I’ve been looking forward to the Ultimate 2-disc Edition of the Iron Man DVD since it was announced in August. I think, though, that my anticipation backfired. My love for the movie hasn’t changed, but I found many of the special features weren’t as exciting as I had hoped.
For me, the appeal of the film was the character, the man inside the suit, but that’s not the direction followed here. This was Marvel’s first in-house production after previous success licensing their characters to others. As a result, I’m guessing “control” was a big issue for them. Keeping the focus on the costume and the technology — both in-film and effects-related — allows them to swap out creators regardless of the excellent job director/actor Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey, Jr. did. (Reportedly, some key scenes were partially improvised. And there were rumors that Marvel was announcing the 2010 date of the sequel film while stonewalling Favreau on salary talks.) That also fits with the traditional attitude of superhero comic companies, where their properties are more important than any given artist.
But that’s just my speculation. Probably more important to the makers of the DVD is this reason: Fans of the comic tend to be tech-heads, because the character, a drunk rich man, is frankly, kind of an asshole (and never more than recently, with the Civil War storyline). What’s left is the suit. So all this information on the look and feel of the costume, how it was created and built, should be right up their alley. Most of the extras focus on the production work, on what it took to get the movie to the screen.
The First Disc
The main disc contains the movie and 11 deleted or extended scenes, my favorite of which is Rhodey driving a Porsche into the Iron Monger. I can see why they took it out, though — the resultant toppling of the big robot into a bus is kind of laugh-inducing. It’s neat to see how the rough effects in this scene don’t really match up, because it gives some hints as to how the process elements are assembled.
Also on the disc are various ads. “Armored Adventures” is a cartoon trailer for the animated series coming to Nicktoons in 2009, starring a teenage Tony. There are also previews: a tech-heavy version of a Star Trek teaser; the new Indiana Jones DVD; and the Incredible Hulk DVD, both due later this month.
The Bonus Disc
The real meat is on the bonus disc. Traditionally, with Marvel movies, the second disc is the geek disc, and that’s never been more true than here.
“I Am Iron Man” consists of seven featurettes about the making of the movie, mostly narrated by Favreau. There’s a ton of production information, especially about the look of the suit and the special effects, with plenty of credit to artist Adi Granov, who designed the costume, and Stan Winston, whose studio built it. I was surprised to note that producer Peter Billingsley is the former child actor from A Christmas Story. (He also has a cameo role in the film itself as one of the Iron Monger’s pet scientists.)
I found all this information somewhat unnecessary; for me, it risked damaging the magic. Devoted fans will eat up the way every detail of the film is covered in almost two hours: all the different kinds of sweetening, visual effects, recoloring, performances, even sound mixing.
My favorite piece was “The Invincible Iron Man”, the comic-based documentary in six parts. Noted writers and artists appear, including Gerry Conway, Gene Colan, editor Tom Brevoort, John Romita, Jr., and Bob Layton. After talking about the character’s origin up until work in the 80s, the feature skips to the modern era. Warren Ellis talks for a good while about his Extremis relaunch of The Invincible Iron Man in connection with Adi Granov, who is also included. Most everyone from the current era — Joe Casey, Joe Quesada, Dan and Charles Knauf, Patrick Zircher — appears, with the exception of Matt Fraction, whose new series was introduced to give the movie viewers something to read that’s similar to the film.
Also left out is Denny O’Neil’s run covering the effects of alcoholism, including homelessness, probably because that would be a downer. I would have also been interested in hearing about Kurt Busiek’s reboot, overshadowed by his Avengers run at the time, because he brought back Happy and Pepper, who until then hadn’t been in the book for over a decade.
It was great to see Stan Lee, as expected, who talks about how Iron Man had more women readers, based on fan mail, than other Marvel titles. He thinks “females”, as he calls them, really loved Iron Man because the character was handsome, rich, and they wanted to mother him. Lee quotes them as thinking, “You’ll be ok, don’t worry about your heart, I’ll take care of you, and if you die, I’ll inherit all your money,” but then immediately says he didn’t mean that. “We didn’t get much fan mail from girls,” he continues, “but when we did, the letter was usually addressed to Iron Man.”
This disc also has a separate visual effects documentary called “Wired”, a cast rehearsal of a scene, and an image/photo gallery. The Downey screen tests are interesting, since they show how much his performance improved for the film itself and how significantly some of the scenes changed.
I really missed having a commentary by Favreau and Downey. I wanted to hear them talk more about their contributions, especially why certain scenes were removed or edited. But that would probably have involved paying them more. Also, since much of this material appears to have been created during and right after filming, I’m not sure how eager they would have been. The production process, based on the featurettes, appears to have been quite a workout. But Downey is, in my opinion, what made the movie a success, especially to a crossover audience that included people like me. I never go to movies in theaters more than once, but this one, I did, just because of his performance.
If asked to recommend a purchase, I’d say the two-disc edition is worth it for learning more about the source material. That documentary is interesting because it lets you see the people behind the comics. (Oh, and there’s another shot of Downey with his shirt off. He’s shown being waxed up for a mold-making cast during the making-of featurette.)
Traditional Iron Man fans and tech-heads should get the Blu-ray edition with all of these extras plus more, including a “Hall of Armor”. Favreau was quoted as saying that it became the best-selling Blu-ray disc ever in 48 hours, despite problems with the downloadable elements. The servers got overloaded, which caused play delays of up to 45 minutes when the disc began automatically downloading content. With the rush over, that should no longer be an issue … and it’s a great problem for a company to have!
The next question is where to buy. There were eight separate retail exclusives for this disc.
- Circuit City granted access to exclusive Marvel digital comics.
- Best Buy had a custom lithograph by Gerald Parel.
- Target’s mask packaging (shown here) is quite impressive.
- The Costco gift set came with three bobbleheads.
- Wal-Mart had two extras: the two-disc set came with an exclusive Nick Fury comic; the single disc had the first episode of the new cartoon.
- Kmart and Sears had $5 off with any $25 Craftsman purchase.
- Fye and Suncoast had steelbook packaging.
- Borders packaging had a collectible book with Bob Layton sketches and the “top 24 comic covers of Iron Man”.
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