Friday, October 24, 2008

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 Movie 2

When you get right down to it "Darkman" (1990) is more of a superhero movie than a horror movie, but it has very close ties to the horror genre. Think of it as a superhero version of "Phantom of the Opera." Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is trying to develop a synthetic skin, I'm assuming for grafting purposes. Unfortunately, so far, the skin starts to destabilize and turns to liquid after 99 minutes, though it can keep going if it stays in the dark. Before he can test further, he falls victim to criminals who disfigure him then destroy his lab. Westlake sets up a makeshift lab in a condemned factory and uses his face duplicating techniques to exact revenge on the criminals who ruined his life, and to try and reunite with his girlfriend (Frances McDormand).

This movie has a great premise, and some interesting filmmaking choices such as the montage sequences throughout, but ultimately feels a bit hurried. Neeson is terrific when he's playing the maniacal post tragedy Westlake, but not so convincing as the scientist, or as the haunted boyfriend trying to resume his relationship. The synthetic flesh technique is one of those things I'm willing to suspend disbelief over, but its presentation here is not well realized. Using a couple of photographs, Westlake's machine is able to acurately render, in 3-D, an exact replica of someone's nose, or entire head, including hair, like a pull over latex mask, all to proper scale, and all able to remain looking like the person they duplicate, no matter the shape of size of the head wearing them (just like in "Mission Impossible") without there being anything to suggest that they could graft onto subcutaneous tissue.

The interesting bit about the artificial skin being able to last in the dark never comes into play. There's never a sequence of Liam Neeson looking normal and gradually decomposing as the sun comes up, or the lights go on. Instead every mission, whether its revenge against the crooks, or meeting his girlfriend for lunch is played against a 99 minute stopwatch.

The thing that hurts this movie the most though is the score by Danny Elfman. I'm generally a big fan of Danny Elfman's music, but here, the score sounds far too similar to his "Batman" (1989) score, making me constantly compare this movie to the previous year's huge superhero movie. Like "Batman," "Darkman" feels dated now, especially during the scenes with the thugs, who just seem ridiculous.

There's some nice imagery in this movie, and I'm all for characters who are wrapped up in bandages, but beyond being a mindless, pleasant diversion, can't recommend this movie.

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