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Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/18/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/16/2014
WhenSpider-Man debuted in 2002, Director Sam Raimi garnered critical acclaim and many trumpeted their discovery of this visionary talent. However, those in the know had already been following Raimi for over 20 years at that point. While Evil Dead and Evil Dead II had put him on the map, some may have forgotten that Raimi had a dress rehearsal for Spider-Man over a decade earlier with Darkman. This early comic-book style effort may not well-remembered today, but the film certainly has it merits and Shout! Factory has now brought it to Blu-ray in a special edition.
Darkman introduces to Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a researcher who is trying to perfect artificial skin which could be used for burn victims. While he has found a workable formula, the skin dissolves after 99 minutes, frustrating Westlake. His girlfriend, Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), works for industrialist Louis Strack (Colin Friels), and she's in possession of a memorandum which links him to organized crime. She leaves the memo in Westlake's lab, which is soon invaded by a group of thugs who work for crime-boss Robert Durant (Larry Drake). They kill Westlake's assistant and leave scientist for dead, having burned him and dunked him in acid. Julie too believes Westlake to be deceased. An unidentifiable Westlake is found and taken to the hospital, where he undergoes a radical procedure which disables his ability to feel pain. He escapes from the medical center and pieces together a new lab in the bowels of an abandoned factory. Using his artificial skin technology to create realistic masks, Westlake begins to infiltrate Durant and Strack's organization, intent on revenge. However, Westlake also wants to find a way to re-connect with Julie.
I think that anyone who is the slightest big open-minded about cinema has become accustomed to the "hybrid" movie which mixes genres. Darkman may be the one of the ultimate examples of this, as Raimi has gone completely "kitchen sink" here and thrown in as much as possible. Obviously, the whole thing has a comic book feel and one doesn't make much of a stretch to guess that this movie was greenlit due to the success of 1989's Batman. Darkman's origin would easily fit any Marvel or DC character, and the amount of henchmen here smacks of a comic story. There is also a definite pulp element going on and the fedora and trenchcoat bring to mind characters like The Shadow. The character is also reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera, both in his look and his activities. Due to his background in horror films, Raimi isn't afraid to take this one step further, and we to see the deformed face beneath the mask in frightening detail. And, being a made in the late 80s/early 90s, we get a healthy does of action, complete with helicopters and grenade launchers.
As one would expect, not all of this works. While the movie is clearly set in the present (well, the present of 1990), many parts of Darkman are throwbacks to a bygone age, and some audiences may find them silly, particularly Durant's Edward G. Robinson-style gangster antics and Darkman's idea of a "look" with the hat and coat. The idea that Westlake can look like his enemies is cool, but the artificial skin notion is underdeveloped. Anyone who knows Raimi's work knows that he has a bizarre sense of humor, and there are moments of this in Darkman. The scene in which Westlake snaps and does a little song and dance won't surprise those who know of Raimi's love of The Three Stooges, but that doesn't make the moment any less cringeworthy. It must also be noted that some of the rear-projection visual effects look very dated.
But, what does work, works pretty well. Raimi tones down the manic pace seen in his earlier work, but there is still rarely a dull moment in Darkman. He does not pull back the reins that much on his trademark camerawork, and we get some great shots here, especially those which involve moving camera or unusual angles. As noted above, some of the humor doesn't seem to fit the film, but there are some funny moments here. If you can buy the whole concept of the film, Darkman comes across as a cool character for the simple reason that, while he's an amalgam of other creations, he's very different from what we are used to seeing in a modern film. Because of this, Darkman has actually held up pretty well and it's hard to believe that it's nearly 25 years old. If for no other reason, the film is noteworthy for an early starring role for Liam Neeson, who looks like a baby here. Raimi had a ton of money at his disposal when he made the Spider-Man films, and while those are good movies, the raw intensity behind Darkman makes it an interesting entry into his filmography.
Darkman lives in a neighborhood where perfectly good items sit at the tops of dumpsters on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a fine sheen of grain and no overt defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth looks good and the image produces a nice amount of detail. The image does have the look of an older movie, but that's inescapable in this age of HD photography. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The effects here are good, but this doesn't have the "oomph!" of a modern track. The stereo effects nicely illustrate sounds coming from off-screen. The action sequences produce mild surround sound effects, but we don't get many individual sounds here. The gunshots and explosions produce noticeable subwoofer effects.
The Darkman Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director of Photography Bill Pope. "Interview with Liam Neeson" (7 minutes) is a brief modern-day interview with the star who discusses how he got the role and what the experience was like. (It's pretty cool that he would do this.) "The Name is Durant" (16 minutes) is an interview with Larry Drake where the actor talks about his career and shares anecdotes about the film's production. Special effects makeup designer Tony Gardner talks about the design of Darkman's burned and scarred facade in "The Face of Revenge" (13 minutes). "Henchmen Tales" (13 minutes) features separate interviews with Dan Bell and Danny Hicks, both of who played bad guys in the film. "Dark Design" (17 minutes) profiles Production Designer Randy Ser and Art Director Philip Dagort who discuss the look of the film and show off some concept art. "An Interview with Frances McDormand" (11 minutes) is a modern-day chat with the actress who talks about her history with Raimi and her work on the film. "Darkman Featurette" (6 minutes) is an archival piece from 1990 which features comments from Raimi and the cast. Which leads into the archival chats offered in "Cast and Crew Interviews" (9 minutes). "Vintage Interview Gallery" offers talks with Colin Friels, Frances McDormand, Liam Neeson, and Sam Raimi. The extras are rounded out by a THEATRICAL TRAILER, twelve TV SPOTS, and four STILL GALLERIES.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long