Sunday, February 2, 2014

Heroism Gets A Much Needed Facelift: A Review of Scream Factory's DARKMAN (Collector's Edition) Blu-ray

Darkman (1990)

 
Buy the Blu-ray or DVD

The Movie

In 1990, a young filmmaker with a cult following made the leap from low-budget horror movies to studio-backed Summer Blockbusters. That filmmaker was Sam Raimi, and his first major release was 1990's DARKMAN.

While DARKMAN didn't exactly light the box office on fire, it did deliver Raimi's unique brand of genre cinema while giving the world a new take on the classic monster movie. It also introduced the general public to Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand; two actors who would go on to have prolific careers in the industry.

For me, it's hard to discuss DARKMAN without having some sort of nostalgic reaction. I remember seeing the poster in the movie theater when it first came out, and then, months later, seeing the Pay Per View commercial playing on what felt like an endless loop. In fact, that's where I first saw the film, and I think I still have the VHS tape that I recorded it on.

On a high level, the story is about a young scientist who is working on developing a synthetic skin, only to end up burned and disfigured by a group of thugs and forced into the shadows where he uses his scientific work to assume various identities to take revenge. However, despite all of the action, and all of the Sam Raimi visual flourishes, there's also a lot of heart to be found in the film. Neeson and McDormand really do a wonderful job of creating empathetic characters, and I can't help but find myself rooting for them. And, speaking of performances, Larry Drake also gives a tour de force performance as the villainous Durant. He's sick and twisted, but you just can't take your eyes off of him whenever he's on screen.

DARKMAN also delivers in the action department. The large set pieces and fast-paced antics really foreshadow where Raimi would eventually go with the SPIDER-MAN franchise. Shoot 'em outs, chase scenes, and of couse, a bit of Raimi's trademark slapstick humor are all here for your enjoyment. One scene, where DARKMAN dangles from a high-flying helicopter as it zips through the city, is especially fun.

To be frank, they just don't make movies like DARKMAN anymore. Hollywood spends tons of cash pumping out generic Summer blockbusters, but they are so over-produced, sanitized, and specifically made to appeal to the broadest demographic possible that they lack the sort of innovation and creativity that DARKMAN uses to such great effect. It's not a masterpiece, but it's fun as hell, and it still holds up wonderfully almost 25 years later.

Movie Score

4/5

The Blu-ray

Scream Factory delivers DARKMAN to us in a feature packed Collector's Edition Blu-ray, which is a HUGE improvement, in just about every aspect, over Universal's old barebones disc. The release comes with a slipcover, and it features new key artwork on both that and the disc insert. As is standard with Scream Factory releases in their Collector's Edition line, the insert is reversible, with the original poster art on the other side. Personally, I love the option to have either one on display. 

Video Quality

DARKMAN has never been an especially pretty film. As you can probably guess from the title and subject matter, the film has a lot dark scenes, which historically were always problematic on DVD versions of it. Universal's previous Blu-ray was an improvement, but it still seemed like picture quality was an afterthought for them (something that isn't surprising, given their shaky track record with catalog releases, DNR, etc). Luckily, Scream Factory delivers a solid transfer that does make some improvements over the UNI disc. Is it stunning? Not really. But, then again, for an almost 25-year-old film with a modest budget that takes place in the shadows much of the time, it looks pretty great. Detail is fine and there's just the right amount of grain present to really give it that film-like feel. This is an area that I believe Shout! Factory and Scream Factory have always handled with care, and I applaud them for it.

Audio Quality

There are two uncompressed DTS Master Audio tracks on the disc: A 5.1 remix, along with the film's original 2.0 Stereo track (which should make purists happy). The 5.1 is really the way to go, in my opinion, as this film is action heavy at times, and the Surround engagement is fun and adds to the atmosphere. There's not a TON of low end action, but that's fine. This isn't the kind of disc you use to show off your high end home theater system, but it has some solid audio tracks that leave little room for complaint.

Extra Features

Unlike Universal's previous releases, Scream Factory's DARKMAN Blu-ray comes absolutely loaded with extra features; both new and old. 
  • Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Bill Pope: Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felscher moderates this Commentary with DP Bill Pope. This was Pope's first feature (he had previously directed the video for Metallica's "One," and he later went on to be DP for more of Raimi's films, THE MATRIX, and more recently, the last several Edgar Wright films, among others), and he talks about the experience, his friendship/working relationship with Raimi, what it was like to work with Neeson, and a whole lot more. Felscher does a great job keeping the conversation flowing by asking insightful questions, which Pope answers candidly. This is a great Commentary track, and it's certainly a worthy feature; especially if you're a fan of DARKMAN, or any of the key players involved.
  • Interview with Liam Neeson: Neeson sits down for this new interview to talk about his involvement in the film, how he ended up on the project, and what it meant to him and his career. (8 min)
  • The Name Is Durant with Larry Drake: The character actor practically steals the show with this entertaining interview. Drake is hilarious and extremely likable. Probably my favorite feature on the disc. (16 min)
  • The Face Of Revenge with Makeup Designer Tony Gardner: Gardner discusses the various challenges of doing makeup on the film in a pre-CGI world. There's some neat stuff in here, and I loved seeing the early artwork for the film's makeup. (14 min)
  • Henchman Tales: Interviews with various cast members (including Danny Hicks from EVIL DEAD II) who played Durant's Henchmen in the film. Lots of fun stories, and Dan Bell (who played Smiley) makes it a standout feature. (13 min)
  • Dark Design: A piece on the comic book influence in the design of DARKMAN's world. Various Production Designers give a glimpse into the difficulties of achieving Raimi's vision. (17 min)
  • An Interview with Frances McDormand: A brand new interview with the Oscar-winning actress. McDormand talks about her friendship with Raimi, how she came to be involved with the film, and where DARKMAN fits into her career. (11 min)
  • DARKMAN Featurette: A vintage EPK-type featurette. Kind of like something you'd see on HBO back in the day between movies or on the Pay Per View Guide channel. (7 min)
  • Cast and Crew Interviews: More vintage video clips. This one features several promo videos that include interviews with people who worked on the film. Not much different than the other vintage features. (9 min)
  • Vintage Interview Gallery: Several more old interviews (various run times)
  • Theatrical Trailer: Exactly what it sounds like
  • TV SpotsExactly what it sounds like
  • Still GalleryExactly what it sounds like

Final Thoughts

Scream Factory (and their parent company, Shout! Factory) are easily my favorite "boutique" home media company. They are very reminiscent of Anchor Bay from the late 90s/early 2000s, in that they deliver great releases of older genre films that we've been waiting for, and often, they commission all sorts of new extra features that are insightful and professionally produced. Their new DARKMAN disc is no exception. 

Highly Recommended!

Blu-ray Score

4/5


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