Confession time: I had never seen “Darkman” before receiving this Blu-ray for a review. However, I knew of it, and I enjoyed Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies (I’ll pretend the third one never existed), so I figured I should get around to watching it eventually. No better time than now, since Shout! Factory has just released a new Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray.
Unfortunately, there’s no digital copy included here, nor a second platter with the film on DVD, which is a bummer since I don’t have Blu-ray capability everywhere in my house and I like to watch movies on my iPad when I can. That’s not a huge problem with this release, but I thought I’d point it out up front in case you’re in the same situation.
As for the movie itself, it’s an impressive piece of work from a director who was in the early stages of his career and who wanted to make a superhero story without needing to get those pesky rights. (Kind of like George Lucas wanting the rights to Flash Gordon and making “Star Wars” when those weren’t available, except without the same massive box office numbers and enduring cultural legacy.) It has a nice comic book feel to it, and there are a few sequences where you can see the prototypes of the visual flair that Raimi injected into his Spider-Man films.
“Darkman” is also notable for featuring some of Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand’s early acting roles. Neeson has plenty of scenery to chew as scientist Peyton Westlake (even his name is very comic book-y), who is horribly burned by gangsters and uses his research into artificial skin to create lifelike masks that let him impersonate those who wronged him and exact his revenge. However, his research never reached fruition, so his masks only last for 99 minutes before they crumble, which adds a clever stumbling block in his schemes.
McDormand plays his girlfriend, Julie, a lawyer whose research into some shady real estate dealings makes her a target for the same gangsters who attacked Westlake. After she thinks Westlake has died, she becomes involved with corrupt real estate developer Louis Strack, even though she has discovered his bribery of city zoning commission members. It’s one of several logical lapses in the film, but if you consider that “Darkman” is meant to be a superhero comic book in movie form, you can forgive such transgressions a little more easily. After all, we’ve all accepted for decades that all Clark Kent has to do is put on glasses and bumble around and no one suspects he’s actually Superman.
If you’re a “Darkman” fan, you’ll enjoy this Blu-ray’s many bonus features, some of which are new. The new materials include interviews with Neeson, McDormand, makeup designer Tony Gardner, production designer Randy Ser, and head bad guy Larry Drake and some of his cronies. Vintage interviews with Raimi and various cast members round out the Q&As.
There’s also a short six-minute making-of featurette, which was common back in the 1980s and 1990s as a way to sell movies to theaters. While that’s the only making-of piece, there is an audio commentary with director of photography Bill Pope, who fills in a lot of information and explains how many of the special effects were done back in the old days, when you had to blow stuff up for real and if you wanted to show helicopters flying between buildings, you really had to fly them between buildings. Also, men were men, women were women, and apple pie didn’t have any GMOs in it.