Shout Factory Collector's Edition Blu-Ray Review
Starring Liam Neeson, Francis McDormand,
Larry Drake, Colin Friels, Ted Raimi
Directed By Sam Raimi
Color/1990/1 Hour 36 Minutes/Rated R
Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
English 5.1 HD Master Audio
After starting off his career with a bang up start with the enjoyably graphic horror film "Evil Dead" which was championed by renowned horror author Stephen King which eventually led to its' comical sequel in "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn", which was pretty much a remake of the original film with a bigger budget, but was more critically phrased than its' predecessor. Before the final "Evil Dead" film "Army Of Darkness" hit the screens a few years later, Raimi made what would be considered his breakout domestic hit film with the audacious and energetic action-thriller "Darkman", which many consider to be one of Raimi's best films in his successful career that has seen the likes of "A Simple Plan", "The Gift", and of course,his "Spider-Man" trilogy. The film stars Liam Neeson ("Taken", "Unknown") as Payton Westlake, a scientist who has almost perfected a new way of regenerating skin but has yet to crack the reason why it fails during the day which at most only gives him ninety-nine minutes for a person to utilize it before dissolving. When his girlfriend Julie (Oscar Winner Frances McDormand, "Fargo"), a lawyer gets her hands on a top secret memorandum by her power hungry boss, Strack (Colin Friels) wants back Payton is tortured and left for dead by nefarious mob boss Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake, "L.A.Law") and his goons. Payton's life is thrown into a tailspin as a disfigured and vengeance driven anti-hero seeking revenge the only way he knows how by utilizing science as his key tool. Soon he uses his skin grafting equipment to make duplicates of his tormenters dispatching them one by one leading to a final showdown with Durant in a terrific helicopter sequence in downtown Los Angeles and Strack at an unfinished Construction site while saving his kidnapped love.
The film is easily one of my favorites and more intriguing of Raimi's because it balances the love story, revenge, science and horror which Raimi would perfect as his career would go on and here it completely works. Neeson is very solid as the tormented Westlake (in a role originally intended for Bruce Campbell as well as Bill Paxton and Gary Oldman) being a gentle man in one scene and then turning on his full "Taken" action hero mode soon after. It is Larry Drake, however who really steals the film playing the psychopathic mob boss that is a far cry from his gentle character on "L.A.Law" really having a grand time and just relishing the role of a memorable villain. The film has a great pace to it and it's no wonder why people love it so much. I included.
Originally released by Universal on a rather lackluster Blu-Ray sans features, Shout! Factory ups the ante with this great release that gives the film all the bells and whistles that it deserved so long ago. The picture quality is obviously much better than the Universal release which is very solid throughout and people have to keep in mind that the film was shot in 1989 when film stock wasn't as great as it is now and it does have a bit of grain, which really doesn't bother me because the film is gritty and intended to be filmed that way. So while this is obviously not what people intend the film to look like in High Def, it looks all that much better without digital noise reduction which damaged the similar looking "Predator", which was also shot in a grimy, dirty way and intended that way to begin with. So don't let that bother you. The sound quality is top notch featuring clear voices throughout and Danny Elfman's knockout score really getting the full treatment in 5.1 that it really deserves.
When it comes to the Special Features on this disc, they're as solid as they come with no less with new interviews and great retrospective documentaries on the film which were missing altogether. The new interviews for this disc include one with Oscar Nominee Liam Neeson (7:36) which he talks about and looks back on the film and his character. It's somewhat of a disappointment because you've would've expected him to expand more and more on Raimi's direction and the film years later. As is, it's great to see him look back on a role that did make him a star. Oscar Winner Frances McDormand (11:36) also chimes in an informative and very introspective interview on how she got the part and not having to play the damsel in distress so much (until the end!), and regretting not having fun with the part. The best one easily belongs to Larry Drake (15:38) which is really informative and lively as he talks about how he won the part auditioning the "Double Durant" scene playing himself and eventually Neeson's part and how much he loved playing Robert Durant and in the eventual direct to video sequel, "Darkman 2: The Return of Durant".
The film features a good commentary by Raimi's frequent cinematographer Bill Pope which is very informative on the film. Other features include more new interviews with Makeup Designer Tony Gardner, new interviews with actors Danny Hicks and Dan Bell, new interviews with Production Designer Randy Ser and Art Director Philip Dagort, Vintage "Making Of Darkman featurette", vintage full-length interviews with Sam Raimi, Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand, Still Galleries, Posters & production stills, Behind the Scenes, Make-up Effects and Storyboards and the TV Spots and Theatrical Trailer for the film. Which are make up a great package with complete reverseable artwork. My one real complaint is why Sam Raimi didn't participate in any new interviews or even a commentary. Which is a very disappointing thing to be honest because the film is good and it really inexcusable that he would do an "Evil Dead" commentary that he can do in his sleep than one for one of his best films is just wrong. If it was due to scheduling then so be it, but if it wasn't then that's a real loss because it would've been interesting to hear his take on the film decades later.
"Darkman" isn't a movie without flaws, but despite these flaws the film really works over twenty years later and that's because of Raimi's direction, Drake's performance, the solid special effects work of Tony Gardner and some terrific action sequences that propel the story. The script credited two Raimi and his brother Ivan, along with Chuck Pfarrier and Daniel and Joshua Goldin also has a bit of a sense of humor to it that makes the more gruesome scenes tame in comparison. This is a very solid upgrade and one well worth it for everything that's being offered and another winner for Shout! Highly recommended on both counts!