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Sam Raimi
Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Larry Drake, Nelson Mashita, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Rafael H. Robledo
Writing Credits:
Sam Raimi (and story), Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin, Joshua Goldin

Who is Darkman?

Dr. Peyton Westlake (Neeson) is on the verge of realizing a major breakthrough in the creation of synthetic skin when his laboratory is blown up by gangsters. Having been burned beyond recognition and forever altered by an experimental medical procedure, Westlake becomes known as Darkman, assuming alternate identities in his quest for revenge and a new life with his former love (McDormand).

Box Office:
$16 million.
Opening Weekend
$8.054 million on 1786 screens.
Domestic Gross
$32.942 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $29.93
Release Date: 2/18/2014

• Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Bill Pope
• Interview with Actor Liam Neeson
• “The Name Is Durant with Larry Drake” Featurette
• “The Face of Revenge” Featurette
• “Henchman Tales” Featurette
• “Dark Design” Featurette
• Interview with Actor Frances McDormand
Darkman Featurette
• Cast and Crew Interviews
• Vintage Interview Gallery
• Trailer and 12 TV Spots
• Still Galleries


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Darkman [Blu-Ray] (1990)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 3, 2014)

Back in the 1980s, director Sam Raimi earned a cult audience via Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. With those two indie successes under his belt, Raimi got his first shot as a major studio flick: 1990’s Darkman.

I don’t think Darkman hurt Raimi’s reputation, but it didn’t take him to the commercial heights he’d finally reach with 2002’s Spider-Man. In Darkman, we meet Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a scientist who works on a way to create synthetic skin. He succeeds with one caveat: this fake flesh degrades after about 100 minutes if exposed to light. However, the skin lasts indefinitely if kept in the dark.

Westlake’s lawyer girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) investigates developer Louis Strack (Colin Friels) and leaves some vital documents at Westlake’s place. Gangster Robert Durant (Larry Drake) comes to find these papers, and after he does so, he blows up Westlake’s lab to finish the job.

This appears to leave Westlake dead, but he survives – albeit in a horribly deformed state. Left without the ability to feel pain – and a little nutso from psychological damage – Westlake transforms himself into a superhero called “Darkman”. He uses his new powers along with his ability to change identities thanks to the synthetic skin as he pursues revenge on those who ruined his life.

Comic book flicks were pretty dormant for a while pre-2002, but Spider-Man brought them back into fashion, just as Batman did in 1989. While Raimi led the field in 2002, he acted as a follower in 1990; Darkman probably wouldn’t exist without the success of Batman, and we see the influence of the Tim Burton hit all over Raimi’s flick.

In the most obvious way, one will experience déjà vu when one listens to the music of Darkman. Batman made Danny Elfman the “fantasy movie composer du jour” and he had a busy 1990; in addition to Darkman, Elfman wrote the music for Dick Tracy and Edward Scissorhands. Scissorhands varied Elfman’s palette somewhat, but the scores for Tracy and Darkman often feel like the composer generated them from Batman outtakes.

Ignoring the score’s “been there, done that” factor, the movie stands fairly well on its own. Sure, its dark tone reflects the aesthetic put in place by Batman, but this film tends to be cartoonier and more violent. As seen during the Evil Dead movies, Raimi often embraced an over the top tone, and that infuses Darkman. Not that Batman was a study in realism, but it didn’t seem quite as scenery-chewing as Darkman.

That extends from Raimi’s directorial style to the acting. You’d be hard-pressed to find a naturalistic performance in Darkman, as it embraces the broad side of the street. McDormand probably tries hardest to come across as “real”, but stuck with the Tess Trueheart part, she can’t create a realistic character.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I don’t demand – or want – every movie I see to provide natural, true-to-life personalities. That said, the broadness/campiness of Darkman can be a bit much at times, partially due to the actors involved. Perhaps it was easier to accept Neeson and McDormand in these roles 24 years ago, but given our experiences with them since 1990, it seems tough to swallow them in the parts. They just don’t work for these characters – at least not in the way Raimi wants to depict them.

In terms of story, Darkman feels like a mix of House of Wax and Phantom of the Opera. I don’t mind the derivative nature of the tale, though I’m not sure it does enough with its inspirations to create an engaging narrative of its own. There’s simply not much depth on display, as the movie fails to flesh out the story and characters in a satisfying manner; all becomes left as pretty superficial.

Darkman also comes across as a project that a more mature Raimi could’ve handled in a more satisfying manner. He just bit off more than I think he could chew at that time, and Raimi doesn’t seem to know how to balance his cartoony instincts with the seriousness Darkman needs in terms of its emotional elements. As seen in the Evil Dead flicks, Raimi knew how to do wild action, but at that point, compelling drama didn’t appear to be in his repertoire.

Darkman occasionally overcomes its flaws, usually during action scenes. The opening introduction to Durant offers giddy violent fun, and later segments in the same domain can become exciting. In those moments, the film threatens to leap to life.

Unfortunately, those moments too often become submerged under uncompelling melodrama. Darkman can be interesting to see due to those involved, but don’t expect it to offer anything more than spotty entertainment.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

Darkman appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was an inconsistent but acceptable presentation.

Sharpness was usually fine, but exceptions occurred. Wide shots occasionally became tentative, so some of those could be a bit on the fuzzy side. Still, overall clarity was positive; this never turned into a razor-sharp image, but it looked reasonably precise. No issues with jaggies or moiré effects appeared, but some mild edge haloes occurred. Print flaws were also modest; occasional small specks popped up, but those were infrequent.

Colors looked decent to good. 1990 film stocks didn’t tend to be the most dynamic, and Darkman could reflect those trends, but the hues usually looked reasonably peppy and full, with only a little muddiness at times. Blacks were fairly deep, and shadows showed acceptable clarity; some low-light shots lacked great definition, but they were mostly good. I thought this was a “B-“ presentation.

Similar thoughts greeted the dated but decent DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Darkman. Actually, the movie exhibited pretty decent spread across the front. Various elements like rockets and vehicles moved smoothly across the front, and the track managed to provide a fair sense of place. Music also demonstrated appropriate stereo spread.

In terms of surround usage, the back speakers didn’t have a lot to do throughout the film. Nonetheless, they added general dimensionality and contributed pizzazz during the movie’s louder sequences. This meant elements like gunfights and explosions filled out the back speakers in a moderately lively manner.

Audio quality was fine for a 24-year-old soundtrack. Speech remained natural and concise, with only a smidgen of roughness along the way. Music showed nice fidelity and range, and effects appeared fairly accurate and robust. The track didn’t boast a ton of oomph, but it showed decent low-end. Nothing here impressed, but the result was good enough for an age-based “B”.

The Blu-ray comes packed with extras, and we open with an audio commentary from director of photography Bill Pope. Accompanied by disc producer Michael Felsher, his running chat emphasizes camerawork and visual design, but Pope also discusses how he came onto the film and aspects of his career, working with director Sam Raimi and other cast and crew, sets and locations, and a mix of additional production areas.

This becomes a nice little chat. While I might prefer more focus on Darkman itself, Pope remains engaging and likable as he talks about his work. The track keeps us involved from start to finish and offers a good look at movie-making.

A slew of video programs follow. Interview with Actor Liam Neeson goes for seven minutes, 29 seconds and covers how he got the part, working with Sam Raimi, his character and performance, challenges and his co-stars. I’m delighted to see Neeson here, as a lot of stars avoid discussions of their early work. He doesn’t tell us a ton of insights, but it’s nice to get his perspective in this enjoyable chat.

Another actor appears in The Name Is Durant with Larry Drake. This 15-minute, 59-second piece discusses his career, his Darkman character and performance, stunts, the movie’s reception and its sequel, and other thoughts about the series. Drake offers a lively view of his work and gives us a likable, informative discussion.

In the 13-minute, 21-second The Face of Revenge, we hear from makeup designer Tom Gardner. As expected, he talks about the character design and makeup elements created for the film as well as working with Neeson. Gardner gets into the details in a satisfying manner that tells us a lot about the subject matter.

Under Henchman Tales, we locate a 12-minute, 57-second featurette with actors Dan Bell and Danny Hicks. They go over their roles and performances as well as various experiences during the shoot. Expect another engaging, lively featurette here.

Dark Design runs 16 minutes, 46 seconds and provides details from production designer Randy Ser and art director Philip Dagort. They chat about influences and many aspects of character and visual elements. It’s a good piece with a nice mix of design details.

An Interview with Actor Frances McDormand occupies 10 minutes, 50 seconds and features her thoughts about how her career and how she got her role in Darkman, aspects of her character and performance, her colleagues, and additional thoughts about the flick. Like I said about the Neeson piece, it’s a delight to hear the Oscar-winning McDormand revisit her action flick past, and she does so with vivacity and charm. She’s a delight and makes this a terrific chat.

Vintage pieces come next. Darkman Featurette goes for six minutes, 26 seconds and includes notes from Neeson, Drake, McDormand, director Sam Raimi and makeup artist Larry Hamlin. The program covers character/story elements as well as some effects/stunts areas. It exists to promote the film and offers little to no substance.

Within Cast and Crew Interviews. we find an eight-minute, 59-second piece with statements from Raimi, Neeson, McDormand, and Drake. The interviews cover influences, story and characters, Raimi’s other films and his impact on the production, cast and performances. These pieces deliver a little more meat than “Featurette” but not a lot; the interviews remain short and superficial much of the time.

In the Vintage Interview Gallery, we get four segments. These feature McDormand (20:43), Neeson (28:02), Raimi (23:09) and actor Colin Friels (12:14) and expand the sessions excerpted earlier on the disc. These segments examine story, characters and performances, other aspects of the various careers, Raimi’s style and viewpoint, influences, and different experiences.

If you already watched the two prior programs, you’ll see some of the same comments here. However, we get much more material in the “Gallery”, and it renders those earlier shows moot; if you watch the “Gallery”, there’s no reason to bother with “Featurette” and “Interviews”. The material in the “Gallery” proves to be pretty involving and enjoyable; even with the promotional patina that accompanies sessions such as these, the interviews offer a good mix of insights.

In addition to a Trailer and 12 TV Spots, we find four Still Galleries. These cover “Behind the Scenes/Make-up Effects” (55 images), “Posters and Artwork” (23), “Production Stills” (101) and “Storyboards” (100). All seem interesting, but “Posters” and “Storyboards” fare best.

Though I saw Darkman in 1990, I remembered next to nothing about it over the years since then. There’s a good reason for that: the movie offers a pretty forgettable superhero adventure without much to make it interesting. The Blu-ray delivers decent to good picture and audio along with a nice set of supplements. I feel generally pleased with this release but can’t say the film does much for me.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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