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Daredevil By Brian Jacks
Kevin Smith perhaps said it best when he remarked that Daredevil has always been the “Grateful Dead” of comics. Sure, it’s never been the most popular or mainstream of four-color books, but it’s consistently been one of the best and most cherished by fans.
Therefore it was hard to decide whether or not it was surprising when Fox announced it was adapting the comic series to the silver screen. The film that resulted starred Ben Affleck as the superhero namesake, Jennifer Garner as heroine (and love interest) Elektra, and Michael Clark Duncan as the villainous crime lord Kingpin. The Daredevil motion picture didn’t achieve the blockbuster success of X-Men or Spider-Man, but it was an entertaining action package, and now Fox is releasing it on DVD in a terrific two-disc special edition.
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For the uninitiated, Daredevil follows the exploits of Matt Murdock, whose tragic encounter with a vat of radioactive goo left him blind, but exorbitantly heightened his other remaining senses. While unable to see in the traditional sense, audio vibrations give him a radar-like ability, enabling him to navigate terrain and battle the criminal element. A lawyer by day and vigilante crime-fighter by night, in the film Murdock is confronted by The Kingpin, who has hired Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to take out Elektra and her family.
Daredevil is many things: a karate-filled action film with semi-traditional superhero characters intertwined with a romantic love interest and a hint at further sequels. Director Mark Steven Johnson treats Murdock with the respect of a true comic fan, allowing for a beautifully recreated origin story as well as giving each character room to breath. While that process does slow down the overall pacing of the movie, if there are future films in this franchise they will be unburdened with having to recreate what is so delicately told in the first. There’s talk of spinning of Garner’s Elektra character into her own film, which is probably one of the easiest translations to make, and possibly one of the more successful. While Affleck plays his part well, it’s Garner who excels and takes true form as an ass-kicking, kung-fo chopping superwoman. Here’s hoping Elektra gets her due.
In the end, while not as exciting as X2 or as hyped as The Hulk, Daredevil provides more than enough tone and appeal to make it stand proudly in the pantheon of worthwhile comic book translations. Here’s hoping we see the Man Without Fear on the big screen again in the future.
Daredevil is presented on DVD in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the results are quite striking. A distinctly dark picture, the transfer plunges audiences into a comic book world of pumped up contrast and fast paced action. Colors, intentionally dark, are presented in a uniquely comicbook light that flows skillfully and contributes to the overall tone of the film. My only complaint is that the climactic fight scenes towards the end are a bit too smothered in black, but even then that too adds to the onscreen mood. The film’s CGI is generally well done, although a few scenes are less impressive than others, as the director readily admits in the commentary track. Because of the amount of data contained on the movie disc, some compression artifacts occur, but not to the point of distraction. With no edge enhancement noticed, this is a near-immaculate print transfer.
Video quality aside, we can now delve into one of the best parts of the DVD: the sound. Daredevil features an absolutely incredible audio transfer that gives it prominent position as one of the best sounding discs ever released. Both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included, and, like in most cases, it’s DTS that shines brightest with deeper bass and an overall more defined soundstage. Audio separation reaches its most brilliant peak here, with each channel precisely utilized for everything from raindrops to car crashes to no holds barred knuckle fights. Daredevil’s sonic radar is spectacularly recreated audiowise, with various marks hitting different channels at the perfect moment. A true 360 degree arena is created, and this film has now taken center stage in our collection as a definitive reference piece.
Presented as a two-disc special edition, Daredevil shines in yet another area, packing on a ton of excellent supplements. Headlining the first disc is a feature-length commentary with director/writer Mark Steven Johnson and producer Gary Foster. Fairly screen specific, the two do provide an extensive array of behind-the-scenes antidotes as well as being truthful about some of the film’s flaws (such as a few CGI sequences). Additionally, they also mention difficulties in keeping a PG-13 rating and their commitment to keeping it faithful to the comic series. All in all, a pretty interesting commentary track.
Also included is a text commentary track, a subtitled affair. Similar to VH1’s “Pop Up Video,” it throws up factoids about the production process and various trivia. It also points out when certain scenes are directly referencing the comic, such as the fight between Electra and Bullseye. Fairly basic in nature, it’s not really worth watching the film just to see it, but if you’re already listening to the director’s commentary, this would make a good companion to run simultaneously.
The disc also contains an Enhanced Viewing mode, wherein certain scenes within the film will pop up a graphic, which when clicked upon will transport viewers to a scene-specific vignette. Narrated by visual effects producer John Kilkenny, the segments are primarily focused on action sequences and feature on various visual effects. Each last one to three minutes in length.
And this is where most releases would stop, but Daredevil gives us another disc chock full of extras, pushing the DVD from the “recommended” category to “you gotta own this” column.
The special features disc is split into two distinct sections: “The Film” and “The Comic.” Heading up the former is the immensely thorough “Beyond Hell’s Kitchen: Making Daredevil,” a one-hour in-depth look at the production of the film. Featuring interviews with the entire primary crew, both production and cast, it’s essentially a step-by-step examination at the road to making the film. Topics covered range from obtaining the rights to the Daredevil property, to the decision behind hiring Mark Steven Johnson as director, from the visual effects to set locations. Quite a bit is also spent on the surprisingly intricate process behind choosing the superhero’s costume. The film’s costume designer discusses some of the issues revolved around what shade red it should be, to whether it should have horns, and what type of material it should be made out of (spandex, leather, netting, etc.).
Johnson also discusses how he dealt with the significant, and sometimes difficult, level of studio involvement, and the strict production schedule he faced. On the subject of filming the movie, the crew discusses using models for location shoots and how they turned downtown Los Angeles into Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. We also hear from both Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner on working with Hong Kong action choreographer Master Cheung-Yan Yuen. Quite a bit more is discussed, easily making this one of the more memorable and comprehensive featurettes in recent memory.
Moving on to the next segment, we find the 25-minute “Daredevil: HBO First Look Special.” Hosted by Jennifer Garner, this is a much more flashy, MTV-style affair than the previous and more complete “Behind Hell’s Kitchen.” Essentially a hype vehicle, it features interviews with Garner, Affleck, Johnson, Joey Pantoliano, and Michael Clark Duncan, most of whom basically summarize their characters and introduce the story to the HBO audience.
“Jennfers Garner’s Screentest” is a 2:30 minute collection of two of the actresses screentests. Those who are interested in the acting process or just share a significant level of obsession with Garner will find this the most interesting. We also have the two-minute “Featured Villain: Kingpin,” a short discussion with Duncan about his character.
Next up we have the “Multi-Angle Dailies,” a compilation of footage from two of the film’s biggest fight scenes: the Daredevil vs. Kingpin segment and the battle between Elektra and Bullseye. Each allow you to run the raw footage from four different angles by simply hitting a button on the remote control.
“Moving Through Space: A Day With Tom Sullivan,” is perhaps one of the more innovative featurettes created. It features a day in the life with Sullivan, a blind man who served as a consultant to the film. Showing him involved in such daily activities as golfing, playing piano, going to the gym, and skiing, it’s a short but limitedly powerful look at an incredible individual. Some may remember the movie based on Sullivan’s life, 1982’s If You Could See What I Hear.
Closing out the film portion of the supplements are the theatrical trailers, an extensive still gallery, and three music videos, including Evanescence’s hit, “Bring Me Back To Life.”
With “The Film” extras now behind us, we turn to “The Comics,” an hour-long collection of segments concentrated on, what else, Marvel’s Daredevil comic book series. The headlining event here is the downright awesome, “Men Without Fear: Creating Daredevil,” a collection of interviews with some of the biggest names behind the character. Included among this esteemed grouping are Stan Lee, John Romita, John Romita, Jr., Gene Colan, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, David Mack, Brian Michael Bendis, and Kevin Smith. For a comic fan, this is nothing short of gold. Not only do we hear first-hand from such comic legends as Lee, Romita, and Colan, but we also hear from the normally reclusive Frank Miller, who gives us his take on redefining the character into a much darker version of itself, something he would later repeat with another superhero icon in DC’s Batman: The Dark Night Returns. Along with each interview, art from the respective comic run is shown, and in Colan’s case they show him working on a brand new Daredevil sketch that’s nothing short of spectacular. Slush recently had the opportunity to publish one of the most extensive interviews with Colan ever conducted, and he proves yet again in this documentary why he is as great as he is.
Topics discussed throughout include the overall philosophies of the character, his origin, and how he morphed into a darker type of character throughout the decades (beginning primarily in the Miller stage and later again during the Marvel Knights era). This is a fascinating compilation of some of the greatest minds in the comic industry, and definitely worth a viewing by anyone with even a sliver of interest in Daredevil or comics.
Next we have the “Shadow World Tour” featurette, a six-minute comicpage-to-film comparison that focuses on Matt Murdock’s heightened senses. In this unique segment, over narration, panels from the comic are depicted onscreen, which are then followed by the translated scenes from the film. Fun to watch, it also goes to prove how faithful Mark Steven Johnson kept the movie to the comics.
Lastly, we have “Modeling Sheets,” featuring one-page apiece biographies on five of the film’s characters, including Daredevil, Elektra, Kingpin, Bullseye, and sidekick Foggy Nelson (played in the film by Jon Favreau).
The Movie: B. An entertaining adaptation of a comic book icon with some downright awesome fight scenes.
The Look: A. A pristine print transfer makes this beautiful to behold.
The Sound: A. Nothing short of spectacular. It’s the new demo for showing off our home theater.
The Extras: A. An incredible array of remarkable supplements make this a standard to shoot for.
Overall: A. The Daredevil DVD is a fantastic release at the very top of our “Must Own” list. We don’t say this often, but buy this today.