Iron Man: Ultimate Two-Disc Edition Review
Seeing as I reviewed Iron Man a few months back I shall refer the reader to it here so that we can simply get straight down to the DVD details.
I’m afraid the one thing I can’t comment on is the quality of the packaging as I’ve been sent check-discs.
Upon inserting the disc we’re treated to theatrical trailers for the upcoming Incredible Hulk and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. As the main feature menu loads up there is some nicely rendered CG, primarily featuring Stark’s Iron Man armour in front of a Stark Industries interface while snippets from the film pan across screen. Transitions from main menu to sub-menus are equally pleasing, with some fancy animation as Iron Man messes about with the aformentioned HUD.
Paramount’s anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. Colour reproduction is good and there are no major problems with regards to contrast and brightness levels - noting that this has been filmed similarly to Michael Bay’s Transformers with higher saturation and contrasts - though shadow detail and blacks tend to struggle a bit, especially during the first-act cave setting. Additionally the image is a tad soft and it’s unfairly plagued by edge enhancement and aliasing, with a spot of digital noise in the background that doesn’t look like film grain to my eyes. I expect more from a film of this calibre and one so recent; with only 6 gig used on this DVD 9 there is certainly room for improvement. From what I understand the Blu-Ray appears leagues ahead, and if any film is gonna make me take the format plunge then it’s this one.
Click to enlarge the following image for an example of edge enhancement and overall softness.
The film’s 5.1 audio track fares a little better. Dialogue plays across the front channels well, rarely becoming discerning, while the action is quite impressive. Very bass-y, the sub-woofer creates some tremendous rumbling effects during Stark’s flight missions: his initial testing phase and subsequent flight back to Afghanistan complete with fighter jet showdown deliver some impressive sonics as Iron Man’s thrusters sweep across the soundstage, in addition to the few times when he uses his Unibeam attack. Meanwhile the soundtrack - which although very good - slightly overpowers the sound effects at times, so it could do with a little tightening in some areas. It’s also a bit disappointing to see a lack of DTS considering the film utilised it in theatres.
Beginning with Disc 1 we've Deleted/Extended Scenes. This is made up of 11 scenes, which can be viewed in succession as a “Play All” feature, or individually. And I have to say it, Jon Favreau sure did manage to shoot some guff. Most of the stuff here is extended footage, and frankly it’s nothing more than needless padding. For example “Tony & Rhodey on Stark Jet Military Ceremony” consists of the initial drunken flight scene (with some additional funny dialogue from Rhodes which should have been kept in) and then continues to show the touch down with military celebration which is frankly boring in a “we really don’t need to see this” kind of way. Likewise the “Convoy Ambush” in which Stark receives his blow to the heart is overlong, showing too much shaky violence, including Tony trying to defend himself with a knackered machine gun. Half of the scenes are very short and aren’t worth talking about at all, while some of the more interesting ones are either entirely new or those that show the evolution of the script. For example “Pepper Discovers Tony as Iron Man” is darkly comic, almost depressing as she walks in on a half-suited, drunken and battered Stark, while “Rhodes Saves Iron Man on Freeway” has alternate footage of Rhodey driving a sports car and hurtling Iron Monger through a bus, with the dialogue between Stark and Obadiah largely being stuff that was transplanted into the later “Rooftop Battle”. The most fun scene though is “Dubai Party” in which Pepper accompanies Tony to a party, only for him to pick up three beautiful women and take them to his quarters.
There is also a short trailer for the new Iron Man: Armoured Adventures which is to be shown on Nick in 2009. Personally I can’t stand these Superhero teen versions. This time we have Tony Stark as a youngster learning to fight crime in his suit, so expect an entirely different take on the character. That’s enough of my cynicism though.
Disc 2 kicks off with I Am Iron Man, which is the daddy piece of the set. At close to two hours in length and consisting of seven chapters, it takes us through conceptual to finalised stages. ‘The Journey Begins’ kicks off in 2006, six months before principal photography. We’re given a tour of the Marvel office assigned to Favreau’s team, while the director himself discusses the evolution of Stark’s suit and how he came to decide on Ari Granov’s design. This leads on to the development of the suit, which is altogether fascinating if not brief; Stan Winston talks a little about coming onboard, and the storyboard artists tell us about creating scene-specific art and putting together animatics. With a restricted budget Favreau goes on to mention location scouting and grounding the feature in reality, whilst feeling most at ease talking about Robert Downey Jr’s involvement. Downey himself offers some choice words and there are a few fun outtakes to be had. ‘The Suit That Makes the Iron Man’ opens with the first big reveal of the suit. Here we learn of the stunt men’s involvement and how the visual effects teams captured certain details on film, while Stan Winston talks about merging effects so that they become a seamless entity. Jeff Bridges explains how he came to sign up for his role and Robert Downey, Jr tells of how he worked out rigorously to take on that of Stark. This builds up to the first day of the 74 day shoot as Jon Favreau slowly begins to overcome his initial stress. ‘Walk of Destruction’ opens on the first day of principal photography in March 2007. Favreau mentions having the freedom at Marvel Studios to cast the perfect actors as he explains the differences in working for varying studio systems. There’s fond talk of the film’s cave setting in which actor Shaun Toub compliments Downey’s talents, while we’re also introduced to stunt man Mike Justus, who donned the armour for the Mark I escape. Later we’re taken to the Disney Concert Hall shoot where Gwyneth Paltrow talks about coming back to work after taking a brief hiatus to be with her family. There’s also input from the film’s military technical advisor and a look at the arduous shooting of the sand dunes, during which cast and crew had to brave heavy wind storms. ‘Grounded in Reality’ sees Jon Favreau talk about giving himself a cameo as Happy Hogan, describing the character and subsequently detailing a little more on how he came to alter Rhodes’ official military status - touching upon War Machine by the way. From here it’s all about Stark’s workshop and how the crew went about setting up the origin story through the building of the Mark II armour. We learn of Downey wanting to do as much stunt work as possible and we see him act our the experiment scene with gauntlets and boots, while being suspended by several wires. This incidentally leads on to Favreau explaining how they found an ideal way to hide the obvious signs of wire work. ‘Beneath the Armour’ looks at some of the important, but perhaps less obvious things about the film: Favreau’s cameo again, in addition to a small support role from Peter Billingsley. Cinematographer Matty Libatique gets a mention as the director explains about how he wanted to create more than just another popcorn flick. There’s a little info about the overall design of Stark’s house, Downey’ Jr’s take on wearing the Iron Man suit and a look at the wrap during the midnight shoot at Caesar’s Palace. ‘It’s All in the Details takes us to Skywalker Sound where Jon Favreau oversees specific effects shots and participates in the overall ADR mixing stage. Prologue Films also talk about working on Stark’s many CG interfaces, along with designing the closing credits. Finally ‘A Good Story, Well Told’ opens on a post-production meeting, just 23 days before final delivery of the picture in 2008. Here several concerns are addressed, and it’s actually amazing as to how much is unfinished by this stage. As everybody puts the final touches on the film Favreau’s nerves begin to show as he hopes that expectation can be met.
Overall this is entertaining, with some fun outtakes, although it’s a little choppy in places as some chapters contain material that would have been better suited to other segments. Furthermore there’s absolutely nothing from Ramin Djawadi about his score, which I think is a bit of a shame as I feel he came up with a perfect main theme for Iron Man, which is certainly a lot more memorable than most recent superhero films.
The Invincible Iron Man (47.04) is a small but worthy enough look at the history of Tony Stark, introduced by the creator Stan Lee before leading on to a host of well-respected artists and writers who have forged some of the hero’s greatest tales. In ‘Origins’ Lee talks about creating Iron Man at the height of the Cold War, with the intention of bringing to the page a Hugh Heffner inspired character who would have qualities that no one would particularly like. The likes of Gerry Conway and Gene Colan talk about their experiences working on some classic issues and additionally there is plenty of insight with regards to pop culture and the development of Stark’s armour over the years. The ‘Friends and Foes’ section is all too brief, but it gives us enough by way of Starks best friends, The Avengers and of course his enemies, such as Crimson Dynamo and Mandarin, while also tapping into the stereotypical portrayal of foreigners as bad guys. ‘Definitive Iron Man’ is pretty much led by artist John Romita, Jr and writer Bob Layton, who help out in discussing Stark’s life and his friendship with Rhodes, while ‘Demon in a Bottle’ looks at darker undercurrents during a period when Stark became obsessed with drink, to the point that he couldn’t function properly as Iron Man. However, it largely glosses over such a well respected story arc which is a shame. ‘Extremes and Beyond’ has writer Warren Ellis talk about updating Iron Man for a new generation; re-writing his origin story (which incidentally would inspire the movie script) and working with artist Adi Granov, whose take on Stark’s armour would also highly influence Favreau’s film. Joe Casey chats about bringing back long forgotten villains for one of his takes, while there’s also a brief look at the Civil War comic which should have had more depth to it. There is also support from fellow artist and writers such as Joe Quesada, Don Knauf, Charles Knauf and Patrick Zircher, who each discuss their passion in bringing certain elements to their stories. Finally we have ‘Ultimate Iron Man’ … in which Warren Ellis talks about re-envisioning Stark once again for a new story, describing him as “A cheerful drunk with a brain tumour the size of a golf ball”. His tale additionally goes hand in hand with that of Hulk, who is also part of a recent ‘Ultimates’ line-up.
Wired: The Visual Effects of Iron Man (27.01) is a rather fascinating look into the development of the film’s special effects. It visits the three main studios involved in bringing Iron Man to life: ILM, The Orphanage and the Embassy. The main goal is that the effects had to look convincing, something which the director was very strict on, and so the film provided a mixture of visual and practical effects which would compliment each other. Industrial Light & Magic handled the bulk of the visual effects; we see ILM test footage and learn of the challenges they faced when trying to recreate human motion, especially during the flight sequences where issues of weight balance is important. The Embassy provides some of the best material on this disc when they talk about working on the Mark I stuff. We’re taken behind the scenes to see how Stark’s escape from his captors was put together. Some of the reveals are staggering in that what you thought was often 100% guy in a suit actually turned out to be a full-blown CG creation, from the armour to flame effects. The Orphanage mainly talks about working on Stark’s HUD and how it would evolve through each armour upgrade. It’s interesting how much info is actually there and how every little motion we see on screen relates to something real that we ordinarily wouldn’t think about too much. I think overall the only downside to this feature is that there’s no decent look at Stan Winston’s Iron Man suit, with no words either from the man. A shame because I’d have at least expected some sort of tribute to him in light of his passing, but more so I’d have liked to have learned more on just how the effects and live stuff was integrated.
The bonus material starts to thin out as we reach the Robert Downey Jr. Screen Test (6.03). And it’s exactly what it says on the tin. Downey goes through several scenes, and if anything the early script tends to show its faults. Some of the dialogue is terribly drawn out and contrived, and upon seeing the final film it’s easier to spot what was changed and why. But the actor is entertaining, providing a few good chuckles with his slight improv. Likewise The Actor’s Process (4.12) is brief and only focuses on one specific scene shared between Downey and Jeff Bridges. The actors discuss with Favreau as to how they should go about portraying the scene which takes places at the benefit event where upon Stark learns of Stane’s betrayal. And then we have The Onion “Wildly Popular Iron Man Trailer” (2.37). This is a fun little satire about the original trailer being adapted into a full-length feature, much to the chagrin of fans and media.
Next we have the galleries. Here there are conceptual designs which cover environments and characters, HUD and general Stark Industry tech, but to be honest it feels like we’re missing an awful lot of stuff. While there are some early Iron Man designs there is most certainly a bunch missing, as they’ve been seen elsewhere, not only on this disc during the I Am Iron Man piece but so too other outlets. It’s pretty brief all round though. There is also a collection of fifty Unit Photography shots and a very small poster gallery.
I also found an Easter Egg in the bonus section on Disc 1. Highlight “Main Menu” and press left. A gold icon will appear above, taking us to a 2 minute clip featuring behind-the-scenes footage of creator Stan Lee filming his cameo, with additional brief interview alongside Robert Downey, Jr. If anybody finds anymore then please let me know.
For me Iron Man is the blockbuster film of the year, and yes, before you all start saying I‘m wrong because Dark Knight is better - well, that’s for another time. Iron Man is a well crafted piece of entertainment; it hits all the right notes with its smart pacing, stirring score and some of the best visual effects ever committed to film. But it’s the terrific cast who give it greater precedence by allowing for some of the best scenes away from the action as they wonderfully encapsulate the spirit of the comics. I stand by my original cinema marking as I’ve seen this three times since on DVD and have yet to get bored despite my original comments on minor flaws in the development of the narrative. Congratulations to Jon Favreau and his team for successfully realising of one of Marvel’s most intriguing characters. Iron Man 2 is one sequel I’m very much looking forward to.
As for the ultimate DVD tag here. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a double dip at some point. It doesn’t feel all that definitive to me, with both the visual quality and the supplementary material being questionable. Sure the ‘making of’ is enjoyable and the look at Iron Man’s origins is a decent primer for those new to this hero, but I get the impression that we’ve been a little stiffed. The lack of an audio commentary for starters is a tad disappointing, as both Downey and Favreau have been all too eager in the past to talk about their films on DVD and we already know how passionate they are about this particular project. I also find it really odd that Paramount would go to the lengths of including the Onion video and not even slap the actual movie trailers that it references on the disc itself. Moreover the galleries are a weak addition, leaving the feeling that there should be a lot more here, while the total lack of a Stan Winston tribute is saddening. I believe that this was his final picture and it was disheartening enough that when he passed away this June there was so very little fuss being made by the media. Hollywood knew exactly the kind of man he was and the extraordinary things he achieved in his lifetime, which is why it‘s a shame that Paramount haven‘t given him the salute he deserves for his amazing work on leading his team and helping to bring Iron Man to life.
9 out of 10
6 out of 10
8 out of 10
7 out of 10