Plot: What’s it about?
After his lab is blown up by gangsters led by crime boss Robert Durant (Larry Drake), Dr Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is burned beyond recognition. Westlake had been working on a synthetic skin creation and is also altered after the accident. He’s now known as Darkman. He begins to rebuild his now burned lab from scratch with hopes of restructuring his face. We see Westlake also spying on the men that destroyed his lab and turned him into who he now is. Frances McDormand plays his former love and he hopes to mend things with her. I once joked that you could put Liam Neeson up to just about any task and he could handle it. This is especially true to his more recent films such as The Grey, Taken and Non-Stop to name a few. In the films mentioned he’s battled wolves, terrorists and and hijackers. There are more obvious action stars out there, but Neeson does have a physically imposing physique and deep stare to pose a serious threat. It’s nice to see a slightly more vulnerable side to him in Darkman, at least in the films first half. This adds a nice contrast to when he actually becomes the title character. This film has a level of fun that’s missing from a lot of action films today. Many of the action sequences (including a scene where a character dangles from a helicopter) are thrilling. CGI has come a long way, but in the 90’s, superhero films weren’t flooding the theaters as much as they are today. Director Sam Raimi even went on to direct the first three Spider-man films. Neither Raimi or Neeson returned for Darkman 2 either. For better or worse, that makes this outing something of a standalone film. Certainly if it were made today there would be countless plugs to future films.
Raimi does a fine job of balancing many genres and making them work well. There are action elements, science fiction and even some slightly comical ones as well. You could even throw in horror for good measure, though that’s not the most obvious. A severely burned man going around fighting crime could potentially be horrifying. There’s also the mob element on display here and a tragic love story. Similarities between this film and the later-released The Shadow are also present as well. Raimi originally wanted to direct that film, but couldn’t secure the rights. This gives something of an idea on how The Shadow might’ve felt had Raimi directed it. Despite some of the effects seeming a bit dated now, Darkman still offers a fun and entertaining experience. I liked the way Darkman tries to take down Durant and his henchmen, including assuming their identities with synthetic faces and pitting them against each other. Fans of this film will be more than pleased that the film has finally been given the deluxe treatment on Blu-ray. Be sure to look for a fun little cameo just before the end credits.
Video: How’s it look?
I no longer have the first Bare-bones release, but I don’t recall it looking this good. The new AVC encoded (1.85:1) transfer seems to have been cleaned up quite nicely. There is an instance of grain here and there, but overall, this just looks smooth throughout. I mentioned some of the effects being a bit dated now, but that doesn’t take away from the nice visuals here. There’s great facial details on several faces, often showing distinct lines and wrinkles as well as small hairs. Sharpness was strong and consistent throughout.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The DTS HD track also presents the film well. It might be hard to believe that Darkman is some 24 years old, but it is and this track still shines. There are many examples of the surrounds displaying range whether during a busy carnival sequence or the explosion at the beginning of the film. This track remained alive and active throughout. Rear channels get good usage and vocals had a nice clean sound to them.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc comes loaded with features complete with a spiffy looking reversible cover. One frustrating thing is that you can’t skip to the end of the features on the disc, you have to fast forward them.
- Audio Commentary – Director of photography Bill Pope provides his thoughts on the film. I’ve never been a huge commentary fan, but I would’ve preferred a track with Raimi instead. Still, fans will enjoy this.
- Interview with Liam Neeson (7:29) – Despite its brevity, this interview has tons of great notes from Neeson. He mentions Raimi’s decision to always wear a short sleeve shirt with a tie. This was said to be inspired by Alfred Hitchcock. This is well worth watching.
- The face of revenge (13:21) – This piece examines the make up used for creating the Darkman design. This is fun for those curious about how some of the effects were achieved. What’s interesting is that the makeup designer mentions how he was expecting Bruce Campbell for the role and he designed the mask for him at first.
- The name is Durant with Larry Drake (15:59) – I hardly recognized Larry Drake. He looks quite different now. He gives tons of good notes talking about the audition process, people often mistaking him for a bus driver, being typecast and various other things. Drake clearly had a good time playing the villain and also a clear interpretation of him. It’s worth checking out.
- Henchman Tales (12:57) – This offers a look at some of the other villains in the film. Everyone involved seems very proud of the film and that shows through these interview clips.
- Dark Design (16:46) – This provides a look at the film’s production design and the influences for the look.
- Interview with Frances McDormand (10:50) – We hear how McDormand received this project as well as how she met Sam Raimi (through the Coen Brothers). She mentions some things she wish she did differently in retrospect. It’s well worth checking out and some good notes are provided.
- Darkman Featurette (6:26) – Is a vintage behind the scenes look that’s essentially an extended commercial, though it is fun to see it in such a raw format.
- Cast and Crew Interviews (8:59) – These are vintage interview clips. They’re purely promotional, but worth watching once I guess.
- Vintage Interview Gallery – There are 4 interview sections here: Colin Friels, Frances McDormand, Liam Neeson and Sam Raimi. These offer more of the same that were found elsewhere on the disc. They simply expand on topics.
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots – 12 spots are offered here
- Still Galleries – This Offers 4 sections of stills (Behind the scenes/Make-up effects, Posters and artwork, production stills and storyboards. They’re kind of fun to see. You can scroll through these with your remote or simply let it play for you.