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Dr. Peyton Westlake is on the verge of realizing a major breakthrough in synthetic skin when a gang, led by the sadistic Robert G. Durant obliterates his laboratory. Burned beyond recognition and altered by an experimental medical procedure, Westlake attempts to rebuild his laboratory and reestablish ties with his former girlfriend Julie. But his most challenging task lies within himelf.
For more about Darkman and the Darkman Blu-ray release, see Darkman Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 31, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Larry Drake, Nelson Mashita, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson
Director: Sam Raimi
» See full cast & crew
Darkman Blu-ray Review
He's a freak. . .He's a freak. . .He's a FREAK!!!!
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 31, 2010
Sam Raimi is a director who has never taken himself too seriously. This is not to disparage his rather formidable accomplishments, not the least of which is his insanely successful Spiderman franchise. But for years before his Spidey adaptations became the blockbusters du jour, Raimi had forged a singular career out of blending horror, action and at times completely wacky comedy that made his early triumphs like Evil Dead and Army of Darkness so goofily enjoyable. That same potent stew is alive and well in Darkman, a 1990 film that was Raimi's first taste of a major studio budget. Though the film is undeniably derivative, working in elements of everything from Phantom of the Opera to The Shadow to two ancient Lionel Atwill two-strip Technicolor Grand Guignol- fests, Doctor X and The Mystery of the Wax Museum. If you can live with a "one from column A, one from column B" approach to cobbling together a screenplay from such disparate elements, and similarly get used to Liam Neeson in an uncharacteristically hammy performance, Darkman provides a fair amount of thrills and chills which almost always are intercut with lunatic examples of Raimi's often off kilter sense of humor.
Neeson plays scientist Peyton Westlake, who in those not quite coincidences which dot films of this ilk, is working on a synthetic liquid skin substitute, something he'll need lots of after he's attacked and horribly burned by gangsters led by the creepy Robert Durant (Larry Drake). Durant is after an incriminating document held by Peyton's girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand). Julie arrives back at Peyton's lair late one evening to see the whole place go boom in a big way, and assumes her paramour has perished in the conflagration. Instead, Peyton has been found by a crusading medical team (including the wonderful Jenny Agutter) who have "helped" the poor, anonymous burn victim by cutting all the nerves between his brain and his battered body so that he can't feel pain. Peyton escapes the hospital and soon is working on his synthetic skin experiments in an abandoned factory. His objectives are two-fold: to wreak havoc and revenge on the criminals who put him in this horrible state, and to reestablish contact with Julie. The first requires donning several liquid skin disguises as Peyton infiltrates the gang to give them a bit of comeuppance. The second requires him to recreate his own original face, a mask he finds can't completely reestablish the once innocent identity he enjoyed. Complicating this all is the stubborn insistence of the fake skin to return to an amorphous liquid state after 99 minutes, keeping Peyton's various subterfuges to relatively brief bursts of action and/or romance.
Darkman is filled both with Raimi's hyperkinetic camera moves and the often unexpected touches of sometimes juvenile humor. Once he transmogrifies himself into the self-anointed Darkman, Peyton's emotional distress tends to work him into a lather when he thinks he's being perceived as a "circus freak." This of course leads to one sequence after another where the word "freak" is bandied about until Darkman's head almost literally explodes (at least when Peyton is approaching that 99 minute mark), the capper of which is a sequence at (you've guessed it) an actual circus, where Peyton has taken Julie for a brief respite, only to find that the arcade attendant isn't exactly out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The entire hyperbolic sequence ends with Peyton going ballistic while we hear a circus barker advertising a Tod Browning-worthy act by repeatedly screaming, "He's a freak, he's a freak, he's a FREAK!!" It's insanely funny and sinister in an almost David Lynchian way, and its part of what makes Darkman such an interesting addition to the tormented quasi-superhero canon.
Raimi never quite settles down with Darkman, however, wanting at least three films in one: a black comedy built around a horror setup within the context of crime thriller laced with romance. That unevenness of tone leads to several disconcerting elements in the film, not the least of which is Neeson's completely over the top, cackling performance as Darkman, and a very uncomfortable looking Frances McDormand trying to make the most of a part that is underwritten and almost always poorly motivated within the confines of the screenplay. There are also astounding lapses of logic in the story, not that that has ever stopped a ripping crime busting yarn before. My favorite example is after Peyton, as Darkman, has assumed the identity of one of the crooks, leading to the beginning of his revenge. Cut back to Darkman's laboratory lair, and what do we find? Darkman, who had to take off new bandages to assume the gangster's identity, is now swathed in the original dirty and bloody wraps that he escaped the hospital in. Maybe it's a security blanket sort of thing.
Though it's certainly not at the level of Raimi's Spiderman outings, Darkman points the way toward the megahits that Raimi would start helming in a few years, while never losing that appealing low-fi ethos that made the director's first cult hits such word of mouth phenomena. Raimi's perpetuum mobile camera is also on full display throughout Darkman, with disorienting pans, dollies and crane shots that may have you reaching for the Dramamine. If the film never completely gels into a satisfying whole, it has the saving grace of the director himself: it never takes itself too seriously, and that allows the fun quotient to bridge a lot of territory in which a more turgid, self- absorbed film would have drowned.
Darkman Blu-ray, Video Quality
Darkman is as schizophrenic on Blu-ray as Peyton Westlake becomes after his unfortunate "accident." Arriving from Universal with a VC-1 encoded 1080p image in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Darkman can be appealingly sharp, with well saturated colors one moment, and then distressingly soft and blanched the next. I have to lay most of this to the source elements, though one has to wonder why such a widely variant quality is so evident here. For instance, the opticals behind the opening title sequence look horrible--dirty, grainy and soft beyond even what one might regularly ascribe to mist and clouds. Contrast that with "Peyton"'s first identity swap, in Pauly's (Nicholas Worth) room, where detail is extremely crisp and colors and contrast are incredibly strong. As befits its title, a lot of this film plays out in shadow and dusk, and for the most part black levels are excellent. The film elements do display occasional scratches, flecks and other blemishes, so if DNR was applied (and it sure does look like it was to me), it didn't completely remove some of these issues.
Darkman Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unfortunately, Darkman also doesn't fare extremely well from an audio perspective, despite a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. In this case the fault seems to be entirely with the original surround mix, which is anemic at best. This is one of the most front-centric action flicks in recent memory, with not even Danny Elfman's score doing much to fill out the rear channels. While foley effects are usually smartly placed in the soundfield, they're almost always fake sounding, with little of the snap and punch of more recent, bombastic action tracks (like Raimi's own Spiderman franchise, in fact). What's here is perfectly clear, so don't misunderstand. There's just not a lot of ingenuity or immersion to be experienced, which, considering the film's ambitions, is odd.
Darkman Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Universal continues to give Darkman shoddy treatment with this latest home video release in terms of supplements: zero, zilch, nada.
Darkman Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Darkman has flaws it can't quite overcome, and yet it's so goofily enjoyable that most audience members will probably be willing to overlook the shortcomings and just bask in the silly ride. This is Neeson in a hyperbolic, Grand Guignol mode you haven't seen him in before (even in Taken), and Raimi works his typical hyperkinetic magic with the camera. Suspension of disbelief may reach the epic proportions of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, but if you're willing to go there, Darkman has some very inventive moments. This Blu doesn't up the image and audio quality to a point where it's a must buy, but my hunch is most ardent fans of the film will want this new release. For everyone else, it is a better than average evening's rental.
Darkman: Other Editions
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Darkman Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Darkman and Flash Gordon Announced on Blu-ray - March 17, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that it will release two catalog titles on Blu-ray on June 15, both of which belong decidedly in the "guilty pleasure" category: Sam Raimi's Darkman, starring Liam Neeson, and the 1980 space-opera Flash Gordon, ...
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