Darkman Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Chuck Pfarrer
1990, Region A, 96 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on February 18th, 2014
Liam Neeson as Peyton Westlake
Frances McDormand as Julie Hastings
Colin Friels as Louis Strack
Larry Drake as Robert G. Durant
Danny Hicks as Skip
Ted Raimi as Rick
Nicholas Worth as Pauly
Rafael H. Robledo as Rudy
Dan Bell as Smiley
Dr. Peyton Westlake is on the verge of a scientific breakthrough in his research designing synthetic skin for burn victims. His personal life is also on the fast track, as he intends to marry his lawyer girlfriend, Julie Hastings. When she accidentally uncovers incriminating documents at work, things get ugly and a gang of ruthless criminals ransack Peyton's lab. Horribly disfigured and left for dead, the good doctor taps into his inner masked avenger and becomes Darkman, where he embarks on a mission to reclaim the life he once enjoyed and to punish those responsible for taking it from him.
The crime syndicate is run by an elegant thug named Robert G. Durant, whose team of henchmen is involved in both white and blue collar crimes across the city. As Darkman, our hero infiltrates this group by using his synthetic skin research to make temporary masks of their likenesses and steadily works his way toward their leader. Peyton is initially unaware how high the corruption goes and soon Julie is placed in physical danger, and he must race to save her life as well as his own. The action builds from one explosive scenario to the next, including a high-flying helicopter pursuit through the city and a final showdown atop an unfinished skyscraper.
Writer/ director Sam Raimi (Drag Me to Hell) has enjoyed a successful career working in both film and television for the past 30 years. He has proven himself a fantastic storyteller and innovative filmmaker whether his budgets are small (The Evil Dead trilogy) or of blockbuster proportions (the Spider-Man trilogy). Darkman was Raimi's introduction to the studio system and he gives this project everything he's got. He manages to successfully tell a thrilling adventure tale while maintaining the human element of its central love story. This is an operatic comic book film that manages to feel both fresh and original while borrowing substantially from the genre's illustrious history.
From a technical standpoint, the camera is put through the wringer as elaborate set-ups and rigs are used to accomplish inspired images that race along at a dizzying pace. At one point Raimi even manages to make a classic Dippy Drinking Bird novelty toy menacing in a key sequence. Cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix trilogy) matches Raimi's intensity without fail and the results are highly entertaining. Darkman marked the start of a long working relationship with legendary composer Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands), who elevates the material with his own signature style that fits perfectly here. Based on a script by Sam and (brother) Ivan Raimi (Army of Darkness), the character is a salute to both classic super heroes and cinematic treasures including Beauty and the Beast, The Shadow, The Mummy, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and The Phantom of the Opera.
Liam Neeson (Krull, Excalibur) steps into his first leading role as Peyton Westlake; a good man cheated by circumstance, and he brings a sincerity to the character at the center of this Greek tragedy. Neeson transforms first into a monster suffering uncontrollable fits of rage, and then later into a man filled with regret and self-loathing at the end of his adventure. Driven by love, as any good hero is, Westlake is sympathetic and Neeson shines in the performance even when hidden under the gorgeously elaborate makeup design provided by Tony Gardner (Stir of Echoes). Frances McDormand (Blood Simple, Fargo) is equally impressive as Julie, the strong and practical love interest who accidentally sets all of this mayem into motion with her evidence discovery. McDormand and Neeson share great chemistry throughout the picture and it is easy to see how both have gone on to such great careers.
The supporting cast is largely made up of villains, and Larry Drake (Dark Night of the Scarecrow) has a lot of fun here as the dangerous finger-collecting Durant. He plays the character as a refined sociopath with a creepy enjoyment lurking just below the surface of his actions. Drake is particularly fun in both the Chinatown faceoff with his dopplegänger and the ensuing helicopter attack sequences. Genre fans will get a kick out of Durant's henchmen, including Ted Raimi (Skinner, Inside Out IV), Danny Hicks (Intruder, Evil Dead II) and Nicholas Worth (Swamp Thing, Don't Answer the Phone) as Rick, Skip and Pauly. Each is given at least one great scene and makes the most of his role. Colin Friels (Dark City) brings a disarming slickness as the loathsome Louis Strack, but is largely eclipsed by the rest of the cast until the final reel.
Darkman is a lot of things, but above all it is extremely fun. Not everything works, but the film helped introduce Sam Raimi to a wider audience and was financially successful at the box office. This is a picture filled with kinetic energy and a pitch-black sense of humor. Unlike the current crop of bleak super hero movies that take themselves way too seriously, this film is an entertainer that shows what audiences like to see.
Video and Audio:
Presented here in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture is sharp with strong colors and deep black levels. This edition looks quite similar to the previous Universal Blu-ray release, but may be a little sharper. There is a lot to like in this transfer and aside from source material limitations, I have no complaints.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is a bit front heavy but gives the rear surrounds a nice workout during the numerous action sequences. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and English subtitles are offered for anyone in need.
Cinematographer Bill Pope is joined by moderator Michael Felsher for an informative and entertaining audio commentary that covers several aspects of the production. Felsher asks all the right questions, but Pope needs little prodding and the results are highly satisfying.
There are a pair of high profile interviews on this release starting with leading man Liam Neeson (8 minutes), who is surprisingly humble and appreciative when it comes to his work with Raimi and the opportunities the role provided for his career. The other surprise participant here is Frances McDormand (11 minutes), who shares some honest memories of her involvement with this film and her character. If these were the only special features, they would more than cover the cost of buying this disc as both are definitely worth checking out.
Additional interviews include genre favorite Larry Drake (The Name is Durant, 16 minutes), whose entertaining stories hit on several aspects of the production, including the audition process and working with the director.
Henchmen Tales (13 minutes) catches up with actors Danny Hicks and Dan Bell (Skip and Smiley), who have nothing but nice things to say.about their time trying to kill Darkman. Both reflect on their favorite shots; Hicks' involves his character's unseen fate.
Makeup artist Tony Gardner appears in The Face of Revenge (13 minutes), in which he shares how he got the job, his original design ideas for the title character and how he met the numerous challenges the film provided.
Dark Design (17 minutes) allows production designer Randy Ser and art director Philip Dagort to stand in the spotlight for a moment as they reveal a glimpse of their amazing talents in creating the physical look of the film. Their interviews are highly informative and include a look at the storyboards and a model for one of the sets.
A pair of original featurettes from 1990 offer clips from the film and brief talking head interviews with cast and crew members including Sam Raimi, Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand and Colin Friels. The first focuses on the production itself (6 minutes), while the second shifts the attention to cast and crew (9 minutes).
In another nice addition, Scream Factory has included the original extended interviews of the aforementioned featurettes and offers longer individual visits with Colin Friels (12 minutes), Frances McDormand (21 minutes), Liam Neeson (28 minutes) and Sam Raimi (23 minutes).
A collection of photo galleries focusing on poster art, makeup effects, behind-the-scenes stills and storyboards provide a glimpse at the original marketing of the film.
Rounding things out are the original theatrical trailer and pair of TV spots.