Darkman: An exercise in how forgiving the audience can be

These are my notes on “Darkman,” by Sam Raimi. Incidentally I love Darkman, even though I know it’s kind of a crappy movie. But it’s a great grown-up indie movie!

Let’s just skip the first scene and go straight to the titles. Too bad there’s no commentary on this sucker! I’ve seen it before too. Why I like Darkman: it’s an indie movie that grew into a big budget. Most of the techniques in it could be done on the cheap. And let’s not talk about the script.

Opening credits: a shot of lit smoke, in slow motion against a black bacground, mirrored to be symmetrical. See the symbolism? The mirror? The dark? Oooh. Anyway…
Other popular choices/trends in (occaisionally cheap) titles:

  • Some common process seen very very close up
  • A simulation of some common thing at a microscopic level
  • A common setting whizzing by so quickly we cannot distinguish it (Luc Besson, I’m looking at you!)

To generalize:

  • Microscopic crap
    • Cells
    • Blood
    • Fungi
    • Bacteria or yeast
    • Crystals growing
  • A cheap chaotic system seen with no context-
    • diffusion of dye in water
    • milk in coffee
    • smoke dispersing
    • something being consumed in open flame
    • flame by itself
    • clouds
    • ripples in water
    • other moving liquids
    • viscous moving liquids
    • ripples in cloth
    • the sky or trees or some other natural object seen from below the surface of the water
    • clockwork or machine movement
    • a pan of some complex system
  • factories
  • traffic
    • rotting things
    • melting things
  • things to do to this shot:
    • mirroring
    • running backwards
    • sped up / slowed down
    • in negative
    • filtered with weird hue shifting
    • spinning around and zooming for a “tempest/drain” effect
  • Every so often something symbolic can be made out. Distorted by:
    • High contrast Shadows
    • Turning away
    • Reflected in a partial surface
    • Colors filtered or in negative
    • Seen from the other side of a water surface

I like the cell fragmentation effect, as seen under a microscope. What is it exactly? When we see the nose melt, I think we are really just looking at the top of the range.

They have sex, but we don’t see anything. Which is good, because just Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand making cooing noises is gross enough. And how did they get involved in this movie?! And Danny Elfman for the score!? Okay, that’s enough- let’s focus only on the positive things to learn from this movie.

As in a noir movie, we don’t see the grad student killed. Just the gun to his face, and then Liam’s reaction.

After the accident we’re in a hospital… which we only know because there are people in medical gowns! The lady doctor’s Brit accent helps give her an air of authority. She gives a lot of exposition in the context of teaching medical students.

The scene ends in a composited shot through a window. His escape is summarized in a single shot of him in a flooded alley. There’s a more expensive shot afterwards (Liam and Frances) but it’s not very necessary.
Darkman sees his face for the first time. Again, we don’t see it. No effects! Plus it’s much better this way; his face could never have been as gross as we imagine it must be.
Montage of “research.” Advice: don’t let biology majors see this movie; the “TECH” portions are incredibly half-assed. But, we see a montage.

Montage elements:

  • The character in question doing the things he’s doing during this time, compressed for the narrative
  • Some element representing the passage of time, like a calendar or clock. Bonus points for:
    • Universal symbols
    • The object is in previous or subsequent shots
    • The object is thematically linked to the plot
  • Darkman does both: the stopwatch Darkman uses to measure the synthetic skin. Also uses written notes (see below)
  • Also, we see the moon. Passage of time + theme of the dark
  • Various spinning objects related to the period, tumbling through space and freed from any context. Darkman uses beakers filled with fluid, presumably the synthetic skin
  • Elements the struggle depends on—the direct objects. We see cells of synthetic skin.
  • Objects related to the struggle depicted—the indirect objects: Darkman has:
    • pages of notes, clearly legible, with failed attempts
    • a growing pile of discarded Petri dishes

Next we see some symbols referencing Darkman’s rage.

  • Zoom and close-up of the character emoting
  • Flashbacks of what the character is remembering
  • Alternately, imagined scenarios. Ally McBeal just cut to these, but in Darkman, we see them superimposed
  • Some chaotic element with symbols of the mood. Darkman uses fire.

Darkman claims his first victim: I love this guy, he is so not a henchman type. Was he related to Raimi? He looks very New York Jew. Almost as ridiculous as the gay Latino henchman with the ponytail.

After arranging bald guy’s death, we see Darkman moping in a composite shot: clouds, night, gargoyles, his head.

How much of Darkman we see in this movie is actually Liam Neeson? His face is covered in bandages most of the time! He could have just dubbed in lines… or another actor could have dubbed ALL the lines, including his, for consistency.

Cemetery scene:

  • Frances approaches the grave. We dolly in
  • Frances sees Liam- a music-video truck in both POVs
  • Frances freaked out- she backs away, sort of a missed opportunity for a Hitchcock shot here
  • Frances far away as in Liam POV
  • Now a gyrating sries of shots- emotionally chaotic
  • They embrace. Finally the camera is still!

Durant, panicked, demands of his henchman, to know what is going on.

  • We see henchman in the driver’s seat, reading a newspaper. We can tell it’s a car interior
  • Suddenly, Durant’s head thrusts into view. We can see just a bit of the car window frame.

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