It has been nearly 13 years since veteran B.C. production manager Stewart Bethune uttered 10 words that would give the capital region’s film-production industry a shot in the arm.
“We’re looking for an older mansion to be the X-mansion,” said Bethune before Twentieth Century Fox executives confirmed Royal Roads University’s Hatley Castle would play a starring role in its X-Men franchise.
This weekend, local filmgoers can flash back to the local landmark’s series debut on the big screen at SilverCity, where it looms large as Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the mutant training academy.
X2: X-Men United, the entry that most prominently features the castle, brought director Bryan Singer and stars Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman here in the summer of 2002.
They shot exteriors and scenes in the castle’s billiard room, hallways and dining room for the second of five instalments in the Marvel Comics franchise about the adventures of mutant superheroes.
While many of us have seen the X-Men movies on DVD, Blu-Ray and on television since, nothing beats watching such blockbusters in a big theatre with big sound, many in digital format for the first time.
Programmers for Cineplex Entertainment’s sixth annual Great Digital Film Festival have gone even further, screening all the X-Men movies back-to-back, beginning with last year’s entry at noon Saturday.
The decision to schedule the X-Men films in reverse order throughout the day was intentional.
“Since [X-Men] Days of Future Past deals with time-travel, we thought it would be fun to start recent and watch the progression back to where it started (plus, it’s fun to watch Wolverine almost never age, even in reverse),” the programmers said in a statement. “X-Men and X2 were recently made available for digital cinema and we wanted to present the two films that pioneered the origins of the film series in the evening, where potentially more guests could experience them on the big screen.”
Filmgoers who want to see some of the X-Men films in order can also check out individual weekday screenings.
“The timing is great to bring these fan favourites back to the big screen,” said Cineplex’s event-cinema director Matt DeVuono, noting the franchise is enjoying a resurgence in popularity with the success of last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, and growing buzz on X-Men: Apocalypse, which opens in May. The self-described fanboy teamed up with a fellow film geek, critic Richard Crouse, to program this year’s lineup, with major input from fans.
The programmers, both fans of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2, also agreed showing both parts of Quentin Tarantino’s artfully violent vengeance saga would be a fitting way to satisfy appetites of fans.
Titles were selected for various reasons, including customer feedback and what films would be available digitally from studios that originally projected most of them from 35-millimetre film.
Pat Marshall, Cineplex Entertainment’s vice-president, communications and investor relations, said having Crouse share his insights and answer questions about their favourite films via Twitter was one of the bonuses organizers added this year.
Another is a pre-show in which Crouse goes behind the scenes to explore the history of selected films, including a recorded conversation with Guillermo Del Toro before the Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) screening.
“The word masterpiece is thrown around rather casually these days, but in the case of Pan’s Labyrinth, I think it applies,” Crouse says.
“It’s a dark adult fairy tale set against the backdrop of the Second World War, creating a contemporary fable that is emotionally complex and as satisfying as the age-old fairy tales that inspired it.”
As for DeVuono, he’s particularly passionate about showing Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007) “in its digital glory” — another fan favourite unavailable for such a presentation until now.
The Great Digital Film Festival, which Crouse notes is Canada’s only national film festival, is “a way to reconnect and remember why we loved these movies in the first place,” he says.
Other films in the eclectic lineup being shown at 25 theatres nationwide include Alien (1979) and its 1986 sequel Aliens, 25th anniversary screenings of Darkman and Dick Tracy (1990), Hellboy (2004), The Monster Squad (1987) and the retro cult favourite The Rocketeer (1991).
What: Great Digital Film Festival
When: Jan. 30 - Feb. 5
Tickets, info: cineplex.com