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Universal Studios Home Video presents

Darkman Trilogy (1990-1995)

"I'm everyone. And no one. Everywhere. Nowhere. Call me... Darkman."- Peyton "Darkman" Westlake (Liam Neeson)

Stars: Liam Neeson, Arnold Vosloo
Other Stars: Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Larry Drake, Kim Delaney, Renee O'Connor, Jeff Fahey, Darlanne Fluegel, Roxann Biggs-Dawson, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Jesse Collins, Lawrence Dane, David Ferry, Jack Langedijk, James Millington, Steve Mousseau, Bruce Campbell, Jenny Agutter, Nigel Bennett, John Novak, Alicia Panetta
Director: Sam Raimi, Bradford May

MPAA Rating: R for language and brutal violence
Run Time: 04h:35m:47s
Release Date: 2007-08-07
Genre: sci-fi

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C+B-B- F

 

DVD Review

The three Darkman films go from good to bad sequentially, with writer/director Sam Raimi's original not only sizzling with a low-budget visual wave of creativity when it came to taking on the anti-hero genre, but milking a memorably comic villain performance out of L.A. Law's Larry Drake.

The title character is played in the first film by Liam Neeson (and The Mummy's Arnold Vosloo in the two sequels), and he's a scientist who ends up a reclusive Phantom Of The Opera-like disfigured loner, alternatingly perfecting his radical liquid skin (which enables him to disguise himself as anyone) and battling evil. Universal has packaged up all three films in the series here as part of a budget-priced two-disc trilogy set, and while the quality declines steadily from title to title, there's that undeniable sense of completeness that will no doubt appeal to fans of Raimi's quirky Darkman.

Darkman (1990)
Directed by Sam Raimi
01h:35m:18s

The original remains the best of the bunch as a rock solid B-movie with a strong cast, all built around Liam Neeson's cackling Peyton Westlake as a tilted anti-hero solely bent of well-deserved revenge. With an added boost from a roaring Danny Elfman score, Sam Raimi experiments in the years before Spider-Man and creates a comic-book-like movie with appropriately dumb science and dumber henchmen, Visually, Raimi gives way more than is expected, filling this one with a number of inventive scenes that seem like they should have been part of a larger budgeted title. In particular, the lab explosion sequence, where we're inside the glass case that a head is smashed through, or where a stunned Frances McDormand slowly morphs from a horrified eyewitness into a graveside mourner in a single shot.

When synthetic liquid skin researcher Westlake (Neeson) is burned to a crisp by finger-lopping bad guy Robert Durant (Larry Drake) it's all about getting even, which means plenty of rubbery disguises that only last 99 minutes before they bubble away to nothing. Neeson may be wild-eyed and single-minded, but it's Larry Drake's brutal crime boss Durant that gives our hero someone to really hate. Drake is very far removed here from his simple L.A. Law character Benny, and as a heavy he's perfectly over-the-top throughout.

A few leaps in logical faith are required to take this journey, but it can be fun if you let it.

Darkman II: The Return Of Durant (1994)
Directed by Bradford May
01h:32m:39s

With Bradford May picking up the directing duties for the next two entries in the series, Darkman II: The Return Of Durant kicks off with what is probably the biggest logical leap of all, namely how could Robert Durant (Larry Drake) have survived what happened to him at the end of the first film? But that's where hack B-movie script writing comes in, and with a few lines of expository dialogue it turns out he's been in a coma for 878 daysóhe does walk with a cane and pop pain pillsóbut other than that he looks just fine. That makes Arnold Vosloo stepping in as Liam Neeson's replacement almost an afterthought. Vosloo isn't all that bad in the role, and when he's in Darkman's trademark bandages and black fedora, it's pretty much a wash, visually, though his version of Westlake lacks that maniacal edge that Neeson had.

The setting here has Westlake/Darkman relocated from his abandoned warehouse to an underground lab, equipped with a nifty secret train to get him there, outfitted with a cheesey talking computer. The plot has Durant planning on cornering the weapons market by introducing a new hi-tech weapon, which necessitates busting a slightly unhinged scientist (Lawrence Dane) out of an insane asylum. Westlake/Darkman still can't crack the 99 minute window on his synthetic skin, but an encounter with another researcher (Jesse Collins) leads to what could prove to be a breakthrough. But Plot Convenience 101 has characters overlapping neatly so there aren't any loose ends, and naturally there's plenty of Darkman-induced vengeance to be uncorked. And in unintentionally funny bit of dated technology, all of Westlake's research neatly fits on a diskette!

This one is notably more bloody than Raimi's original, and not an entirely awful straight-to-video followup. That is, if you peer at this through your very best B-movie goggles, and are willing to overlook the silly stuff and roll with the hammy goodness of Larry Drake's badass Robert Durant.

Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996)
Directed by Bradford May
01h:26m:50s

Even though it is once again directed by May, it's no surprise this sequel is decidedly lacking on most levels, with Drake's Durant long gone and Jeff Fahey half-heartedly stepping up as the wealthy bad guy Peter Rooker. Rooker's plans to murder the new D.A. and take over the steroid market fall under the watchful eye of Vosloo's Westlake/Darkman, with all sorts of explosions and shootouts. There's a whisper of an unrequited love story, featuring Roxann Biggs-Dawson, but Darkman III seems content to operate as a variation on the masked avenger storyline, with Vosloo's skin-challenged doc forsaking vengeance to become some kind of crimestopper.

May cheats a few times, reusing incidental footage from Darkman II, so it's evident that this is more of a contractual obligation of sorts, and it shows. While he was able to capture some of Raimi's unusual camera angles in the second film, Darkman III plays out mostly by the book, looking like a subpar television episode more often than not. Fahey never comes close to matching Drake's wacky menace, and the sappy factor gets notched up pretty high by the time this one ends, rendering this a weak, weak entry in the series.

It might be a trilogy, but in the immortal words of a Meatloaf song: two out of three ain't bad.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: All three films are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the best overall quality going to Darkman II. Raimi's original is rather soft on edges, though fleshtones have a warm, natural texture to them, and it is further saddled with fine grain. The differences between the two followups is marginal, with May's Darkman II sporting more sharply defined edges and generally deeper colors, while the third film has a number of minor nicks as the biggest distraction.

Image Transfer Grade: B-
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The highlight of note is the new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix on Raimi's film, which gives Danny Elfman's score a healthy boost. Voice quality isn't necessarily much crisper than on the original single disc version, but the music elements and the occasional explosion have a deeper kick, though the differences are not necessarily all that striking.

Darkman II and Darkman III feature rather plain 2.0 surround tracks as their primary option, and there's a fair amount of front-channel directional cues to give these a bit of spread, though the presentation is largely unremarkable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 43 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Packaging is decent if you're a slipcase fan, but there's not much else here. This two-disc set comes housed in a hinged case, inside of a thick cardboard side-opened slipcase. The first two films in the series share the same side of disc one (dual layer), while the third film is on the single layer second disc. Trailers are included for Darkman and Darkman II.

Darkman is cut into 16 chapters, Darkman II gets 18 stops, while the menu-less Darkman III has just 9 breaks. All three films feature optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: F
 

Final Comments

A budget-priced set of the three Darkman films is made a bit better by a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on Raimi's entry.

And in all honesty the Raimi film is really what this set is all about. The quality falls off over the three, but B-movie completists and fans of the character won't care at all.

Rich Rosell 2007-08-30