Army of Darkness

Reviewed by Chris Galloway

Limited Edition DVD

Anchor Bay, THX, widescreen 1.66:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1, languages: English DD 5.1, subtitles: none, 2-disc set, double side-single layer, 46 chapters, rated R, theatrical cut 81 min., director's cut 96 min., $44.98, street date 10/12/99.

Disc 1: Disc 1: Pan & Scan and Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66 : 1 transfers of the 81 minute thetrical cut, THX mastered, Alternate ending, Deleted Scenes, Documentary "Men Behind the Army" narrated by Campbell & Bruce, Still gallery, Storyboards, Thetrical trailer.

Disc 2: Full length 96 minute director's cut presented in Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66 : 1 with audio commentary by director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell.

Studio Line

Directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Michael Earl Reid.

Bound in human flesh, inked in blood - and amazingly hard to pronounce - the ancient "Necronomicon" (Book of the Dead) unleashes unspeakable evil upon mankind in director Sam Raimi's (Darkman) outrageously hilarious sword-and-sorcery epic.

Back to do battle with the hideous "Deadites," Bruce Campbell reprises his role from the Evil Dead series as Ash, the handsome, shotgun-toting, chainsaw-armed department store clerk from S-Mart's housewares division. Demonic forces time warp him - and his '73 Oldsmobile - into England's Dark Ages, where he romances a beauty (Embeth Davidtz) and faces legions of undead beasts, including a ghastly army of skeletons. Can Ash save the living from the evil dead, rescue his girlfriend, and get back to his own time?

Overflowing with spectacular special effects, Army of Darkness will make you scream with fear and laughter.

Picture/Sound/Extras (C-/B-/A)

I watch this movie (and numerous others) by Sam Raimi and still can't quite grasp the idea that this is the same director who did A Simple Plan; a film that is very much different from his best known oddball movies such as the Evil Dead series and Darkman.

The Evil Dead series is the oddest of his. The first one was basically a schlock horror film, giving a couple good shocks but I have never grasped the real humour behind it. The second one to me seemed more like a remake of the first one, just grasping the humour a little better. Now comes the third one, Army of Darkness basically just a big joke.

And because it's such a big joke I consider it the best one out of the series. It's not actually a good movie but that doesn't really seem to matter. It wasn't made to gain any Academy Awards or critical acclaim. It was made to entertain and give a good laugh and it does so very successfully.

Ash (Bruce Campbell) is transported back in time. He is picked up by a group of knights confused for a member of the enemy army. He is taken back to their castle and forced to fight some creature in a pit. He succeeds and after getting the attention of all the peasants and King Arthur himself, it is decided to send him back to his home time. He must first get a book called the Necronomicon from a graveyard way out in the middle of nowhere. Along the way he battles little people that look like him, a monster that is sprouted from his own and something that we can't see.

Once reaching the graveyard, he grabs the book, repeating words he was supposed to recite, only incorrectly and ends up raising the dead. He now must fight them off and keep them away from the book.

The movie's humour is great. The character of Ash is one of the funnier characters I have seen. He is a loud-mouthed coward who can pretend he's brave. His ego is the most obvious trait he has, considering himself far better than any of the "primitives". I especially like the scene where he is about to pick up the book and coughs out the words he's supposed to recite, hoping that that will do. And many of his lines, though they are not original or mind-blowing, are quite funny, more because they seem so out of place. When he says to a witch "yo! She-Bitch, let's go" I can't help but laugh.

The effects are also quite neat. Stop-motion animation is used for the skeletons and I love these types of effects. They have the same look as those skeletons in those Sinbad like films from back in the day. They don't look real, but they add that neat surreal effect to the film that helps it.

It's not a good film as I said before, but it's one I can watch because it is a load of fun. You do need an open mind and a good sense of humour to enjoy it and if you consider yourself under that category, this may be for you.

Anchor Bay has released an Evil Dead fan's wet dream onto DVD. They took the same route as their Halloween release. They released a regular single disc edition and a limited release double disc edition. With this one there were less printed (according to mine there are only 40,000 in print). This review can apply to both the regular and limited edition sets. The regular single disc release and the first disc in this set are the same. I will review each disc individually.

The first disc is single-sided and dual layered. Both a widescreen and standard version can be found on the same side, selecting from the main menu. The widescreen version is all I viewed. The widescreen version is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is enhanced for widescreen TV's.

The image on this disc I would have to grade a C. It's very bright and generally it can be quite sharp. It does suffer from quite a few flaws. There is grain, specs and debris. As well, softness appears as often as sharpness. Wide shots suffer from this almost always, as do scenes involving optical effects. Optical effect scenes also suffer from grain. Colours seem very good although occasionally over saturation is a problem. While the picture is better than I have seen it, it's still open for improvement. Universal also had a disc out before this one but I can't tell you if this one is better than that one as I haven't seen it.

The 5.1 Dolby Surround track is pretty good. Not the most perfect one but all channels are given a fair bit to do. I think it would gain a B+ on it's own. The music is used effectively through all channels. The front soundstage is used mostly for dialogue and is very clear. Horses and battle scenes use everything to great effect. A wonderful 3D environment is given. I couldn't hear any distortion in the music and nothing really ever drowned out the dialogue. If anything is wrong with the track it's just that it never really fills those empty spaces the way it could have. Otherwise, this impressive track makes up for the rather so-so video transfer.

Continuing on with the first disc, we now get to supplements. Up first is an alternate ending. This ending is more of a downer. Ash falls asleep and ends up waking up after the apocalypse. While there is a bit of humour to it there, I still prefer the ending that played in theaters.

There's a very well done documentary on the special effects called "The Men Behind the Army." It gives a good look at the design of the puppets used, interviews by the effects team on working on the film and with Raimi. As well we get some good behind the scene shots as everyone goofs off with the skeleton puppets. They don't really look at the stop motion effects but otherwise it's a very thorough documentary. It runs almost 20 minutes.

We also get the Universal theatrical trailer and talent bios. The talent bios are only for Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, but whoah!! These things contain pages of stuff. They might as well start the day they were born and cover every day of their life. They both start basically in their college years and give a very thorough account of just about everything following that. These are some of the best bios I have yet seen.

That closes off disc one. So if you are only planning on getting the single disc version, you can stop there. Otherwise read on.

I know disc 2 contains what most fans of the film want. The Director's Cut of the film. It didn't do much for me. The film is 15 minutes longer and I found that now at 96 minutes, the movie was an endurance test if anything. At 81 minutes the film is much better while this version is trying. It also has the alternate ending edited in. Some fans may like this more than the original but I'll be sticking to the original in the future.

The film is presented on a single-sided, single layered disc and the film is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio only. It has also been enhanced for widescreen TVs. The picture on this one is basically the same as the picture on the first disc, except for when we get to added or expanded scenes. The picture dealing with Ash fighting the little Ash's is very bad. The scene is a complete mess, grain reigns supreme along with poor saturation and bad black levels. The picture will then go back to it's okay state and then back to piss poor. The picture on this disc deserves a good D.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track is also piss poor. It's incredibly flat and has absolutely no bass or extra oomph. It is also heavily distorted in many segments. I'm rather disappointed that the quality on this version was not improved. The Universal cassette didn't even sound or look this bad. So I have another reason to watch the regular version over this one. I would give the sound around a D+.

But this is where the real extras lie and are only available in the 2-disc set. The 2nd disc supplements are plentiful. There is an audio commentary to play along with this film and is a very good one. It has Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Bruce Campbell. It's a very amusing track like I hoped it would be. They all pick on each other regularly, often calling Bruce a really bad actor and Bruce calling Sam a cheap director. They also offer some good behind the scene pointers and notes. As well, they dismiss Internet rumors that I guess are being passed around. It's a very informative and entertaining track. My only quibble is that they decided to leave out a commentary on the first disc. I would have (as I'm sure others) have liked a commentary on that as well. Oh well, I guess its just for the few lucky people that can get this set.

There are also 4 additional deleted scenes. Actually they are more like expanded or alternate segments. The only real deleted scene is one where Ash tries to convince Duke Henry and his men to help them fight the army of the dead. There is also an alternate opening, which is not that great as well as an expanded scene in the windmill (which is extremely boring) and an extra bit between Ash and King Arthur. Each scene can be selected from the menu and can also be played with optional commentaries.

There are also design drawings and storyboards. The storyboards are displayed the same way as the special edition of Tomorrow Never Dies. They can be played along with the movie. Instead of using alternate angles, though, you can switch them on or off by pressing the subtitle on/off button on your remote. Plus they run straight through the movie and if there is no slide for a certain scene in the movie a slide declaring "No Storyboard Available" is displayed. Plus they are easy to see and not all funky like they were on the TND DVD.

In closing, I guess the 2-disc set is worth it for fans and I mean die-hard ones. Only in the supplement area, though. I found the director's cut to be too much while the shorter version has the right feel to it. For those that don't care, the single-disc edition would be good enough. It has an average picture and terrific sound mix, while the director's cut is just awful in its transfer. And if you can no longer find the "Limited Edition", not too much is being missed, so don't worry about it.

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