Conspiracy Theory. Hugh Jackman made his first movie appearance in X-Men as Logan. He looked like Logan and he was believable in the role. He is Logan and I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. I have also seen him in Someone Like You and Kate and Leopold. He played very different characters in those two movies, and neither of those roles was remotely like Logan. He looks completly different in other movies. Hugh Jackman was in very good shape for this movie and it showed in a few scenes. Ian McKellan was very good as Erik/Magneto. McKellan also played Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Erik and Gandalf are different characters, but they are both unique, magical characters. Halle Berry didn’t have a whole lot to do as Storm, but she was good in the scenes she did have. This was a different part from the one she played in Die Another Day, where she was more of a main character. Brian Cox did good with his role of Stryker. He was not a nice character, and it showed in his actions and expressions. I saw Cox as Hannibal Lector in Manhunter, and he was also very good in that role, though he was more understated as Hannibal. I also saw cox in The Bourne Identity, another different role for him. Shawn Ashman didn’t really impress me as Bobby, but he wasn’t horrible either. None of the other acting in the movie stood out to me. CHARACTERS Professor Charles Xavier - Powerful telepathic mutant that ran a school for mutants. By using a special computer he had, he was able to link his mind to everyone else on the planet. He was a kind man who wanted to find a way for humans and mutants to live together in peace. Logan - Wolverine - Logan couldn’t remember his past or how he came to have adamantium attached to his skeleton. Charles was helping him to try to find some answers. Logan had a temper at times, but he cared about others. He seemed to have a soft spot for Rogue and he was in love with Jean. Logan didn’t always get along with Cyclops. Cyclops - Scott Summers - He was an instructor at the school. He was in charge on missions with the X-Men. He was involved with Jean and didn’t seem to like Logan too much. Dr. Jean Grey - She was an expert on genetics. She was telepathic and telekinetic. She didn’t always have faith in her powers. She was involved with Scott, but she seemed conflicted about Logan’s feelings for her. Storm - Ororo - She also taught at the school. She seemed happy to see Logan when he came back. She was a kind, caring woman who was fed up of being hated because she was different. Erik - Magneto - He was in prison in a plastic cell so he couldn’t break out. He had been friends with Charles, but Erik decided that mutants needed to control humans. He had no interest in peace. He usually had an ulterior motive for whatever he did. He survived being in a concentration camp as a child where his family was killed. Mystique - She was a shape shifting mutant that was bitter about the treatment she received growing up because she was different. She worked with Magneto. Gen. William Stryker - He had been working with and studying mutants for years. He hated mutants and thought that something needed to be done to control them. He had his own agenda. Rogue - She was a student at the school. She was close to Logan because of things that happened before. She liked Bobby, but she was afraid of hurting him. She was still adjusting to her powers. Bobby - He was a student at the school. He liked Rogue and wasn’t as worried about them becoming involved as she was. He seemed to be a little jealous of the closeness Rouge shared with Logan. John - Another student at the school. He was friends with Rouge and Bobby. John seemed to be frustrated about some things. Nightcrawler - Kurt Wagner - He was a teleporting mutant. He use to perform in the circus. He was very religious and had been manipulated somehow into doing something. He seemed to want to help people. He liked Storm. I really enjoyed X2: X-Men United. I loved the first movie and I loved this one. I really like the characters and I’m already impatient to see the next movie. I will go see this one again in the theaters if I get the chance. Fans of super heros should give this movie a chance. People who liked the first X-Men movie should also like this one.