Army of Darkness (UK - BD RB)
Marcus Doidge says 'Hello Mr Fancy Pants' to Army of Darkness on Blu-ray
At the end of Evil Dead II, we’d left Ash stranded in the middle ages after being sucked into a time vortex. Army of Darkness picks up right where we left off.
After a brief recount from Ash (Bruce Campbell) about what had happened before he wound up in shackles, we find Ash has been captured by the group of knights who greeted him upon his arrival in the past. After reaching the knights’ castle, Ash finds himself lumped in with Duke Henry's men (the opposing side to the knights who have captured him). Ash is thrown into ‘the pit’ and soon faces off with a ‘Deadite’ or two, before revealing himself as someone the primitives don’t want to mess with, especially once he gets his ‘boomstick’ and chainsaw to hammer the message home.
With the primitives believing Ash must be the much prophesized ‘one who shall deliver mankind from the terror of the Deadites’ he soon takes advantage of his situation and works out a deal. If Ash recovers the Necronomicon (Book of the dead) for the local priest, which we are told can stop the Deadites, he’ll send Ash back to his own time. So Ash set’s off, gets the book and goofily brings about the rising dead from their graves and enables the Deadites to form the Army of Darkness, which is led by Ash’s rotting doppelganger, Evil Ash.
If you’ve read my recent review for Evil Dead II, you may recall that I’d said that I hadn’t seen any of the Evil Dead movies in a long time. When I re-watched Evil Dead II, I couldn’t quite work out why it had been so long. Watching Army of Darkness again reminded me why I hadn’t been inclined to revisit Ash for so long.
Now before I go any further, I just want to make it clear that I don’t dislike Army of Darkness, but at the same time, there’s nothing about it that I can say I have any affection for, outside of the fact it has Bruce Campbell as Ash in it. I was excited as anyone at the end of Evil Dead II when Ash got vortexed back in time. The setting, the hints at him being a chosen one, the possibilities were endless. Will Ash get to face off with the nasties on their own turf? Is this going to come down to Ash versus the ultimate evil dead offerings? How much bigger could this get? Well, when I first saw Army of Darkness and re-watching it again on Blu-ray I just came away disappointed and underwhelmed (very much like my feelings for the third instalment of another Raimi trilogy).
For me, it just doesn’t have the magic of Evil Dead II. It has a solid opening twenty minutes where we’re thrown in at the deep end, finding out what’s going on with these knights and their pit. There’s an okay fight with Ash and some Deadites and the moment when Ash takes control of the whole situation is one of his character's finest moments and pretty much secures his place in movie history but then it just becomes a series of events that just don’t quite deliver.
This really becomes apparent in the windmill scene, or the mini Evil Dead movie that Raimi obviously threw in to add some connection to the previous instalments. We have Ash, locked in a room with the evil and as expected the hi-jinks begin to occur on what at first seems to be Evil Dead II insanity levels. It’s still Raimi’s fast edits and quick firing events but there’s something about it that just feels a little sluggish or forced and it feels as if they are struggling to once again capture lightning in a bottle. They're trying too much to entertain in the same way the previous movie and in doing so, this instalment loses its charm. This leads on to the introduction of Evil Ash, which is a nice touch and the moments with the three Necronomicon books are a lot of fun, but it’s at about this point where Army of Darkness loses me.
The whole Army of the Dead thing, led by Evil Ash, and the whole storming of the castle feels like a missed opportunity. It’s so conventional and straight forward and despite the fact one side of this battle is made up of skeletons it just doesn’t feel exciting enough. In fact, it feels flat and limited. We’ve seen a full on evil attack in Evil Dead II, and that was against one guy in a cabin and was kinetic, crazy, demonic and exciting, which is the polar opposite of the Army of Darkness events. The bad guys here are fun but only a little. The skeletons have some personality, but it’s not like they’re memorable and Evil Ash is so unexplored and forgettable.
As for good Ash, however cool Bruce Campbell is and however great a character he makes Ash, I have to say in these closing scenes he’s not what he was. I really don’t like the confidence and the back flipping and the overly cool ‘hero’ moments he has. I liked Evil Dead Ash. The totally out of his depth Ash, the fighting to survive and getting his ass handed to him Ash. The madcap, going insane Ash. Unfortunately, for me, this take on Ash just seems far too knowing of what the audience might want from him, rather than just letting Ash be Ash.
Thankfully, it just about goes out on a high. When we finally come back to Ash’s time to wrap things up. This I like. Ash in a supermarket, being attacked by a Deadite. Now this is the Ash I’d have liked to see more of. It’s a nice little mini movie, that really screams for more crazy but was still a nice way to leave the could-have-been-King and is obviously a fond romanticized goodbye to the franchise (for now).
I can’t express exactly how shockingly impressive the opening twenty minutes of this Blu-ray release were. I came out of Evil Dead II pleasantly surprised and even impressed by the changes an HD transfer can make, but here it was in a whole other league.
The opening scenes at the castle are almost impossibly good. The sunlight makes everything look so clean. The image is incredibly sharp, with a high amount of detail for everything on screen. The gravel and dirt at the characters' feet instantly draws attention to itself but then you notice the textures of the clothes or the knights' armour and the skin tones lit by that sunlight... I was mesmerized by how impressive this image actually was, especially compared to my memory of the movie from the video days.
One thing that really did blow me away was the dirt on the camera lens, you notice it immediately and weirdly because of it, you realise just how good this picture is. You have a real sense that there is a sheet of glass between you and what’s being filmed. You can almost feel the distance between the lens and what it’s filming and how realistic it all is. This really highlights the glory of HD. All this excitement over a little movie goof. Who knew a mistake could show off a transfer so well?
Then, just as you are comfortable with how striking this clean up is, we cut to an interior shot and it all goes to hell. The image is fuzzy, grainy and a frankly a mess. My wife actually commented that it feels like they are about to pull back a sheet of gauze between us and Ash to reveal the superior image from before but sadly that rescue never comes.
From here on in, the video just remain erratic. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it really isn’t. Sometimes it’s even both. The shots where Ash is talking to Evil Ash are a prime example because one Ash is glowing in HD and the other is in almost SD because of the special effect technique. It was actually quite entertaining in a distracting sort of a way.
Pretty non eventful really. The DTS-HD Master Audio is clear and strong but never does anything to impress. It struck me as quite a balanced mix with no overpowering bass or any particular area that stuck out in either the front or rear speakers. It just does what it does and really is a standard surround mix on all fronts.
The extras here are about as shambolic as they come. Outside of the trailer (01.57) and the four deleted scenes (13:00), which are in fairly acceptable condition considering what they are, you get the ‘Directors Cut’ (01:35:00). It’s not how you’d expect it on a Blu-ray release through. It’s listed as standard definition, but in actual fact it looks like a copy someone unearthed from a video that they found whilst digging in the garden. There’s nothing ‘standard’ about the definition here and outside of having it to compare to HD and to actually have the director’s cut to spot the differences, it just seems a weird inclusion (even more so when they’ll more than likely squeeze out a standalone directors cut Blu-ray at some stage).
What’s even weirder is the fact that the commentary from Sam and Bruce doesn’t come with the edition that’s presented in HD, it’s for the ‘Standard Definition Directors Cut’, so if you wanted to listen to this fun, enjoyable commentary on your super spangled, next generation Blu-ray player you'll have to do it in the worst possible way, which is just going to put a lot of folks off.
I want to re-emphasize at this point, that I don’t dislike Army of Darkness, despite a lot of my negative criticisms in my review. After a long time of not re-visiting Ash in his medieval adventure I’m almost sad to say my indifference to this third chapter hasn’t changed at all.
The Blu-ray itself is a mixed bag that goes from being insanely impressive to just doing its job and a bizarre illusion of extras. Fans might want to snap this one up but as I said in my Evil Dead II review, you may want to hold off for the next attempt in the long line of re-releases that Army of Darkness has a history of, to see if they can do any better next time.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 22nd September 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Standard Definition Director's Cut, Trailer, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz Bridget Fonda
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 80 minutes
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