Man in green light looks at woman in a dream realm.
Film Reviews

Generation X: Technically The First Live-Action X-Men Movie

Before all of the X-Men movies there was a TV movie from the 90's the proves that the movies became better over time. It was the first live action X-Men movie FOX ever did!

This was the film that came out before any of the X-Men movies or any well-known Marvel Comics movie produced. Generation X came out on February 20th, 1996 on Fox’s Tuesday Movie Night. When people said that comic book movies were cheesy they are usually referring to the Captain America movie done in the ’90s as well as the unreleased Fantastic Four, 70’s Spider-man movie and Hulk movie. But this is a film that is so lame it seems like it became quickly forgotten the following week. It’s like a time capsule of all things “the 90’s”, even down to the extreme edge guy with the “oh so cool” Ray-Ban sunglasses, the Revlon Street Wear metallic makeup, mini skirts, Hootie and the Blowfish reference, vibrant colour gels, arcade games, big-box monitors and flashy people talking a lot about the powers of advertising and computers.

This film is about young mutants discovering that they have special abilities and are sent to the Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. It was either the school or be sent to a restraint camp for mutants which exists in this movie and is feared among all mutants at any age. The mutants discover a Dream machine that can access the dream dimension in an unlocked area of their new school. They start playing around with this broken equipment and discover a man in a neon red suit on the other side willing to manipulate them to gain more control of the dream dimension.

The film is loosely based on the X-Men comic book series spin-off Generation X which was releasing a large amount of books worldwide at the time. According to the LA Times, it was 200,000 worldwide. The characters it showcased were some that were in Generation X but were already featured in some way in the very successful groundbreaking cartoon series who were previously on X-Men piggybacking on the success of that show for views for the TV movie. When you watch the live-action movie it’s obvious that they were making this film for young adults, teenagers and preteens. That is not a bad thing, it’s just too obvious. This is technically an X-Men movie like how Deadpool and Wolverine is an X-Men movie dealing with X-Men characters from Xavier’s mansion.

A mad scientist (Matt Frewer) somehow employed at an ad agency invented the machine that could control minds through arcade games. The scientist’s experiments on the mutant population to further his research. Dr. Russell Tress is this flashy, over-the-top mad scientist who almost verges on being like the alien mutant Mojo who was the reality TV show producer on Planet Mojo. (I had to Google that.) He was a former colleague of Emma Frost (Finola Hughes) until his research of mutant-kind became more about extracting their abilities in technology for more psychic powers. Much of the movie is based on what Dr. Tress and Emma Frost discovered in their science paper about the Dream realm and is referenced back too often. The machine that he builds can help him manipulate minds and play within people’s dreams. When Dr. Tress is in this Dream realm, he is in this neon red suit and a black dress shirt. The dream realm area mostly takes place on a blacked-out sound stage. The special effects for the inside your mind scenes were actually really good. It was one or possibly the only scenes that hold up in the special effects meet practical effect department throughout the whole film.

Vancouver’s Hatley Castle was used in every single X-Men movie had it starts in this movie first. In some shots, you can see the British Columbia background of what it looked like almost 20 years ago. It is very interesting to see was has changed in the house and what hasn’t. They do film inside the castle and only the front of the castle before they are at a small town hanging out. But the room they used for Cerebro was a green and blue lite room with computers, monitors with charts, gadgetry and maps. It’s very different from the hollowed-out empty space room like in the comics and films.

The movie uses very vibrant colours that give the movie a bit of a comic book feel. Some scenes were in Batman Forever territory with the use of fluorescent colours. It looks like they used colour gels anywhere the actors were not in the scene, for instance, on walls, objects that don’t hold any importance in the scene and the background in intense spotlights. It’s an effect that was always used in 90’s kids’ programming for fantasy or spooky effect but is rarely used today since dark shadows and computer graphics replaced that effect. Due to the colour gels used, it made some scenes look a little dark. Also, the Dutch angles and extreme close-ups, shots that usually signify intensity in a scene, were excessively used. A hallway scene where they are just waiting to use the bathroom has a Dutch angle for no reason.

Image of students waiting for the washroom at the academy
Screenshot of the students in the hallway waiting for the washroom at the academy. The camera is in a noticeable Dutch angle. (from the left: M, Jubliee, Refrax, Mondo)

The teen characters are angsty, edgy and in your face with an attitude. Some of the teenagers were too selfish, too rude and too obnoxious at times. The worst was M, the perfect human with all the great powers of strength, intelligence, stamina and durability. And an incredibly big ego. Oh, boy 🙄. The edgy with attitude posturing characteristics were also too much. There were too many tough guy bullies in one film. This was a fade that was only apparent in a lot of formulaic 80s and 90s films that wanted a character to look like a tough guy without doing anything tough. Just stand around and look tough.

They have a few original characters from the franchise and two additional characters that were only added for the TV movie.

The main teenage characters are Skins (Agustin Rodriguez) and Jubilee (Heather McComb) with some changes. Jubilee was not Chinese-American in the film which was a pointless change even though the well-fitted actor being the average typical teenager once again navigating the audience into the world of the mutants with firework fingers but now with some psychic powers for the Dream realm. She’s the typical teenager going through the new discovery of new powers while not being the damsel in distress throughout the whole movie. Which was good especially in the 90s when that was rare to see. Skins had very few changes to the character’s name and abilities to stretch his skin and limbs too far distances. He was not gray and 6 feet tall, he’s just a regular guy with some sisters and brothers from the downtown Los Angeles area. But he now has some psychic powers and computer skills. The movie somewhat has Skins as the main character since he has more of the character arches and troubles to overcome. Jubilee and Skins form a friendship and since they are the newest people in the academy they go exploring in the castle. They were the ones that found the research papers and the machine that Emma Frost kept during her research days with Dr. Tress. Also, Jubliee and Skins are the ones that stumble upon Dr. Tress in the Dream Realm.

Also, I previously mention M (Amarilis) who has “level five invulnerability.” And Mondo (Bumper Robinson) can adsorb the physical properties of anything he touches. It’s an interesting power but makeup or special effects could have made it stand out more. His power is mostly seen as a strength but I guess with three characters with the superhuman power of super strength what one more. He is more of the best friend to Refrax than the stand-alone character.

Screen shot of Emma Frost and Banshee
Screenshot of Emma Frost and Banshee at the academy talking to the students. The camera is at a Dutch angle.

The two adults in charge are Emma Frost and Banshee (Jeremy Ratchford). Emma Frost is covered up more in this movie than in any other publication of the character, film and television. She’s in pants and a bustier with a white cape instead of a diamond bikini and a see-through cape. But the white wig the actor had to wear just looked like a furry hat with long threads. Even in the animated series, she had on something similar to what the movies had. It’s just different in a good way because she’s not half-naked throughout the film. She still can control people with her mind but you never will see her turn into diamonds. There are a lot of jokes about how she controls other people’s minds. The list of names and explanations of situations she gives police officers within the hour and a half is pretty funny. Banshee had a more grounded character but has a “thick” Scottish accent which was anything but not authentic. His voice can stick out like a sore thumb depending on the situation. His powers are visible within the movie. He has the power of shouting at a high frequency creating wind effects. The air ripples around him when he supposedly sings or yelps loud. His power was pretty interesting to see with the effects available. The chemistry between the two adult leads was good. They really seemed like they really got along and had fun.

The two added-in characters were Buff (Suzanne Davis) and Refrax (Randall Slavin). Their characters were adjusted for budgetary reasons since the characters that they were originally adding in were Husk and Chamber. Buff, a really strong girl with a mutation that builds upon muscle mass in her body from Husk, a person who can shed her skin revealing a different composition underneath like metal or stone. Refrax, a guy who can emit X-Ray laser beams and heat vision out of his eyes most of the time (similar to Cyclops but can turn it off.) Chamber, a guy that could blast energy from his chest with the possibility of damaging his chest and lower face if used. But they gave him more attitude, sunglasses and a growing X-Ray vision that was developed at the school.

In movies like this, there are scenes constructed only to show the powers of the characters. This is where the special effects either shine or fail. The effects that they use for this movie look like a combination of a lot of practical effects with some special effects. The fireworks that come out of Jubilee’s fingertips look like very simple explosion effects in comparison to today’s technology but for technology in the ’90s for a TV movie, it looks well done. The arm stretching of Skin is almost funny looking in 90’s standards. The latex used for stretchy skin was always like a Stretch Armstrong doll stretched to his limit. It was not good. Another actor’s hand was used for the up-close shots with the original actor in the background. Special effects in films no matter the story is hard to pull off especially with a small budget. It’s apparent throughout the whole film that they changed a lot of the story to fit within the budget and schedule. A lot of TV movies and TV shows have a significantly smaller budget than theatrical released production so I am not expecting much. Superhero movies need a lot of money and time in the production process that sad story and appearance doesn’t suffer.

Screen shot of the new uniforms for the students from the academy.
Screenshot of the new uniforms for the students from the academy. (from the left: Banshee, Buff, Emma Frost)

The last scene with all the mutants sitting around looking at the “new uniforms” that resembled the bright cartoon-like red and yellow uniform just like in the comics was like the wink to the audience who likes the X-Men comics series. The film was also a vehicle for other projects of Marvel comics property to make into a televised series and other film series. Most of them have been already released since this film was the testing ground for more Marvel movies. The top executives of Marvel comics were on set and liked what they saw.

Then four years later the first theatrical release of X-Men had great critical and audience reviews. This film remained mostly forgotten and rare as the real first X-Men movie ever.

The quality of the trailer is very poor but it’s the only commercial out there for this film.

The LA Times article about Generation X written around the time of release.

Movie Banks on Popularity Carrying Over – February 16 1996 – James McCaffrey

The interview Exclusive: Director Jack Sholder had with SpfyWire about Generation X

Exclusive: Director Jack Sholder on Fox’s Generation X, controversial castings and the X-Men effect – May 24 2014 – Krystal Clark

Rating: 2 out of 5.
 This film gets 2 out of 5 stars. 
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