On DVD: Iron Man Goes Blu

Iron Man on Blu-ray looks so great that it makes merely looking good look bad. This could be the disc that convinces people to switch -- you set that bad boy up in a Best Buy, let it run, and watch the paying customers drool. I also think that while Dark Knight was a stronger theatrical release, Iron Man has much more going for it on home video. From the strength of Robert Downey Jr.'s vibrant personality (as opposed to Bale's brooding sullenness) to watching Favreau's depth of knowledge -- Iron Man fares very well on the smaller screen.

Disc one of this two-disc set contains the theatrical release, eleven deleted scenes, an hour-long exploration into the comic origins ("The Invincible Iron Man"), and an interactive look at Iron Man's three suits and Iron Monger. The deleted scenes are around 25 minutes in length and feature some great cuts (a Jeff Bridges speech scene is unwatchable) and some unfortunate cuts (who didn't want to see Downey blow $3 million at a roulette table while asking if he could have the room comped??). You can also tell that the sexuality was toned down for the PG-13 theatrical release -- two scenes feature Iron Man in more frisky situations. I still think the film would have garnered a PG-13, but it may not have captured as much of the family dollar. You also get a sense of the scope of this project from the deleted scenes, as Favreau has left the time stamps in for each reel. Certain scenes were cobbled together over months of shooting, as early as February '07 and as late as February '08. I came away very impressed with the director as a whole; clearly you'd have to have your ducks in a row to manage this behemoth for a just-born production company like Marvel's.

The documentary on disc one, "The Invisible Iron Man," features interviews with comic book luminaries, including Stan Lee at the outset. It wades through the historical villains and friends: The Mandarin, The Avengers, Nick Fury, and Dr. Doom are all mentioned, as is Tony Stark's alcoholism ... though only for about two minutes. If the rumors are correct and Iron Man II goes darker, I'm guessing they were trying to shield (hardy har) potential plot points. This section does drag near the end as the narrative structure is abandoned. For instance, in a section entitled "Friends and Foes," they go off on a jag about how one artist preferred the armor to look more lifelike or something. Pieces were clearly just thrown in with no real relevance to the title topic. Still, it's worth watching if you're unfamiliar with the Iron Man world.

Disc two, which is only special features, has a few short-form doozies. The first is direct from The Onion (and can be seen here), entitled "Wildly Popular Iron Man Trailer to be Adapted." It's hilarious, and shows just how aware Jon Favreau is. If you consider a director like Tim Burton, who's an expert at creating a visual world, you'd also have to concede that he probably pays little attention to external factors. Not so with Favreau; he knows the fans, the strength of venues like Comic-Con, the history of the character, the Marvel Universe, and where he wants to pay homage. This strength comes through again and again when you see Favreau in "I Am Iron Man" -- a quasi making-of (because it also features a bit of past history) for the film.

The other features not to miss involve Downey Jr. The first is his screen test, where to my eye he was initially playing the character in a sadder, meaner, far less flippant manner. You can see a bit of where the character ends up as the screen test feature plays on -- his Stark in the desert attack scene is much closer to the character he brought to the screen. Also intriguing is "The Actor's Process." Normally something with that title would be a painfully stupid and self-absorbed interview with one of the actors, but in this case it's Favreau, Jeff Bridges, and Downey Jr. working out a scene together. It's interesting to see how they interact; you sort of get the feeling that Bridges is along for the ride while a frenetic Downey Jr. bounces ideas off him left and right. Somewhere in the middle Favreau holds court -- a director pulling the strengths from each character.

The disc is rounded out with galleries (who looks through pictures on their DVD player?), theatrical trailers, and an impressive look at the visual effects of Iron Man. I think true fans of the film will be well served, though of course we would have liked to see a commentary. My own BD-Live capabilities hadn't launched as of 9 a.m. this morning, but they are only available on disc one and evidently feature a section called "Iron Man IQ."

Iron Man, along with Dark Knight, is one of the "must-have" DVDs of the year. Sure, they'll probably throw out some sort of holiday disc too -- but for those of you who already own a Blu-ray player this is an easy decision. For those of you who don't and want to wait to see what Christmas brings ... well, I could see that too. Either way, this film is too pretty to miss out on in the long run. You can take my word for it. Stan Lee sent me.