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Iron Man (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 9/30/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/23/2008

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you know that comic-book characters are red-hot at the box-office. Instantly recognizable characters like Spider-man, Batman, The Hulk, and Superman have graced the silver-screen as of late, and the film's have been very successful. It stands to reason though, that Hollywood will run out of the truly well-known characters and have to move on to entities which may not be as familiar to the general public. So, we've seen Blade, Daredevil, and The Punisher get their own movies. (Before the fanboys begin firing off e-mails, note that I said that the general public has never heard of them.) Somewhere in the middle of all of this is Iron Man. The character has been around since the 60s and he's had some TV series, but he's not the most popular character of all time. But, as we saw this summer, lack of public recognition means nothing when the movie is well-made.

Robert Downey Jr. stars in Iron Man as Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist. A genius at building machines, Tony inherited weapons company Stark Industries from his late father. While Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) runs the company on a day-to-day basis, lives the good life as the face of Stark Industries, and he'd rather party and gamble than focus on the company. Tony travels to Afghanistan with his buddy Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard) to demonstrate Stark Industries' latest creation, "Jericho". Following the demo, Tony's convoy is ambushed. He's injured and then taken prisoner. Tony awakens to find himself in a cave, and learns that fellow prisoner, Yinsen (Shaun Toub), has placed an electromagnet in Tony's chest to keep shrapnel away from his heart. Tony's captors, lead by Raza (Faran Tahir), order him to build a Jericho weapon for them. Instead, Tony constructs a suit of battle armor and uses it to escape. Returning home, having seen the ravages of war, Tony decides that Stark Industries should get out of the weapons business, much to the chagrin of Stane. Tony begins to build a smaller, sleeker version of the armor so that he can help those in war-torn countries. But, as Tony will soon learn, it's easier to start a war than to stop one.

One of my pet peeves about movies based on pre-existing material is that the original story is usually contorted into something which is overly convoluted. Thankfully, that isn't the case with Iron Man. The writers have taken the original origin story from the comics, which was set in the Vietnam War, and updated it to the present day. From there, we get a fairly simple tale of how wealthy playboy Tony Stark becomes Iron Man. It will please fans of the comics to see characters like Rhodey, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and "Happy" Hogan (Jon Favreau) present, but it's also a gift to those unfamiliar with Iron Man that the number of peripheral characters is kept to a minimum. While the word "simple" may seem like a negative, keeping things simple and focusing on Tony and the few people that he trusts help to streamline the story and keep the action going.

At one point in the film, Tony Stark says "I am Iron Man". This can be re-worded to say that Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man, as he is the heart and soul of this film. Would the movie have worked with another actor? Thatís hard to say, as Downey truly nails this role. Stark calls for an actor who can be arrogant and aloof, but also show a soulful side, and Downey is perfect in this. He also brings a much-needed amount of levity to the role, and as someone who has battled ups and downs in his own life, we feel the sincerity behind Starkís self-depreciating jokes. The role also called for someone who didnít strike us as a hero at the outset, and he succeeds here as well. (And, if youíre familiar with the comics, Downey sort of looks like Stark to begin with.)

Movies based on comic books usually suffer from all kinds of pitfalls, but Iron Man manages to avoid most of them. The script is relatively straight-forward, and the cast, especially Downey, is great. Jon Favreau may not have seemed like the most obvious choice for director, but he does a great job with the action scenes, and his background in comedy allows the film to be fun at the same time. Iron Man may not have been the most high-profile character at Marvel, but this great movie has certainly helped to change that.

Iron Man flies onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only the slightest amount of grain during the desert sequences and no defects from the source material. These desert shots really help to show off the clarity of the image. Both these scenes and the nighttime scenes where Tony tests the armor show that the picture is never too dark or too bright. The colors look very good, most notably the Iron Man armor. I noted some minor video noise at times, but nothing else of concern. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an impressive track which really accents this movie. Simply listen to the gunshots and ricochets during the cave fight scene and youíll experience the power of this track as the sounds fly around you. The stereo effects are good, as the surround effects during the battle sequences. We get a good deal of subwoofer actions from the explosions and crashes. Overall, a nice package.

The Iron Man DVD has many extras, spread across two DVDs. Disc 1 begins with eleven DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES which run about 24 minutes. Some of these scenes are merely longer versions of scenes from the finished film. The new scenes run from dull to interesting. A scene where Rhodey announces that he's going to look for Stark is good, as is a scene where Bridges gives a rousing speech. Not so good is a long scene where Tony throws a raucous party in Dubai. We also get two variations on the finale battle.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. "I Am Iron Man" (108 minutes) is a 7-part feature-length making-of. The piece begins by examining the look and design of the Iron Man armor. This leads to the look of everything else in Stark's world and how Iron Man would move. Stan Winston and his team comment on the creation of the suits (both primary and secondary) and how they work. Next, we look at the cast, complete with rehearsal footage. The piece then focuses on the actual making of the film, paying close attention to Downey's performance. We also get comments from Leslie Bibb, Bridges, Paltrow, and Howard. The practical effects of desert warfare are explored. Favreau discusses his role. The piece then looks at the shooting of many of the film's biggest scenes. Following this, the creation of the visual effects and the audio is touched upon. Finally, we get a taste of the editing process. "The Invincible Iron Man" (47 minutes) is a 5-part featurette which explores the history of the Iron Man from the Marvel Comics. This contains comments from Marvel legends Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Gene Colan, and John Romita, Jr.. They discuss the most important plot-lines from the Iron Man universe and the way in which the character evolved over the years. We see many examples of art from the comics. "Wired: The Visual Effects of Iron Man" (27 minutes) explores the technology which was used to bring the hero to life. We hear from the three effects houses which handled various aspects of the film. The artists explain how they placed CGI into the movie. "Robert Downey, Jr. Screen Test" (6 minutes) shows the actor going through three scenes. "The Actor's Process" (4 minutes) shows Downey, Bridges, and Favreau rehearsing a scene. "The Onion 'Wildly Popular Iron Man Trailer to be Adapted into Full-length Film" (3 minutes) is a faux news report about the movie. The extras are rounded out by four GALLERIES; "Concept Art", "Tech", "Unit Photography", and "Posters".

Paramount Home Entertainment has also brought Iron Man to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc includes an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. This is a good-looking transfer, as the image is very sharp and clear. There is a mild amount of grain on the image during the daytime shots, but there are no defects from the source material. The picture has a nice amount of depth, especially with the desert landscapes. The colors are good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. This is one of the higher bitrates that I've seen for a TrueHD track. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As with the video, the audio is impressive. The stereo effects are great, and they really stand out when Iron Man is flying. They are nicely detailed and bring forth very subtle sounds. The action scenes provide a world of surround sound and subwoofer action. We get a "swoosh!" from the front to rear speakers as Iron Man flies past us. The explosions provide a bass response which really adds to the film. Overall, a great transfer.

The Iron Man Blu-ray Disc contains all of the extras found on the 2-disc DVD set. The lone addition (other than the online "BD-Live" features) is "Hall of Armor", which is an interactive feature where the viewer can explore the four suits from the film and focus on specific components.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long