Darkman is gloriously overdone. Darkman (Liam Neeson) is 650-feet in the air on a steel girder, facing off with his nemesis Louis Strack (Colin Friels). The camera pans down to accentuate the height, but that’s not enough. No, the camera must linger on a series of sharp, pointy barbs sticking up from the concrete, as if the fall wasn’t deadly enough.
Oh, and poor Ted Raimi. He plays Rick, one of the henchman, and in true Sam Raimi style, he doesn’t stand a chance. He is pushed up through a sewer cover in heavy New York traffic. Needless to say, trucks cannot stop that fast.
Darkman is filled with Raimi’s twisted humor, not to mention his odd sense of camera movement. The camera rarely seems still, twisting and tilting to indicate disorientation, or spinning around characters to create tension. Poor Liam Neeson has his head smashed through multiple glass medicine cabinets, the camera placed inside of them for a first-person view of the beatdown.
Set design is also dramatically overdone. After his transformation, Darkman finds his home in a condemned warehouse (where else?), stepping onto a ledge to admire his surroundings. Crows fly about because of the intrusion, light rains down from the roof, and the hectic rubble scattered about works beautifully in terms of its visuals.
The film is unique in that Darkman does not just run around seeking revenge. He is more intelligent than that, crafting an artificial skin that makes him look exactly like his enemies, fitting himself into their schemes. The confusion causes the criminals to kill each other, a twisted little way of working in the revenge plot with humor and violence.
Raimi caps all of these absurdities off with a wonderfully designed chase (of sorts). Darkman hangs from a helicopter’s retrieval rope, dangling over the city as grenades are lobbed at him. Cars explode, flip, and and yet Darkman misses it all. He even runs over the roof of a truck, as if he can now keep up with the chopper’s blinding speed. It is grand entertainment in an early ’90s sort of way, cartoonish and stupid, but enormously fun.
Universal issues Darkman on Blu-ray for the first time with a VC-1 encode… that is basically butchered. As is the case with nearly all of their recent catalog titles, a hefty, nasty level of DNR has been applied, wiping the detail with it. The first scene to truly reveal the heavily manipulated source is at 9:53, as Neeson and his wife sit on the couch watching pictures on a slideshow. Not only is there a complete loss of texture, the processed, digital look is a turn-off.
Other remnants of the DNR process are noted. Establishing shots of the tower, the first at 12:43, show a static grain structure that appears more like noise than grain. Smoke is a constant battle, right off the bat in fact at 2:50. Artifacting is a constant presence within smokey areas, and this film is loaded with them. Look at 28:49 too for additional visible compression. It’s not just the smoke either, but the street at 52:42 during the arrival to Chinatown is absurdly blocky.
The DNR does not clean up any of the damage to the source, regularly showing dirt, specks, and scratches. It makes the film look older than it is. It also hampers certain special effects shots. Larry Drake’s face at 1:08:20 is a mess, likely already soft due to the matte work, now more of a blob with hardly any discernible features.
The entire thing looks like an outdated master with grain removal applied, hardly the way to treat any film. There is some detail in close. At times, the rubber masks used by Darkman have noticeable pores in close-ups, and the bandages around 31:00 show some distinct definition. These scenes are few, and per usual, not even DNR can wipe everything away. Solid color and black levels are simply not enough.
As for the DTS-HD effort, do not expect much from the surrounds. Generally, they do not exist, save for a bit of work during the shoot-out at 57:50. Bullets can clearly be heard pinging off objects as they miss their target.
That’s fine. The film does not need much in the way of the rear channel usage. The stereos get some work, mostly for ambiance, but they are active. The issue here is one of fidelity. The entire thing sounds mixed in the mid-range, with lackluster highs and no real activity in the low-end. Explosions are painfully muddy, and with no punch from the subwoofer, there’s nothing to make the listener think otherwise.
Danny Elfman’s score sounds decent, although like everything else restrained. The whole thing is flat, and dialogue is bland. Clarity is minimal, yet thankkfully there is no distortion to speak of. Treble is high, sound effects coming through hot.
There is nothing here in terms of extras, not even a trailer or BD-Live support.