Friday, 6 June 2008

Fury of the Phoenix: Famke Janssen blasts X-Men: The Last Stand

By David Bentley

ACTRESS Famke Janssen has spoken out and says her character Phoenix received poor treatment in the 2006 superhero movie X-Men: The Last Stand.

The 42-year-old former supermodel said she fought with the film-makers to give the character more development but they didn't do the story the way she wanted.

In the X-Men movies, Famke played Jean Grey, a mutant telepath/telekinetic who sacrificed herself to save her team-mates at the end of the second film.

But Jean had not died - she returned in the third movie where it was revealed that her powers had previously been restricted to moderate levels by her mentor Professor Xavier, using mind-blocks which had now broken down. A second personality had developed behind the mental blocks, simmering with resentment at being caged - it took over and she became the super-powerful, unstable and destructive Phoenix. At the end of the movie, she allowed Wolverine to kill her before she destroyed everything.

The story is one of Marvel's most classic comicbook tales - a tale of corruption by absolute power and of ultimate sacrifice. But it was told differently in the films (notably with the death and absence of Cyclops) and, in the third movie, it shared the screen with two other stories - the cure for mutation, and Magneto's villainous activities escalating to public terrorism and war.

Many fans online were unhappy - first the material was changed from the comics and then, to make matters worse, that altered storyline had to compete with other plots within a film that was just 1hr 44minutes long. If it had been better developed, the changes from the comicbooks would no doubt have been more forgivable.

Now, two years after X-Men: The Last Stand was released, Netherlands-born Famke Janssen (it's pronounced fam-kuh yan-sin), has said she was not happy with the Phoenix treatment either.

Famke, who was also in medical drama Nip/Tuck and was the deadly Xenia in Bond movie GoldenEye, told Indianapolis Entertainment's website: "I know how important the Phoenix Saga is to the fans, and I don't think it was addressed properly. It's such a great storyline."

She spoke about the issue in more depth at The Film Experience website. She said: "When I did the first one [X-Men film] people kept saying 'Jean Grey turns into the Phoenix!' So I looked into the story and thought 'Oh wow, I hope one day they're doing it.' They didn't do it the way I would've liked to have them do it. "

Agreeing that there were too many subplots, she explained: "The way it works is that some people get paid a lot of money on those movies and I'm not one of them. And they need to give them as much screentime as possible. That's really how it works.

"And I kept fighting it, too. I said 'Look, you set up the character like that in the beginning of the film. You have her kill Patrick Stewart's character. You have her kill her own fiancé in the film. And then where do you take it? You've got to follow it through. You can't just leave it dangling there.' But they did."

"People I know who really like the X-Men comic books really love that [Phoenix] story arc. It felt to me like a missed opportunity. People ask 'Are they going to come back and do it and I say, no that's now done. It was done in that way."

She had told Radio Free Entertainment during the build-up to the film's release: "I think that Phoenix is not just purely evil. She was in the comicbooks at some point, but the way the writers created her and how we all sort of talked about her was that she was torn with her powers taking over and trying to control them at the same time, so it was a little bit more schizophrenic in that.

"You want to make sure that you stay true to what the comic lovers are expecting of you...In this one, because we take a lot of liberties, and my character changes a lot, we go out on a limb and we hope that this is something that the fans will still like and look forward to.

"I talked to the writers a lot about the ending of the film, wanting to make sure that it was clear that [Jean] wasn't taking a side between Magneto or the X-Men, and that it was a constant struggle in her head. But you know, if this had been a movie just about the Phoenix, we would have had a lot more time to explore all the different avenues that you can explore for that. But given the fact that there are so many characters in the X-Men, and we have to do justice to every single one of their storylines, we have to use broader strokes in that case, and you have to hope that it's clear."

Her comments came as the website of film artist Adrien van Viersen revealed dramatically epic storyboards (see top picture) for her character which were never filmed. These show the power of Phoenix destroying San Francisco in a grand climax. Other Phoenix scenes were filmed but cut and can be seen in a large section of deleted material on the DVD release for the film.

X-Men fans such as myself are hoping for an extended edition of the film to reinstate some of this deleted material and create a more powerful and satisfying movie. Perhaps Fox will release one when the trilogy comes out on Blu-ray, which will probably be timed to coincide with the release of the Wolverine prequel.

After all, Daredevil got an improved Director's Cut, Fantastic Four got an improved Extended Edition, longer versions of the 80s Supergirl movie have been released, Oliver Stone re-released historical epic Alexander as a Director's Cut and then again as a Final Cut, the Definitive Edition of Kingdom of Heaven included another 45 minutes not in the original release, and there are five versions of Ridley Scott's sci-fi classic BladeRunner (now all brought together in an Ultimate Collector's box). However, neither Elektra nor Ghost Rider were improved by extended editions.

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