Release Date(s)1990 (February 18, 2014)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Darkman is a very special film. It’s the film that brought director Sam Raimi, more or less, into the big leagues and out of low budget filmmaking forever. He would go on to do the Spider-Man films later on (and most recently Oz the Great and Powerful), but his work throughout the 80’s and early 90’s have solidified him as one of the most respected and influential filmmakers of his generation.
Just as a quick refresher, Darkman stars Liam Neeson, in his first starring role, as Peyton Westlake, a scientist who becomes disfigured after a disaster in his lab at the hands of an insane mob boss named Durant, played by Larry Drake. Durant has been hired by the corrupt businessman Louis Strack (Colin Friels), who is under threat by Westlake’s girlfriend Julie Hastings, played by Frances McDormand. Believing Westlake is also involved in Julie’s plan to expose him, they attempt to kill him, but Westlake survives and takes on the persona of Darkman to come back and take his revenge using his experiments to his advantage.
Darkman was Sam Raimi’s attempt at making a comic book-like film when he couldn’t actually secure the rights to other comic book properties that he wanted to adapt. The film itself, which is a mix of action and suspense, was very successful, and ushered in a new era for Sam Raimi as a filmmaker. Darkman has a quasi-Phantom of the Opera feel to it at times, but there’s no mistake that it’s Raimi’s film because of the style. The plot to the film has been used countless times before and since, mostly by B and Z grade movies, but with Raimi’s touch, it turns out to be far more bombastic and entertaining. Explosions, gunfire, and car chases are all in there, as are some spectacular visual effects and make-up. Oddly enough (or perhaps not), the make-up for Darkman’s character is similar to the make-up used for Evil Ash in Army of Darkness two years later.
Darkman was also a bit of a creative apex for Raimi, who had spent the previous fifteen to twenty years honing his craft and developing a particular style. There isn’t a single wasted shot in this film, and every shot is unique and well designed. Thanks should also go to cinematographer Bill Pope for the look of the film, as well. The rest of the cast and crew also did a remarkable job, but it’s Sam Raimi who really drives the cart and horse in this film. It has his insignia all over it, and it’s absolutely one of the most enjoyable movies in the Raimi catalogue.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray transfer of Darkman is somewhat problematical, however. That’s not to say that it’s terrible, because it’s watchable, but it has some problems. The color palette is great and quite robust, and skin tones look good most of the time. Blacks are pretty deep, and both brightness and contrast are great for the most part. But the real problems come in the form of edge enhancement and DNR. An attempt has been made to sharpen up the picture and erase some of the grain from it, which is bad news. Some textures and detail are lost in the mix, and film grain is uneven as a consequence. This isn’t totally Scream Factory’s fault, however. This is the same transfer used by Universal on their previous Blu-ray release, only with a different encode. So the film looks mostly good, but those who are turned off by digital tampering after the fact may find more fault with it. It’s nowhere near as egregious as some other Blu-ray releases I’ve seen where DNR has been utilized, but moving on. For the film’s soundtrack, you get two options: English in both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD. For clarity and dynamic range, both tracks are equally effective. The main difference between the two is that the 2.0 track has less LFE than the 5.1. The 5.1 is mostly front-heavy with most of the score and some of the sound effects in the rear speakers. Really there’s not much immersion going on due to very little ambience, but both tracks do deliver clear and precise dialogue and score, so it’s a matter of preference really. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
As for the extras, they’re plentiful. First up is a new audio commentary with director of photography Bill Pope and host/disc producer Michael Felsher; a new Interview with Liam Neeson; the new The Name is Durant with Larry Drake interview; another new interview entitled The Face of Revenge with Make-up Designer Tony Gardner; the new Henchmen Tales and Dark Design featurettes; An Interview with Frances McDormand, also new; the Darkman vintage featurette; vintage Cast and Crew Interviews (Colin Friels, Frances McDormand, Liam Neeson and Sam Raimi); the film’s theatrical trailer; TV spots; and a set of still galleries. Needless to say, there’s plenty to dig through, but like previous Raimi Blu-ray releases, it’s sad that we’re not hearing directly from him, as well.
It’s sad that Sam Raimi seems to have left his previous filmography behind, I’m still happy that we have his work and also to hear from most of the people involved in making it. Darkman proves that he’s a filmmaker first and not just the guy that directed those crazy Evil Dead movies. And this new Darkman Collector’s Edition Blu-ray isn’t perfect, but it’s the best Blu-ray of the film available.
- Tim Salmons