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X-Men 2

Seen: 2003.05.05   ¶   Reviewed: 2003.05.12

I couldn’t believe how smart and thematically consistent a sequel based on a superhero comic book could be. It’s filled to the brim with disabled characters and ticks along with consistent smarts where Daredevil contents itself with tapping its cane against the edge of the gutter.

X-Men is, of course, all about two things at once: Disability and homosexualism. “You’re never going to get rid of us” is the defining theme of X-Men. (As, I suppose, is Mystique’s reason not to pretend to be human: Because no one should have to.)

Not a throwaway line in the entire picture, not even the jokes (watch what happens when you turn on a Mazda RX-8 stereo!). Wolverine isn’t remotely hairy enough, but we can live with that.

The disability theme is superbly handled. Charles tells Stryker to stop it when Stryker forces Charles to imagine himself standing. Charles standing up is someone other than Charles, you see. But Stryker also uses the disability of his own son to nefarious ends, rigging a special invasive symbiotic wheelchair that controls Jason’s telepathic capacity. It’s like Mengele experimenting on “defectives” in Nazi Germany.

And of course even the slowest audiencemembers will understand Iceman’s special talk with his parents as a parody of a coming-out story.

Is it just me, or is Storm the most regal and maternal rail-thin stacked blonde-haired black chick in the history of cinema? No wonder: Hidden deep inside the getup is... Halle Berry.

You know that trite word blockbuster? Well, they’re not supposed to be this smooth. Back in the day, we called this sort of thing entertainment.

Fateful X-Men seating drama

Interestingly, we had a superspecial visitor tonight: Lisa Gibson of the Royal Blind Society in New South Wales, a 2003 Churchill Fellow traveling the world studing audio description. We did tea earlier that day and it suddenly occurred to me that Movie Night was that very evening. Thus was Lisa dragged through the cold and rain to the Paramount.

No problem getting the gear. In fact, they couldn’t find the book to write our names in (as has happened before) and I jotted same down on a slip of paper. This particular manager treats me well, in part because I guessed where he was from and we chatted about the languages he speaks. People dig that shit, you know?

Once inside the cavernous Cinema 2, I found that someone was in my seat. At the Paramount, quite by coincidence, the absolute best place to sit to watch captions is a trio of seats that is illuminated by an overhead spotlight. We always sit there. Get the dead-centre seat and you are fully dialed in.

But someone was in it already.

I explained to her that we need those seats to read the reflected captions straight-on. This was explained twice. With great politeness, but also firmly. It was determined that all she had to do was move one seat over. I thus had a neighbour on either side – her and Lisa (with Mr. X next to Lisa; he cares much less about angular distortion in captions). We sat around and I did a lot of schtick during the trailers.

Little did I know how much this simple action would alter my fate.

Caption quality

Non-nominal identification again: Mixed voices of scientists are IDed as MALE SCIENTIST, FEMALE SCIENTIST, and, in one case I think was overzealously interpreted as androgynous, FEMALE/MALE SCIENTIST. Also: STUDENT:.

Ah, Save it should have been Aww, save it.

Multiple speakers on one line:

-Everybody okay back there?
-Yeah.        -No.

(i.d. tag clanks) should be (ID tag clanks). We retain capitals where necessary in notating NSI.

I always love it when the picture shows a character reading from a teleprompter. The captions tend to say the very same thing as is already visible. I just love that.

Description quality

“Slouching under a painting of JFK bowing his head”: Who’s doing the bowing? (The intruder also was!)

Here we see the consequences of DVS’s overuse of “now” as a bridging mechanism: “A ribbon tied to it reads MUTANT FREEDOM NOW. Now, in a mountain valley.”

“An image of the White House is captioned MUTANTS ATTACK WHITE HOUSE”: Um... “captioned”? Titled? Labeled?

“Soldiers exit a two-bladed helicopter”: Well, I wouldn’t want to fly in a chopper with one blade. A twin-rotor helicopter.

“Scowling through the windshield, Logan shifts gears”: Tenuous link between the two, don’t you think?

“He glances over his shoulder as Jean steps down the jet’s ramp”: The ramp, when retracted into the plane, really is a ramp, but when extended to the ground its stairs unfold. She really steps down the ramp’s stairs.

“Sunlight reflects in his kind blue eyes”: They’re green.

Exit interview

Things took a turn for the unexpected about twenty minutes in. The woman to my right looked over with irritation. Obviously, she could hear the descriptions leaking from my headset. Unlike in Minority Report, where the d00d who complained about it was an arsehole, this woman was not, so I spent the rest of the movie modulating the volume to a constant relative level. So did Lisa, separately. This amounted to 30 or more adjustments, each of which requiring a trip to the right earlobe.

But having a total of three people tell me they could hear the descriptions was more than circumstantial evidence. I removed and turned off my headset. Descriptions were audible but not intelligible emanating from Lisa’s side. And remember, she was fiddling with the volume to keep things quiet but understandable. Contrary to expectations, it is during typical or quiet passages when the DX is audible, not during loud scenes, where the entire cinema is flooded with sound. (It’s even worse because it typically takes you a moment to turn the DX volume down after a loud scene.)

Well, well, well.

At the end of the show, the woman asked, in a nice way, why we were using the systems. I explained that I am an accessibility consultant, Mr. X is hard-of-hearing, and Lisa was in from Australia studying audio description. The woman completely understood what the service was for (and, unprompted, used the word “description”). She did, however, mention that she has trouble listening to one sound source if another one is also audible.

I explained that I saw her move early on and tried to modulate the volume, and that I had a listen to Lisa’s sound leakage, and agreed with her that it was a problem. Unfortunately, I said, these are the headphones they give us. You might want to pop by Guest Services and make a nice mention of the problem.

She and her male friend then exited past the three of us even though the coast was completely clear in the other direction.

So off we went. At the auditorium door there stood two young managers, superbly dressed and impossibly gorgeous, one of them obviously Greek and both also decked out in the bling-bling that dapper ethnic straight guys can get away with (rings, bracelets, good watches). So of course I’m gonna chat them up.

I explained everything that happened, and pointed to the woman at the far-off Guest Services desk, telling the lads that she was complaining about the same thing. Thus, I informed them, the Paramount would have received both sides of the story. But it’s a genuine problem.

The Greek fellow assured me that it would be passed along to head office. I told him that was unlikely based on my experience, but I would ring head office anyway. (I later did.)

This is not a case where an individual complaint – or a total of three of them in the experience of the moviegoer who has seen more described movies than anyone else – should overturn or invalidate an entire system. But it needs to be fixed. Lisa mentioned that the FM receivers they use in theatrical description in Oz cost $500 and are tiny things with a headphone jack. I can see how an ideal scenario for movie theatres would be:

You learn something new every day.

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