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Monday, 16 November 2009

Generation X (1996)

Think Bryan Singer was the first person to bring the X-men to life in live action? Think again! This 1996 FOX TV movie was actually the first X-Men feature film to be made, adapted from the X-Men spinoff comic series created by Chris Bachalo (we're not worthy) and Scott Lobdell. Made for 4 million dollars for Fox TV, this is a curious thing indeed, and a film that is very dear to my heart.

A little history. The Generation x comic book series featured Jubilee, aka Jubilation Lee, amongst its motley group of characters. Jubilee had always been by favourite X-men character, thanks to her sense of humour and her powers being a bit crap. I always found that quite endearing, and followed the character wherever she went for a few years (her run as Wolverine's sidekick was truly great in my humble opinion. Actually, scratch that, it was great no matter what other people think. Heh).

To me, it was one of the finest major comic book series of the 1990s, that much maligned decade of comics history. Sure, the first issue had a swanky reflective cover, but it was the content that drew me in. It ran for 75 issues, and despite a couple of mediocre iossues here and there, stands up as a great body of work featuring some of the most interesting characters the X-Men universe had to offer.

When this film was announced, I was ecstatic. I didn't care that the casting was all wrong, that favourite characters like Chamber weren't in it, or that the plot had very little to do with the larger X-Men universe, but I lapped it up. I read everything I could about it in imported movie and SF mags, and cherished every glimpse of the cast in costume. It looked cheap right from the start, but damn, it was an X-Men film at last, and Jubilee would be in it, played by Heather McComb.

I was almost camping out right outside the old Metro video shop's doors the week the film arrived in the UK, and the day it went on their shelves, it had barely been there thirty seconds before I was walking out with a rental copy. I hurried home and basked in 90 minutes of tacky fun that, while it has many problems, I absolutely loved. I rushed back the next day to return the video and asked when it would arrive on sell-through.

They didn't know, but offered me the rental copy to buy after the weekend was over. I agreed, and when that Monday in 1997 arrived, I was walking happily home with a big-box copy of Generation X, all of my own. I still have the video, and the handwritten receipt from Metro is still inside the case. Funny how these things can become quite so cherished, really. Such is the geek mentality, I guess.

The basic plot of the piece follows the comic series closely- a group of young mutants are brought together under the guidance of old-school X-Men characters banshee and Emma Frost and taught to develop their abilities further, so that one day they can fight crime. A mad scientist (played with demented glee by the ever wonderful Matt Frewer) from Emma Frost's past has created a dream device that allows the user access to the dream dimension. It emerges that Tresh (Frewer) is aiming to use the machine in order to mutate and become omnipotent. Generation X get caught up in his plot, and together they must deal with him before he becomes what is essentially a god. The plot is ambitious for a TV movie, and while the effects are atrocious in some places, it is carried off well.

It's the characterization that I love about this film though. The characters from the comics, namely Banshee, Emma Frost, Jubilee, Skin, Mondo and Monet are all brought to life with persoonalities that are very close to the source material indeed. This is despite the fact that two of these characters are the wrong race (Jubilee is supposed to be Chinese, Mondo is supposed to be Samoan) and the other characters, namely Refrax and Arlee are rather pale imitations of other characters (they replaaced Generation X comic characters Chamber and Husk due to the cost of the effects those characters would have needed- although I am certain that this could have been got around quite easily, at least in the case of Chamber). They still work well together as a group of young people trying to come to terms with being very different to everyone else.

The X-mansion used in this TV movie is actually the same mansion that was used in the first Bryan Singer X-Men movie that would come a few years later. The film is full of little nods to the comic book source material it came from, such as Refrax's 'X' shirt and the Wolverine video game visible in the arcade scene. People like me love that stuff. Mind you, it is also a supremely silly film as well.

There are mad angles and garish lighting in almost every frame, apparently put there to continuously remind you you're watching a film based on a comic, and this does grate on you after a while, but the humour and the characters keep you interested. Mind you, it is definitely a flick for the diehards. As a film, it is rife with flaws and production limitations, but as an adaptation of a Marvel comic, it walks all over things like Ang Lee's Hulk, Elektra, Man Thing and Spider-Man 3. Don't expect anything other than a cheap comic adaptation if you ever get to see this, and you'll enjoy it. Probably not as much as I do, but then, I'm a bit odd really.







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