DVDs: Sci-Fi Sequels

THE MATRIX RELOADED Warner
Movie •• DVDs •••••
X2: X-MEN UNITED 20th Century Fox
Movie •• DVDs •••
Let me say upfront that I'm a fan of the first episodes of these film series. The Matrix was a staggering technical achievement in the service of original visual imagery. X-Men was a terrific action flick with a great acting duel between Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart and an emotionally compelling subtext about tolerance and the Other as Outsider.

So the relative failure (not at the box office, of course) of the sequels is genuinely disappointing. Although X2: X-Men United introduces new characters, the story doesn't really go anywhere, and even the special effects (which had an almost surreal poetry in the original) seem half-hearted. As for The Matrix Reloaded, the operative word is tired. Sure, the tech stuff and martial arts are slicker, but this time you've seen most of it before, and the script just seems to be marking time.

I'm pleased to report, however, that the twodisc sets of both sequels are first-rate. Reloaded has an excellent transfer. The dank visuals seem darker than I remember in the theater, but the picture is crisp and artifact free. And the sound is a nonstop multichannel assault that will test the limits of your system. The more brightly lit X2 gets a similarly detailed transfer (and with the frequent onscreen presence of the divine Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, this is obviously a plus). Its soundtrack neatly juggles various explosions and John Ottman's soulful orchestral score.

Extras on Reloaded include several making of featurettes, location footage, and interviews. X2 has a commentary by director Bryan Singer and cinematographer Tom Sigel, a second commentary by the writers and producers, deleted scenes, and 11 featurettes, including interviews with Ottman and comic-book auteur Stan Lee. Both: English, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic widescreen. Reloaded: [R] French, Dolby Digital 5.1; one duallayer and one single-layer disc. X2: [PG-13] English, DTS 5.1; French and Spanish, Dolby Surround; two dual-layer discs.

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