Adapting a comic-book world for a live-action feature is always
a difficult prospect - you must give indoctrinated fans the experience
they crave, but also satisfy the rest of the movie-going public.
After X-Men proved to be a success in the summer of 2000 (see AC July
'00), 20th Century Fox began assembling the ingredients for its sequel, X2.
One of the studio's first steps was to tap director Bryan Singer
and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC, who had collaborated
so successfully on X-Men.
The studio and the paying public are expecting the X-Men's new adventure
to be an even grander spectacle, and Sigel confirms that this was
one of the major challenges the filmmakers confronted. "We wanted
the second film to have a bigger canvas, a bigger scale," he
says. The trick for the camera department, he adds, "was to
give the sequel a visual continuity with the first one but
still expand upon it."
Singer, who has collaborated with Sigel on Apt Pupil and The
Usual Suspects in addition to X-Men, says he sees X2 as
this series' The Empire Strikes Back. "We take the
story deeper and we get a bit darker, but we also get more romantic," Singer
says. "Whereas the first film established the universe and
introduced the characters, this one uses the characters to tell
the story. It's tough when you're introducing such a complex ensemble,
and once you've done that it makes the second part more fun for
the audience and the filmmakers. We weren't stuck having to [explain
the characters and their superpowers]; we had covered that ground
and could move on."
With both X-Men films, Singer and Sigel "strove [to lend] a
kind of credibility to an otherwise fantastical world," says
Sigel. "For Bryan, it was important for the films to have a
very classical, naturalistic look, and yet have an
otherworldliness and also an energy that's very modern. He
did not want them to feel like comic books. In many ways, I think
we're trying to make films that are closer to Road to Perdition than,
say, Gone in 60 Seconds."
Though Sigel filmed X-Men in the anamorphic 2.40:1
format, he opted to shoot X2 in Super 35mm 2.35:1, and he
observes that "the big gap between [the formats] is closing." Sigel
adds that improvements in film stocks and optics have increased the
advantages of using spherical lenses - even if the blowup to anamorphic must
be accomplished optically instead of digitally. (At press time, Fox
had not yet approved the filmmakers' request to put X2 through
a digital intermediate.) "If you think about it, every anamorphic lens
is simply a spherical lens with an anamorphizer on
it, so almost by definition, they'll never be as good as the spherical
lenses that they emulate," Sigel notes.
For X2, Sigel relied extensively on the Primo 11:1 (24-275mm
T2.8) zoom and the Primo Macro Zoom. "When Bryan and I worked
together on The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil, I used
a lot of combination dolly/zoom shots," he says. "When
we did X-Men we wanted to go another direction, and one of
the ways to give the film a more formal quality was to shoot in a
format that limited our choice of lenses and wasn't really zoom-friendly.
When shooting with anamorphic lenses, you
tend to use a small number of primes and maintain a more solid or
precise framing. With spherical lenses, we can go with more zoom
shots or the dolly/zoom combination we like; it gave us a more fluid,
ever-changing frame. It's like moving from setting the stage on the
first film to energizing the second with more options."
Sigel's camera package con-sisted of two Panaflex Millenniums
and a Millennium XL, as well as an Aaton 35-III
that he would "stick in odd places or on rigs." In
addition to the Primos, he occasionally
took advantage of the Frazier lens system's unusual capabilities.
In addition to its ability to slide into a position no camera body
could ever squeeze into, Sigel says, the lens "tends to give
you [abundant] depth of field and a little more distortion than
you might have in another lens."
At one point in X2, a character trying to make a grand getaway
must grab hold of a chain tethering a helicopter to the ground. Sigel
used the Frazier lens to frame the chain in a way that enhanced the
drama of the moment. "[The character] goes to grab the chain
and the lens is just a couple of inches from it," he explains. "Freeing
the helicopter is his means of escape. [Making the chain] really
big in the foreground conveys its importance in relation to the character.
Because of the structure of the Frazier lens, when someone reaches
toward it you get a very elongated motion, which can be very dramatic
if it works out right."
X2 features a lot more camera movement than its predecessor. "I
did a lot of the seemingly normal coverage from a jib arm on a [Mega
Mount] remote head," Sigel says. "I'd operate the remote
head while communicating via headsets with the crane operator. It
was a little dance we did together; he would move the crane and I
would operate the head.