There are often stories about burn patients who lose part of their face or leave their other body parts horribly disfigured. It is sad and unfortunate. But what if you had horrible chemical and fire burns and had to take refuge in warehouses and underground? You had the strength of ten men, but could create a mask that you could use to duplicate your enemies or be the man you used to be? However, that face only lasted 99 minutes. This is the story of Darkman. A trilogy of movies that developed a cult following for its subject matter and campy presentation. Part action, part sci-fi, part thriller. But a great time as long as you left your brain at the door.
The first film directed by Sam Raimi (Spiderman, Evil Dead) features Liam Neeson as Dr. Peyton Westlake, a brilliant scientist on the verge of finding the solution to liquid skin cells or synthetic skin. This in time would help burn patients or disfigurements replace unwanted and dead skin tissue. The problem is he can only make it last for 99 minutes. One day his lab gets ransacked by a group of thugs led by Robert G. Durant (played by Larry Drake) who are in search of a memorandum. Peyton is horribly burned in the fire and presumed dead when his body can’t be found in the explosion. He later resurfaces as a John Doe burn victim who is given a radical new treatment that cuts off his nerve impulses. He breaks out of the hospital and retreats to a condemned warehouse. He then goes back to the wreckage of his lab and tries to salvage his work. Using what is left of his work and vigilante money that is collected from thieves and bad guys that he fights he attempts to recreate faces of his enemies so that he may take revenge on the Durant crime syndicate. He also attempts to get back in touch with his girlfriend (played by Frances McDormand) by putting on his face and spending time with her. However, he realizes he can only put on the charade for so long and continually he descends back to the darkness as Darkman. He prevails over Durant, but the pain and suffering he endures from day to day stays with him.
The second film sees the return of the Robert G. Durant character (still played by Larry Drake) as he was in a coma and has come back to stake his claim to the crime in the city. Darkman or Dr. Peyton Westlake is now played by Arnold Vosloo (star of the Mummy movies). Bradford May picks up the director reigns in this one. Robert Durant’s main mission in the film is to build the better assault rifle (like a mouse trap but with more boom). Again Darkman prevails, and finally Durant meets his demise. The third film gets a little harrier as Vosloo returns to play Darkman(still directed by Bradford May) and the main villain is now played by Jeff Fahey as Peter Rooker. The plot here is that Peter gets jealous of Darkman’s strength and figures out a way to craft his own super thugs using Darkman’s DNA. There is a nice sub-plot here involving Rooker’s family and Darkman as he again finds himself trying to get close to others but unfortunately failing. His only achievement is beating the bad guys. So again, Darkman descends into the darkness to live a vigilante existence.
Some will argue that Darkman should have lasted one movie and left everybody to think what if. Most will argue that Darkman had one good movie and one decent sequel. However, any attempt to make a third movie as they did felt thrown together and should have been done away with. It also re-used footage from the second movie and ideas from both of the first two flics but not in the good flashback way. Darkman’s true highlights aren’t from the action (even though that is very satisfying). It’s from the story of a man, trapped in the body that feels nothing physically and can’t figure how to express his own emotions. His brilliant mind hampered by his own shortcomings. Sure there are some great one-liners (most of which I can’t repeat due to the vulgar language displayed), but its the modern sci-fi story of Beauty and the Beast. Even though the beauty changes from film to film, the beast is always there trying to fight the battle from the inside and outside.
All three movies are brought to us in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The print to the first two movies does work really well, they look fairly clean for 15 year old movies. Color (especially considering the movie’s themes) isn’t too drab and really shows off the characters as they were meant to be. The third film despite being the newest of the three suffers the most. It still looks okay, but there are more problems here. If you made it through the first two flics; you should be able to complete the journey. Just not in the spectacular fashion that one would hope for.
The audio choices are a little bit more confusing. For the first film, we get 5.1 English Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby Surround in French. The 5.1 is decent, however as expected it mainly sits in the center channel except for the occasional sound effect or dialog in the right or left speaker. The score is particularly good as the music always helped to set the mood in each and every picture. The second film goes back to 2.0 Dolby Surround for both English and French. English SDH subtitles are provided also for the first two pictures. The third film however alienates everybody. English 2.0 is your only option here and if you are French or hard of hearing; just insert clichÃ©s from the first two pictures and you’ll be fine. The third film’s sound also appears a bit muddy in comparison to the second movie which sounds pretty decent.
Unfortunately, we get nothing. Okay, we get the original trailer for the first and second films. That’s it. Heck, we don’t even get a menu for the third film. Sure the three films are done decently; but it would have been nice if somebody like Liam Neeson, Larry Drake, Arnold Vosloo, or even Jeff Fahey would have done an interview or something. No Sam Raimi or Bradford May commentary either. I mean, pay me $100 and provide me with food and drink; I would have busted out three coherent commentaries. (as I’ve watched the first one about ten times, and the other two about 2-3 views a piece). I guess we can’t have it all.
In various films we have characters that we resonate with for some reason. Maybe its a character trait or their personality or maybe we just have their facial hair. That character for me is Darkman. Before you back away, let me explain. No, I don’t have a horribly disfigured face as a result of thugs ransacking my lab and leaving me for dead. Also no on having the strength of ten men or wanting to wear a cool black hat and matching trench coat (ok, maybe the trench coat). It is Darkman’s personality that strikes most with me. His dark brooding manner of wanting to be close to somebody but not close to him. A being that doesn’t really feel like he is part of this world. He plays the part every so often to get done what he needs too. After the long day however, he drops back into the shadows; not to be seen or heard. A tortured soul that occasionally feels like a freak hanging on to each day. Sometimes I feel like that. The Darkman trilogy is a fine set for those who want to explore the Darkman mythos. Three movies on two discs and a couple of decent upgrades to boot over previous discs. We get upgraded sound for the first movie and upgraded picture for the second. The video and audio won’t win any awards but it’s nice to see that the cult series did receive decent treatment. The only true letdown as the complete lack of extras in the set. No interviews, no commentaries, not even a featurette. Furthermore the third movie is completely duplicated from the previous release which also forgot a menu. There are chapter selections but unless you know them by heart (meaning no scene selections in the menus), you won’t be able to skip to the good parts. However, if you have the previous films I recommend you buy the upgraded set at the bargain price of $15. If nothing else, you’ll have all of them in anamorphic widescreen. One quick note, be sure to watch the first film for the Bruce Campbell cameo, its pretty cool. For now, I must descend into the shadows; but remember this: I’m everyone – and no one. Everywhere – nowhere. Call me… Darkman.