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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 February 10, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 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
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 10, 2014
The problem with wanting to create a cinematic superhero franchise is that you have to get those nettlesome rights from the owners. Even after rights are bestowed, there are all sorts of licensing and other hoops that need to be jumped through, sometimes with more than one party involved, even further complicating an already roiling situation. This aspect has bubbled up in all sorts of film and television properties over the past several decades, with, for example, various rights issues keeping the 1960s television version of Batman tied up in limbo for years, preventing any home video releases (though a reported Blu-ray release may finally be appearing soon, some fifty years after the show's broadcast run began). Even more contemporary film outings like Man of Steel were put through their paces—with lots of delays and even some threats the production wouldn't materialize at all—by a long simmering dispute involving the heirs of the creators of Superman. And yet there's an almost painfully obvious solution to all of this drama, for those who are still intent on formulating a massively successful film superhero: simply create your own. That's pretty much what occurred to Sam Raimi as he attempted to move from the success he had experienced with The Evil Dead. Darkman was the result, and if the film turned out to be something less than an outright blockbuster, or even a real franchise (two straight to video sequels were ultimately released, without Raimi's direct involvement), it's still an interesting mashup of superhero and horror in the inimitable Raimi style.
Note: The plot summary portion of this review is culled from my review of the previous Blu-ray release of Darkman.
Liam 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 it's 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 presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory (an imprint of Shout! Factory) with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. While this appears to be the same master that Universal used for their previous release, since that Blu-ray utilized the VC-1 codec, this is obviously a new encoding, and either due to that or other tweaking there are some slight though noticeable differences between the two versions. Colors are slightly more robust in this new version; I've attempted to provide at least a few similar screenshots between the two versions for a side by side comparison. Unfortunately, the aggressive denoising as well as digital sharpening are still very much in evidence here, giving this a shiny, sleek, but ultimately unorganic appearance. The image is clear and stable, and overall this is at least watchable, especially from a distance, where the lack of grain and occasional haloing aren't quite as noticeable.
Darkman Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Shout! has provided two good lossless tracks, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. As with the previous Universal release, the 5.1 track is fairly front heavy, with only Danny Elfman's score and occasional discrete foley effects populating the rear channels. There's some substantial low end on this track, however, courtesy of such scenes as the massive explosion that helps to "create" Darkman. The 2.0 track is surprisingly fulsome sounding, with a nicely articulated midrange. Fidelity is very good on both of these tracks, with very wide dynamic range.
Darkman Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Darkman Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you're a fan of this film (as I am, despite its silliness) and never picked up the bare bones Universal release, the good news is this has some fabulous supplementary material. Unfortunately, Shout! evidently couldn't get a newer master, and this still is plagued with noticeable DNR and sharpening. That said, if you sit a reasonable distance from the screen, things don't look too artificial. For the supplements alone, this release comes Recommended.
Darkman: Other Editions
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Darkman Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: February 18-25 - February 15, 2014
For the week of February 18th, HBO Home Entertainment is bringing the stellar third season of Game of Thrones to Blu-ray. Other titles include Shout Factory's new Darkman disc, and Criterion's Fantastic Mr. Fox and Foreign Correspondent upgrades.
• Scream Factrory Details Darkman, Night of the Demons, and Witchboard - January 3, 2014
Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent film distributor Shout Factory, has detailed its upcoming Blu-ray releases of Sam Raimi's Darkman (1990), and Kevin Tenney's Witchboard (1986) and Night of the Demons (1988). The three releases will be ...
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