Daredevil - Director's Cut Blu-ray Review
Daredevil's 2.35:1 transfer (encoded via MPEG-4) is far more detailed than any previous version on disc, that is for sure. And there is no lack of integrity with its original grain structure. In fact, the hi-def process has, if anything, accentuated its presence, leading to a presentation that is actually very clearly filmic. However, the grain levels do fluctuate from time to time.
Colours are bold and deep, but this is not a film that has been designed with primary vibrancy in mind. The dominant aesthetic is one of gloom and shadow. This may, of course, be interrupted with flashes of stylistic colour - the flames in the bar-room brawl, or those used to denote the DD emblem, or the candles dotted around the church, pockets of neon in the murk-bathed city, the taint of blood, the rich crimson of a freshly-plucked rose and the patterns in the stained-glass - but Johnson loves his noir-ish midnight blues and sometimes impenetrable blacks far more. I spotted some banding taking place in some of the greyer areas of the screen during one sequence, but this was minimal and hardly likely to cause concern. The intensity of the greenness of Garner's eyes during the MTV introduction to her character as she walks ino the coffee-shop is gloriously over-the-top, though. Personally, I like it - but you have to admit that it is quite absurd, especially when you consider that her eyes seem to change colour later in the movie - to blue. Speaking of blue, the colour scheme of Kingpin's office is a curious shade - one that is milked with a glassy gleam that is actually quite unpleasant.
Detail in close-ups, particularly facial close-ups, is revelatory. Here the disc offers astonishing levels of finite attention to eyes, lashes, pores, warts, spots 'n' cuts and those little white scars around Matt's eyes. You can plainly see the legions of hairs standing up on Elektra's arm as she embraces Matt on the rainy rooftop. The texture on DD's costume and especially on Bullseye's leather jacket is much greater than before. The accoutrements of the courtroom are a little more apparent too as are all those sequins and bow-ties in the big plush do. Detail further back is certainly better than in its SD incarnations, but there was nothing exceptional to report on other than the fact that those miniatures and CG augmentations that they made to the real Hell's Kitchen now blend in a lot more smoothly.
The gleam on DD's weaponry and the Sais of Elektra, as well as the little pieces of metal and glass-work that Bullseye incorporates are a touch more pronounced, yet also seem a little more realistic too. Those blacks are incredibly potent and dense, yet there are definitely times when some detail has been lost amidst them. The SD didn't seem to suffer as much with this. Contrast too, which is consistent for a lot of the time, can occasionally be jacked-up for certain scenes. Perhaps stylistically done, but there are times when the film seems to change its visual tone quite radically and I don't recall the SD versions of either this or the theatrical cut being so chop 'n' change in style. Daylight scenes are naturally much, much brighter, but there is a dryness to their look that seems deliberately robbed of some integrity. However, I wouldn't say that this is fault of the transfer, merely another stylistic flourish. Skin-tones are quite authentic though, pale and decidedly un-tangoed by the usual Hollywood sheen.
There is three-dimensionality on show in Daredevil, but it is not exactly where you might have expected it to be. The high-action, building-vaulting stuff is actually quite flat, in my opinion and although well-rendered, not particularly striking with any sort of noticeable visual depth. However, many of the quieter scenes look more vivid and visually three-dimensional. Moments such as Matt standing in court, for instance, or Elektra in the back of her limo possess a keenness that is very pleasing. For much of the time, the film plays things with a kind of subtlety that, whilst still sharp, doesn't exactly intend to leap from the screen.
Edge enhancement is not a problem and given the level of detail and grain in the image, nor is DNR. Overall, Daredevil looks fine, although its various different styles make for a testing time with assessment. But this is a marked improvement over its previous guises.
Daredevil's audio mix of a lossless DTS-MA 5.1 track is certainly an exciting and pulse-pounding experience for much of the film's running time. It is heavily loaded with sub-activity that just loves to get under your floorboards and rattle those foundations. Early fight scenes - Matt's dad pummelling his opponent in the ring (when he really should have thrown the fight), Daredevil's thunderous battle in the biker bar and the subsequent subway demolition of very naughty boy - are simply terrific examples of boom-boom-shake-the-room aggression. This is pure gut-punching audio bullying that you can't help but love. Each and every impact is not only heard, but felt. Couple this with a warm mid-section and glistening high ends and the track is a clear winner.
Split-channel separation is another bonus, although, I have to say that this effect seems less and less prevalent as the movie goes on. We do have some very nice bullets singing their way diagonally across us and the whipping around of DD's nun-chukkas and baton are devilishly served up. His nocturnal acrobatics are keenly resonant and various landings and shimmies are displaced around the room with strict adherence to the on-screen action. Rainstorms do that thing that we all love about rainstorms when heard via good, intelligent sound design - they filter across the room and set up a convincingly wet atmosphere that naturally seems to cascade downwards from above. Even the man-made downpour that DD instigates in Kingpin's office is full of width and clarity. Rear activity is frequent and believable. We have busy streets filled with cars, people and all-round ambience and the feeling of viewer immersion, whilst not the best that I've heard, is still excellently evoked. Subtleties are well presented throughout - from car doors opening or closing, umbrellas doing the same thing, the tinkling of champagne glasses at the party and the general hubbub of polite society, the chatter and laughter in the pub and the ringside shouting early on. There is even the distinctive sound of a broken tooth being spat out by a thug whose mouth DD has just battered.
One of the other show-pieces, other than that terrific first DD fight-scene is when young Matt wakes up in hospital with his damaged eyes bandaged and the acoustic chaos that his untrained ears pick up flooding-in from literally every corner of the set-up with pin-point accuracy and clarity. His own disquiet and distress at this sonic floor-show is matched only by our admiration for the sound design and audio engineering.
However, there is a certain sense of such dynamism becoming less effective as the film progresses. Basically, nothing matches that early bar-room battle for sheer weight of bombast, design or detail. Daredevil smashing through a window to get at a thug is less than stimulating, as is the crashing glass of Bullseye's rapid exit from the church. The organ pipe bouncing brawl is not as sonically impressive as you may have thought, given the type of detail that has been evidenced earlier and nor is the bell ringing when Bullseye says “Let's bring on the pain! Let's bring on the noise!” But maybe this is just because we've already heard the best stuff and nothing else can quite compare to its precision-orchestrated mayhem.
This said, Daredevil offers a terrific display of bone-crunching sub-action, dazzling whip-around surround activity, rich, detailed music and fabulously clear dialogue throughout. It is hard to imagine anyone being dissatisfied with this overall presentation.
There's quite a bit here, folks.
As well as a decent commentary track from both Mark Steven Johnson and Marvel producer Avi Arad that takes pains to point out the many differences between this and the theatrical cut of the film, and is pretty technical about effects, locations and stuntwork without being too dry, we get an Enhanced Viewing Mode that allows us to see notes on the story, characters, and Marvel Universe as well as to see various effects sequences play in differing stages of production completion. To be honest, I haven't yet seen all of the interactive stuff on this disc but I'm sure that fans will get a kick out of it, although I think there could well be a few lulls in-between the extra gubbins.
By far the best feature on the disc is the enormously detailed and rewardingly candid making of documentary, the hour-long Beyond Hell's Kitchen. Here, we meet seemingly everyone who was involved with the production - from the main players from Marvel - Arad, Gary Foster and, of course, Johnson - to the cast and the stunt co-ordinators, by way of the visual FX technicians, costume people and conceptual artists and sculptors. We see Affleck getting plastered - literally - for his full and very snug-fitting costume and we see him indulge in plenty of fighting, rehearsals and a great montage of failed takes (smashing his head into a plate-glass window and making a wire-assisted leap in his church-pursuit of Bullseye). The troubled genesis of the film getting and is revealed and we even get to meet Graeme Revell and his orchestra. Now, Revell isn't the most highly regarded of film-scorers, but it is nice to see him at work and to hear how he extricated himself and his musicians from a tricky spot of mistiming. Throughout the entire show - which is very comprehensive, right down to pre-premier jitters and opening weekend takings - Johnson is wonderfully honest and touchingly credible with his passion for the project. Indeed, it is hard not to warm to the guy and his devotion to pleasing the fans, the studio and even staying true to his own aspirations for the story and the character is quite an unusual trait for a Hollywood film-maker these days. But what is possibly the best element of the deal is the terrific sense of humour that runs throughout it all. Seeing everyone, especially Affleck and Michael Clark Duncan goofing around is highly amusing and there is some great stuff with pigeons here that could certainly have gone into a gag reel. Excellent stuff, indeed.
We then get to see Jennifer Garner's Screentest (2.31) and meet the massive Duncan as he talks us through his character in Featured Villain: Kingpin (2.21).
A poignant and quite persuasive feature on the film's sight-impaired consultant, Tom Sullivan follows in Moving Through Space: A Day With Tom Sullivan (8.21) as he attempts to explain how he understands the world around him.
Giving The Devil His Due (15 mins) details the hows, the whys and the wherefores of the theatrical cut as opposed to the director's cut. Marvel producer Gary Foster drops a clanger early on with his opinion about how the intellectual components are not required in “this” type of movie. How lucky we are that Christopher Nolan didn't have anyone like him at DC when he made his first two Batman movies. Again, it is Johnson who comes across as the most passionate and honest individual here.
Under the title The Comic Book, we find three more features - The Men Without Fear, Shadow World Tour and Modelling Sheets. The first, The Men Without Fear (59.15) is one of Marvel's typical explorations of the character and the people that drew and coloured him and wrote his stories. All the usual artists and writers are rounded-up and, all things considered, this is one of the best exposés that the studio has delivered to disc so far. The interviewees are delightfully honest and highly opinionated about the character and the time they spent with him and steering his adventures. Stan Lee is incredibly down to earth and does a fair bit of Marvel myth-busting, and Frank Miller is characteristically, well, frank about Daredevil's life and loves.
By contrast, Shadow World Tour (6.17) takes a look at DD's heightened senses and how they made the leap from comic-book art to movie visualisation. But Modelling Sheets drops the ball a little bit by just being little more than a Top Trumps style stats card for several of the main characters.
Daredevil: HBO First Look, hosted by Jennifer Garner, is naturally a piece of EPK fluff. My advice is to skip it and stick with the big meaty making of.
The special features then indulge in Multi-angle dailies for Daredevil, a cluster of trailers, three music videos, though sadly not one for Evanescence's My Immortal and five Stills galleries.
You have to hand it to Marvel for putting out such a well-stocked disc as this. Some may complain about the lack of the theatrical cut but, to be honest, that version has had its day and is not a patch on this fuller, richer take. There is certainly some padding-out taking place here, but the comprehensive making of, the commentary and the hour-long retro look at the comics from the people that produced and wrote them are thoroughly entertaining, fascinating and informative. Taking the guff away from the good stuff leaves Daredevil with a strong 8 out of 10 for extras.
Ben Affleck's finest hour before the cameras, Daredevil is tremendous fun. The character is treated with a great deal of respect, despite the goof-ball elements that are thrown in by Favreau. Part Greek Tragedy, part tortured Catholicism, part familial redemption - Daredevil can be many things. Mark Steven Johnson was the right fan for the job, but I can't help feeling that with a few more projects under his belt and a few more years under the bridge he would have been the right man to have brought home the power and majesty of the saga as well. As it stands, he defeats criticism with his main man's bonafide integrity within the part, a level of brutality that is still refreshingly unique in the genre and, in this director's cut, much more story to bite on.
Fox's disc carries terrific sound and an image that may have some slight niggles but is still far better than the SD version. The raft of extras is unsurprisingly padded out with some superfluous gubbins, but there is definite quality here too. The commentary and the vast-ranging making of are both excellent and the Marvel tribute to the character and those who helped him evolve over the years is worth its weight in gold. Even if you haven't seen the film before - in either version - this is definitely worth a blind buy. Oops, sorry ... couldn't resist that.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79
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