Before Sam Raimi was famous for the Spider-Man films, he'd cut his teeth one another superhero movie. Originally intended to be an adaptation of The Shadow, Raimi created Darkman when the rights couldn't be obtained for that character. The result was a strange, quirky film that's part superhero movie, part monster film, and part black comedy.
The film tells the story of one Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a scientist who is striving to create a synthetic skin that can be used to help burn victims lead a normal life. He's had some success with his formula so far in that when the lights are off the synthetic works just fine. However, in daylight, once ninety-nine minutes have passed, the synthetic will dissolve and then completely disappear.,/p>
When Peyton's girlfriend, a lawyer named Julie (Francis McDormand), leaves some evidence in his lab which links a mobster named Robert Durant (Larry Drake) to a construction mogul named Louis Strack (Colin Friels), Durant's men blow the lab sky high with Peyton inside. Though he survives the explosion, his face has been burnt beyond recognition and when the doctors operate on him to try and save him, they sever his nerves so that he can no longer feel physical pain.
Peyton decides to use his synthetic to become Darkman, a super human master of disguise, so that he can get revenge on Durant and Strack for destroying his life and his work. While gangsters might not normally have much to fear from a lowly scientist, with Peyton's newfound resistance to pain and his rather nasty temperament, they're going to find out that they're looking at more than they bargained for.
Long time Raimi fans will get a kick out of a few of his trademark quirks popping up in the picture. Bruce Campbell (who collaborated with Raimi on the three Evil Dead films and who was originally considered for the lead) shows up at the end as does Raimi's tan Oldsmobile. The director himself has a cameo as a doctor in the hospital scene and the deer head from Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn shows up on the wall in Durant's cabin. Raimi was obviously having fun with the picture and you can see how he took the manic insanity of the Evil Dead movies and pulled it over effectively into a rather dark superhero film with this project.
It's also interesting to see Liam Neeson and Francis McDormand in the film. Who would have thought that a few years later Neeson would be nominated for Best Actor (for Schlindler's List in 1994) and that Francis McDormand would win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (for Fargo in 1996)? With the two of them now widely regarded as excellent performers it's a kick to see them in a movie like Darkman. Both performers treat the film well too, you never once get a chance that they're doing it for the money or that they feel the material is beneath them. Neeson in particular really gets into his part and he does a great job of going completely over the top in a few key scenes.
Much of the film is done with tongue placed firmly in cheek. Raimi has always had a knack for comedic timing, most of his work shows this, and Darkman is no exception. Just try not to laugh when Peyton tells Julie to "take the f**king elephant!" or when he torments a thug by sticking his head out of a manhole on a busy inner city street. This odd sense of humor combined with the kinetic camerawork and fast pace of the film makes for an enjoyable action film with some nods to the Universal Monsters and pulp heroes of the past. The film has its flaws (the blue screen effects really stand out and there are some moments very obviously hampered by a lower budget) but it remains a good slice of goofy fun.The Blu-ray
Darkman is presented in here in the same VC-1 encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that was used for the Universal Blu-ray release a few years ago, which was in turn the same source used for the previous HD-DVD release. What does that mean? It's an old and outdated master for one, and both edge enhancement and noise reduction are pretty easy to spot throughout the movie. The plus side is that the colors look nice and really bring out the quirkiness in some of the key scenes. Skin tones are natural looking in terms of color and tone but show the waxiness associated with excessive noise reduction. Compression artifacts aren't really a problem and the image is clean and shows no serious print damage, but yeah, those expecting much in the way of a visual upgrade over the previous release are going to be disappointed.Sound:
The primary track is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix with subtitles available in English only. Elfman's score is spread out nicely throughout the mix but most of the action comes from the front of the mix with only occasional rear channel activity poking up from behind. Bass is okay, you'll notice your subwoofer kicking in whenever there are gun shots or an explosion, while dialogue is always easy to follow and understand. Levels are well balanced and there aren't any issues with hiss or distortion and if this isn't a reference quality track, it still sounds decent enough. An optional DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also included on the disc.Extras:
The extras are what make this disc worth the double dip, starting with an audio commentary track with the film's director of photography, Bill Pope, moderated by Michael Felsher. This is a pretty active track that lets Pope talk about what it was like getting his feet wet as a DP on this picture, what it was like working with Raimi as a director and how the cast and crew were to work with on the feature. He also talks about the specifics of what went into getting some of the more interesting shots taken care of, the effects work, some of the locations that were used on the film and quite a bit more. Felsher keeps him talking and on topic and this is quite an enjoyable listen.
From there we move on to a series of interviews, the first of which is Dissecting Darkman (7:29) with Liam Neeson in which the film's leading man talks about how much he enjoyed making the movie and how he only could have done some of what he does in the movie in his younger days. He talks about working with Raimi and the others and generally looks back on the picture quite fondly. From here, check out My Name Is Durant (15:59) is a fun interview with Larry Drake in which he offers up his thoughts on playing bad guys for most of his career, how he landed the part in the film (noting that this wasn't his best audition ever and how he was winging it until Raimi asked for a more specific take on things) and how he feels about Durant all these years later. The Face Of Revenge (13:21) is an interesting segment in which the film's makeup designer, Tony Gardner, who shares some amusing anecdotes about how he originally based his design work on having a certain Raimi-affiliated big-chinned actor (who appears in the end of the movie) in the lead. When Neeson wound up with the role, he had to quickly rework things. In Henchman Tales (12:57) we hear from actors Danny Hicks and Dan Bell who tell some fun stories about their characters, Drake's performance as their boss. Dan Bell talks about how seeing Dirty Harry gave him a love for the bad guys and Danny Hicks talks about the use of a harness and crutches in one of his scenes. They both look back on the movie fondly, even if Hicks notes that their one day shoot turned into a one week shoot. Dark Design (16:46) is an interview with Production Designer Randy Ser and Art Director Philip Dagort. Ser starts off by noting the influence of both darker Batman comics and old Universal Horror films on this feature and then goes on to talk about how he tried to bring this to life in a live action movie that would combine romance, horror and action. Dagort discusses Raimi's knack for moving the camera in his films, how models were used to create the sets and how those sets were built. There are some interesting stories here about some of the movie's ‘trickier' aspects that make this quite an enjoyable watch. The last of the newly shot interviews is An Interview With Frances McDormand (10:50) in which the Oscar winning actress talks about her work on the picture and her thoughts on the finished product in addition to offering up some amusing memories of working with the cast and crew on the feature. She also talks about how she got into movies, how she got to know Raimi and what she liked about the character that she played in this movie, aptly describing her as ballsy and brash.
The disc also includes a vintage Making Of Darkman (6:26) featurettes that includes input from Raimi, McDorman, Neeson and Drake as well as Larry Hamlin that basically plays out as a promo piece more than an actual documentary piece. It's still interesting to see, if only to get a glimpse into how Universal tried to market this film when it was a new item. There's also some interesting behind the scenes clips and stills here that make it worth watching. There's also a separate Vintage Interviews (8:59) section that includes input from Raimi, Neeson and McDormand separate from the clips used in the Making Of Darkman piece. Again, it's fairly promotional in nature but, also again, we get some more behind the scenes footage here. The Vintage Interview Gallery contains some more archival clips, this time with Colin Friels (12:15), Frances McDormand (20:43), Liam Neeson (28:02) and Sam Raimi (23:09). These are obviously longer versions than the other interview clips and they let the participants go into a bit more detail about their characters, their motivations, what it was like working with one another, what they liked about the script and the story and more.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the movie's original theatrical trailer, a few TV spots, a quartet of still galleries (Posters And Production Stills, Behind The Scenes, Make-Up Effects and Storyboards, menus and chapter stops. The Blu-ray case fits inside a slipcase and the cover art is reversible featuring the original theatrical poster art on one side and the newly commissioned Scream Factory art on the other side.Final Thoughts:
Darkman could and should have looked better than it does on this Blu-ray, and that's something that will understandably irritate fans of Raimi's cult classic superhero movie, but you've got to give credit for doing a solid job in the extra features department. This disc is loaded with goodies and fans will no doubt enjoy that. As to the movie itself? It remains a whole lot of fun, a great take on vintage monster movies and comic book inspired lunacy as only Raimi in his younger days could have created. Add to that a fun score, some great effects work and a great cast and Darkman turns out to be just as entertaining now as it's ever been. Recommended.