Sam Raimi’s first studio effort, Darkman, returns to Blu-ray in a new Collector’s Edition courtesy of Shout! Factory (through their Scream! Factory label), replacing Universal’s 2011 barebones Blu-ray/DVD combo release. Fans will be pleased with the additional bonus material (some new, some archival), not so much with the provided transfer.
Distributed By: Shout! Factory
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 1 Hr. 36 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayKeepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/18/2014
It is interesting looking at Sam Raimi’s Darkman nearly 24 years after its initial release, and seeing the seeds and template of what would bear fruit as Spider-Man in 2002. A young scientist, Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) and his associate are desperately trying to perfect a synthetic skin in his laboratory that is adjacent to his apartment. Unfortunately, the skin lasts only 99 minutes before dissolving into a messy goo. His girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand), is an attorney that uncovers some incriminating evidence of bribery between Louis Strack (Colin Friels), a land developer, and the zoning commission, regarding a new part of the city he is building. Strack dispatches mobster Robert Durant (Larry Drake) and his crew to retrieve the evidence Julie left at Peyton’s apartment, and in the process they destroy the lab, his apartment, and leave Peyton for dead. Determined to exact his revenge, Peyton takes up residence in an abandoned building downtown, recreating his lab, and using his artificial skin to pose as members of Durant’s crew to bring them to justice any way he can.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Darkman has the look and feel as a comic book movie, but was an original creation of Raimi when he could not secure the rights to a known franchise. The film is a mix of Phantom of the Opera, 1930s Universal monster classics, as well as a bit of the dark graphic novels published by DC and Marvel comics. It also contains Raimi’s trademark dark humor that made many of his earlier films, such as the Evil Dead series, enormously popular. Raimi would revisit many of the sequences from this film in Spider-Man, particularly the montage where Peyton tries to perfect his skin formula after recreating his lab (it is almost shot for shot identical to the Spidey suit creation sequence). The movie never takes itself too seriously, and the opening action sequence sets the overall tone perfectly. Neeson is very good in one of his first starring roles in a Hollywood film, bringing enough pathos to empathize with his tortured character, while at the same time never being afraid to go over the top and play it for laughs. Frances McDormand never fully allows Julie to become the typical damsel in distress, making her a very modern 1990s woman. The real standout and surprise (at the time the film was released) is Larry Drake as Durant, who has a nasty habit of collecting the fingers of his victims, and was cast against type having been known to audiences as the mentally-challenged office assistant Benny on L.A. Law.
The transfer provided to Shout! Factory by Universal appears to be the same one used for the 2007 HD-DVD and 2011 Blu-ray, but now encoded using the AVC codec. Many of the same DNR and edge enhancement issues from that transfer are still apparent, but some additional work has been done to make the colors a bit more saturated and consistent. Black levels are adequate, but there are a few shots that suffer from minor banding and clipping of the blacks.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
As with most Scream! Factory titles, a 5.1 remix and the film’s original 2.0 stereo soundtrack are provided in DTS-HD Master Audio. Both are acceptable, with the 5.1 winning out with slightly better LFE response and surround presence, but still relatively front-heavy. Dialogue is often clear and understandable, and Danny Elfman’s score benefits from the increased fidelity and dynamic range.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Bill Pope: Darkman was Bill Pope’s first feature film, coming from a background in commercials and music videos, and was highly recommended to Raimi by Barry Sonnenfeld. Disc Producer Michael Felsher keeps the conversation lively as Pope discusses his career and working with Raimi on this film, plus a few others.
Special Features Rating: 4.5/5
Interview with Liam Neeson (1080p; 7:29): Neeson discusses, quite fondly, his memories of making this film.
The Name is Durant with Larry Drake (1080p; 15:59): Drake also speaks fondly of being in the series of Darkman movies, and also talks about being cast against type.
The Face of Revenge with Makeup Designer Tony Gardner (1080p; 13:21): Gardner discusses some of the challenges of creating the many makeup effects on a limited budget.
Henchman Tales (1080p; 12:57): Two of the actors that played Durant’s henchman discuss their minor but memorable roles in the film.
Dark Design (1080p; 16:46): An interview with Production designer Randy Ser.
An Interview with Frances McDormand (1080p; 10:50): McDormand talks about living in a house shared by the Coen Brothers and Raimi at the time she was cast in the film, as well as her surprise at how popular the film is today.
Darkman Featurette (1080i; 6:26): Archival EPK piece on the film, obviously upscaled from a standard definition source.
Cast and Crew Interviews (1080i; 8:59): More EPK material, obviously upscaled from a standard definition source.
Vintage Interview Galleries (1080i): Even more EPK interviews, featuring Colin Friels (12:14), Frances McDormand (20:43), Liam Neeson (28:02), and Sam Raimi (23:09), all obviously upscaled from a standard definition source.
Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:00)
TV Spots (1080i; 4:00): Upscaled from a standard definition source.
Still Galleries (1080p): Four galleries are offered - Behind The Scenes/Makeup Effects, Posters & Artwork, Production Stills, and Storyboards.
Reversible Cover Insert: Choose between Scream! Factory’s new artwork, or the film’s original movie poster.
Fans will likely eat up the wealth of bonus content on this disc, even though Raimi was not involved (at least directly) with any of the new material, yet may be disappointed with the recycled (but slightly improved) transfer.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
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