Digi-Schlock: DARKMAN (Scream Factory Blu-Ray)

February of 2014 has been a very productive month for Scream Factory: it has seen the release of new special edition sets for Witchboard and Night Of The Demons plus a blu-ray revamp of their Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours double bill, all of them kitted out with extras galore. That’s not all for their February lineup either: the always-busy label has worked up a blu-ray special edition of Darkman. This new disc goes all-out on the special features front, living up the extremes of the other titles from this action-packed month for Scream Factory.

Darkman-bluThe transfer appears to be the same one used for the Universal blu-ray from 2010: detail levels vary, getting soft in places, but the colors look robust and the element used for this transfer was in pretty good shape. Both 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks are included in lossless form for this transfer. The 5.1 was listened to for this review: it doesn’t have much directional activity but the oft-complex blend of dialogue, sound effects and Danny Elfman’s rich score is solid.

Where this disc excels is in the special features area, as Scream Factory has packed it out with extras new and old.  First up is a commentary track with cinematographer Bill Pope that is moderator by extras producer Michael Felsher.  It is a relaxed yet informative chat, with Pope offering forthcoming answers to Felsher’s savvy questions.

Pope reflects fondly on what was his first feature film gig, marveling at how much they worked (19 setups a day for 119 days, with Raimi and Pope doing their own 2nd unit duties in addition to running the 1st unit).  He speaks frankly about the meddling of execs during the shoot – and how Raimi circumvented it – and also offers some interesting details on the complexities of shooting the film’s epic helicopter setpiece.

Six new interview featurettes were produced for this disc. The first is a chat with Liam Neeson, who reveals that he had to compete with Gary Oldman and Bill Paxton to get the role and keyed in on the operatic nature of the character to create his performance. He also speaks of learning to “trust” makeup in the role and offers fond recollections of his castmatDarkman-05es and director Sam Raimi.

“My Name Is Durant” focuses on Larry Drake, who discusses his approach to creating a convincingly sociopathic bad guy and the challenges involved in playing dueling versions of one’s self.  He also tells a funny tale of his audition for the film and remembers the fun he had with the helicopter sequence (his first time riding in a copter).

“Face Of Revenge” allows makeup FX designer Tony Gardner to discuss his work on the film. He praises Neeson for his patience and willingness to work with the makeup and discusses the techniques involved in the different makeup effects, including how the “bubbling” was achieved for the disintegrating masks.  He reveals there was an animatronic head that wasn’t used and in a nice moment, reflects on how the film was a great experience for him as a person and an artist.

“Henchmen Tales” is a two-man piece featuring actors Dan Bell and Danny Hicks.  They talk about how they got their roles and offer up the interpretations they devised for their henchmen roles. Hicks has some interesting material on how he physically prepared to play a character missing a leg and Bell tells an amusing anecdote about how Dirty Harry gave him an appreciation for cinematic villains.

“Dark Design” is an interesting segment that highlights the work of production designer Randy Ser and art director Philip Dagort.  Ser reveals how comic books and Hollywood horror films of the ’30s were key influences of the design and how the film had different “worlds” that were an extension of the film’s key characters. You’ll also leaDarkman-06rn about the motion control camera that was used for the “dueling Durants” sequence and how the window-crashing gag in the helicopter sequence required the assistance of the art department.  Both men smile as they talk about the childlike glee Raimi took in their work.

The last of the new interviews features Frances McDormand.  She talks about her longstanding friendship with Raimi and how he created her character to prove to his critics that he could create a strong female character.  She also reveals how she enjoyed putting her stage combat training to use in the action scenes and how she would challenge Raimi on trying to use his actors like living cartoons.

The next part of the extras is devoted to an array of vintage interview material done for the film’s original publicity campaign.  The first part is an EPK that features the cast and Raimi discussing the multidimensional nature of the film. It incorporates a little bit of interesting on-the-set footage. The next part is called “Cast And Crew Interviews” and is a 9 minute block thaDarkman-07t features short interviews with Raimi, Neeson, McDormand and Drake.  These are slightly longer versions of material used in the EPK.

The last bit of the EPK-related material is called the “Vintage Interview Gallery” and offers a series of interviews for Neeson, McDormand, Raimi and Colin Friels, all ranging from 15 to 30 minutes in length. Both the EPK and “Cast And Crew” segments draw off this material but there’s interesting material for the patient fan to glean from these extended chats: examples include both Neeson and McDormand talking about learning to modulate their performance levels to work in sync with Raimi’s expressive camerawork and Raimi speaking frankly about the pressures and responsibilities of working with a studio (and betraying more than a little ambivalence about it).

It’s also the one place on the disc you get to hear from Friels, who is likeably humble and soft-spoken as he reveals he saw his character as “the American Dream gone wrong” and talks about the challenges of doing an American accent.

Darkman-08The last of the extras offer a series of vintage promo materials. A theatrical trailer aggressively sells the film’s superhero angle while a series of 12(!) t.v. spots highlight different elements, some of them plugging the film’s many good reviews. There are also four still galleries. A behind the scenes/FX gallery shows plenty of Raimi and Gardner at work on the set and in the lab. A posters and artwork gallery shows off the film’s effective “Who is Darkman?” ad campaign plus some pressbook material and black-and-white stills. “Production Stills” offers about 100 images from throughout the shoot while a similarly lengthy Storyboard gallery includes extensive illustrations for the film’s copter and skyscraper setpieces.

In short, Scream Factory’s blu-ray edition of Darkman offers a lot of worthwhile supplemental material for fans. Some might lament the lack of a new transfer but the plentiful extras supply plenty of insight for fans into Sam Raimi’s first major studio film.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Darkman, click here.


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