This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

Category Comedy/Horror Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.85:1, 16x9 Enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1990 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 91:19  Other Extras Cast & Crew Biographies
Production Notes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (63:17)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 4 Director Sam Raimi

Columbia Tristar
Starring Liam Neeson
Frances McDormand
Colin Friels
Larry Drake
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Danny Elfman

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
French ((Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Czech (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, 192Kb/s)
Polish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Director Sam Raimi is notorious as the director of the brutal cult classic The Evil Dead. Darkman was the first film he directed which contained elements that were meant to make the viewer laugh as well as scream and cry. His success on both of these floors is somewhat questionable, but the concept of this film was so well-executed that it led to more deals to finance other such monstrous films as Army Of Darkness: Evil Dead III. Sadly, the methods by which Raimi has merged comedy and horror do not translate well on screen. They either result in alienating the fans of horror films, or alienating those who are in search of a laugh. Thankfully, he only chose to inject mild comedic elements into this film, and, like his best work, they require a certain mindset to fully appreciate. Darkman is the story of Doctor Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a man who is researching a method of skin grafting that, when perfected, will mean the end of a lot of pain and suffering for burn victims. So far, his most successful prototype has a life span of about ninety-nine minutes when exposed to light of any description. Unfortunately, just as he learns of a path to follow towards the solution, his laboratory is destroyed by the rather nasty Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake, whose other credits include the retarded, but surprisingly endearing, law-firm clerk Benny Stulwicz from L.A. Law).

    To tell you much more about the story would spoil it for you, but suffice to say that Westlake wakes up in a hospital burns unit with haunting memories of the life he once had, and not in the best of moods as a result. He begins exploiting his experimental medical technology in order to wage a war against Durant and his boss, Louis Stack, Jr. (Colin Friels). Although the manner in which he is able to salvage his work is not particularly believable, it does allow for the use of some of the funniest bad-guy-killing sequences ever captured on film. Another issue complicating the matter is his need to demonstrate to his lover, Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), that he is alive and not so well. This results in one of the best sequences about a man's loss of temper that I have ever seen, which makes sense because the whole film is one of the best films about the beast that lurks within us all and what happens when that beast is unleashed. If you want a happy ending in this film, you're quite seriously barking up the wrong tree. True to the serial comic book style of the film, our hero vanishes off into the sunset at the end to feel the pain of his solitary existence. The very brief appearance of Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell in this ending was a masterful stroke. To top things off, this film gets an extra point out of me for being yet another film that takes one of the themes central to the Bible and rendering it in a much better way than it, or The Matrix.

Transfer Quality


    Given that this film is of similar vintage to Batman, I honestly expected this to be a very poor transfer when it came to shadow detail. However, in spite of a few problems here and there, this is definitely one of the best transfers of a Universal picture I have seen so far. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. Although it begs the question of what the film would look like if it were not enhanced, the transfer is really as good as we can expect, given the look and feel of the original source material. In fact, if matching the original theatrical exhibit is all we're really concerned about when we talk about video quality here, then this DVD seriously hits the spot. The essential problem with this transfer is that director Sam Raimi had deliberately shot the film with a soft focus in order to highlight the dark and surreal film of the movie, which translates into a problem with making the transfer authentic to the original without losing definition. Given what they had to work with, Universal have done a good job with this disc.

    Shadow detail was good, in that it suited the comically dark feel of the film without plunging into the sort of depths where nothing can be made out. While this DVD certainly doesn't contain the best shadow detail, it does contain the right balance to enhance the movie. The colour scheme was somewhat muted, which is consistent with the approach I suspect Raimi took to the production of this film. It would not surprise me at all to learn that he used the same kind of film and cameras that he used with Evil Dead 2. While this might sound like a bad thing at first, I really think it suits his comic style rather well. MPEG artefacts consisted of some very minor pixelization around the edges of actors in close-up shots at early points in the movie, which settled down by the time Liam Neeson and his character began their amusing and stomach-rolling campaign of violence against Durant. Film-to-video artefacts were not apparent in the film either, although some of the usual culprits (some venetian blinds) and not so usual culprits (the melting of artificial skin) threatened to make their presence felt here and there. Film artefacts consisted of a few black and white marks on the film here and there, but these also settled once the film got moving.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, but I simply cannot locate the exact point of transition. I've gone back and forth over the length of the programme to no avail, so I will assume that Universal or Columbia Tristar have done some very good work in hiding the layer change between chapters. I failed to notice the change during the first time I viewed this film, and the second viewing on another player that is notorious for showing me where the layer change occurs yielded no results. I suspect that this layer change takes place between Chapters 8 and 9, but I will probably never know for certain.

[Addendum March 14, 2000: I finally found the layer-change position at 63:17, during Julie's conversation with Louis. There are much better places for the transition to take place, but there's also far worse places. As it stands, the pause caused by the transition is so slight that it takes repeated viewings to even notice.]


    While the video transfer might be the best we can expect under the circumstances, the audio transfer lacks something I cannot quite put my finger on. The audio is offered in a choice of seven languages, which is simply too much even by my reckoning. It also has a rather unpleasant effect on the packaging, with the display of languages available on the back cover becoming a little too tightly compressed (in a literal way) for comfort. As it stands, we have five languages in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround encoding: English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Next, we have Czech in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and Polish in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Having a film dubbed in this many languages is just plain silly, no matter how you look at it. For the sake of this review, I only dissected the English audio track for the purpose of this review, but I also had a thorough listen to the Spanish audio track. The Spanish audio track doesn't seem to make a lot of sense out of the film itself. Even for a film that is intended for regions containing so many languages, it strikes me as odd that there are this many language options. Is this Universal's way of filling out a disc with sparse extras?

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times, with every actor speaking in a clear, and powerful voice. This would be partly an artistic choice by the director, because of his propensity to make live-action comic books. Liam Neeson's dialogue is particularly well-rendered and clear, although it also tends to become incoherent at the points which demand it, such as the frequent sequences in which his character is hallucinating and breaking out in a rage. I thought I even heard a slight difference in the dialogue when Larry Drake was dancing around himself telling one of his many henchmen to shoot the other one (a surprising visual effect in the film that I don't want to spoil for anyone who hasn't seen the film). In any case, if the same technology was available then for the making of this film as there would be today, the possibilities would have been enough to give the producers and writers a headache. Audio sync was never a problem at any time in the film.

    The music by Danny Elfman was very well-suited to the overall feel of the film, although it lacks any distinction from other film scores included with films of this kind. In spite of this shortcoming, it does envelop the viewer in the film quite tightly. The surround presence is somewhat limited by comparison, although the usage of the subwoofer makes up for this deficiency quite well. Overall, the surround presence and the quality of the sound is where a lot of the comedy in the film is derived from.


    The extras are somewhat limited in quantity, but the quality is just fine.


    The menu is themed around the movie with the usual assortment of silly icons. Navigation is simple enough, and the chapter selection menu is just fine. However, some sections are rather counter-intuitive. Just as we've been calling out to Warner Brothers to ditch the snapper cases, so must the call be made for Universal to ditch the icons.

Production Notes

    The production notes describe the distorted sense of humour and characterization that went into the production of the film. They are worth reading once to see the kind of approach to filmmaking that went into this film. It is also amusing to see that Liam Neeson has appeared in nearly ten times as many films as Sam Raimi has directed, if you believe the listings on this disc.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies of Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Larry Drake, and director Sam Raimi are provided, although they are about two or three years out of date. The most obvious sign of this is that Neeson's biography does not mention what would doubtlessly be his most well-remembered role (whether he likes it or not).

Theatrical Trailer

    Regardless of whether or not this trailer is 16x9 enhanced, it is one of the better-preserved trailers I have seen with this kind of vintage. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with 16x9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is worth having a look at just for curiosity's sake.

R4 vs R1

    According to reports, the Region 4 and Region 1 versions are identically featured, except for one detail:

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    Given how hard the quality of the original picture is already pushing the compression, I would honestly prefer RSDL formatting. Region 4 wins in this case.


    Darkman takes many literary concepts that so many others have botched, and turns them into a satisfying film that defies exact classification. Unfortunately, it has also suffered from the attacks of a sequel-happy Hollywood.

    The video quality is well-presented, given what Universal had to work with. It might not look particularly great, but it is an accurate reflection of what the director intended.

    The audio quality is somewhat limited by the lack of a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, but it is well-balanced enough to not matter. However, you may find the alien sound of some dialogue a little rattling.

    The extras that are present on this disc are of good value.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
February 11, 2000
Amended March 14, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer