Darkman is the reason that I was so excited when it was announced that Sam Raimi would be bringing Spider-Man, my favorite comic book character, to the big screen. Unfortunately, Spider-Man turned out to be a huge disappointment, but we’ll always have Darkman as Raimi’s superb “comic book” film. Of course, the truth of the matter is that Darkman wasn’t based on a comic book, rather a short story Raimi wrote paying homage to old B-rate Mummy movies. Despite that, it still shares many of the same characteristics of even the modern day “revamped” comic book epics. And, despite some dated visuals, it still very much holds up to this day. This is a film that I do try and revisit as often as possible, but as many movies that gets stacked upon my desk, it has been since the initial Universal Blu-ray was released back in 2012 that I’ve actually sat down and watched the film. When I saw that Scream Factory was giving it the Collector’s Edition treatment, immediately I was filled with joy, and greatly anticipated revisiting one of my favorite Raimi epics.
Darkman, in case you were unaware, is about a scientist(Liam Neeson) working on a synthetic skin for burn victims, but he can’t quite get the substance to last longer than 99 minutes. It is discovered later, that the synthetic skin is photosensitive, and lasts much longer, if not indefinitely in the dark. Neeson’s character, Peyton Westlake, is also dating an attorney, Julie Hastings, played by the always-lovely Frances McDormand, who has stumbled upon some seedy doings by one of her clients/employers. When this fact becomes clear, a group of henchmen are sent to retrieve the paper trail, and in doing so, Westlake’s lab is destroyed, and he is thought to have been killed in the explosion. In reality, the blast ejected him into the nearby water source, and his body is left badly burned. Westlake wakes up in a futuristic burn unit, and makes his escape so he can both exact his revenge, as well as reunite with the woman he loves. But, hiding both in the dark, and behind a mask, can he maintain his humanity?
Darkman is very pre-Spider-Man Sam Raimi. All of his classic camera tricks are present. Even if you had no idea going into this one that it was directed by the man, you would immediately recognize the style. One of the reasons they were able to get away with such a dark and violent film, is because the violence is so stylized that it looses some of its darker impact that it would have had otherwise. One thing worth noting, if you’re picking this release up and have never actually seen the film is, that this is not Taken. Don’t get me wrong, Neeson is a badass here, but it is less frenetic close quarters combat, and more Neeson using his character lack of feeling pain, and his surroundings to cripple his foes. I love Taken, but it is a very different type of action film. I don’t know how many of you that will end up buying this disc will have never seen it before, but I just thought I would throw that out there just in case. It is definitely one of Neeson’s greater roles, and in the new interview on the disc, he expresses how fun it was to make, and how much he would love to work with Raimi on another project. I hope that comes to fruition.
So, this is one of those Scream Factory releases that has a prior Blu-ray release. So how does it stack up to that old disc? One of the things the more watchful eyes will notice, is that this is the same master used for the old Universal disc. But, it has been cleaned up a bit. This is a soft film in general, and this Blu-ray disc shows that. However, having said all of that, this is the absolute best Darkman has ever looked on home video. Couple that with the fact that it comes stacked with extra features, and it makes adding Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of this film to your collection a no-brainer . I’ve read some other reviews, such as Blu-ray.com, where they seem to complain about the video transfer quite a bit, but honestly, the only thing I noticed when I finally got some time to sit down with this one, is that it looks noticeably better than the previous release.
In summation, if you already have the Universal Blu-ray release of Darkman, should you take the plunge and double dip? The answer is an overwhelming yes. This, as I mentioned above, is the best that Darkman has ever looked on home video, and possible the best it will ever look. The package is absolutely bursting with extra features, including all new interviews with Liam Neeson, Larry Drake and more. There is also an extremely entertaining featurette titled “Durant’s Men” (I think the title given on-screen is Henchmen), with interviews from both Dan Bell and Danny Hicks, that gives two of the movie’s greatest bad guys an opportunity to talk about their roles. On the technical side of things, the video is presented in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1, and the audio is presented in both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, as well as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. The 5.1 track does add a little something to the back channels, but it is largely center-channel heavy, so it really depends on how you prefer to watch older films like this on your home entertainment system.
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Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition of Sam Raimi’s Darkman is highly recommended, and will be available on Blu-ray tomorrow, February 18th 2014. You may pre-order your copy here.