Dark Angel (US - BD RA)
Gabe dies after his Blu-ray player fires this disc through his jugular vein...
Detective Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) thought he’d dealt with every kind of crime on earth. But now, someone is using human bodies to manufacture narcotics. Someone – or something – not of this world. To the alien that has arrived on earth, humans represent ideal drug factories, because of our endorphins. To detective Caine, the alien represents mankind’s worst threat. If the alien’s mission succeeds, our planet will be destroyed. Together with his straight-arrow FBI partner (Brian Benben) and his girlfriend, the city coroner (Betsy Brantley), Caine is going to send this alien home in pieces! (From Shout Factory’s official synopsis)
In the late summer of 1990 I was about ten years old. As I’ve said before (recently, even), I was not permitted to watch R-rated films (or even PG-13 ones), which naturally meant I was fascinated by them. This was a time when B-quality action, horror, and sci-fi still got nationwide theatrical releases and television time for their ad campaigns, so I distinctly remembered the TV spots for various movies I was told I was not allowed to see. Oddly, it was not the A-product Robocop or The Fly ads that stuck with me the most, despite those films growing into personal favourites – it was the ads for the low-rent flicks that I remember to this day. Movies like Tony Maylam and Ian Sharp’s Split Second, Duncan Gibbins’ Eve of Destruction, the American Ninja sequels, and, above all others, I Come in Peace. I was utterly fascinated by I Come in Peace. It had seemingly everything – Dolph Lundgren as a grizzled cop and a giant albino that looked a little bit like Vigo the Carpathian that shot little razor discs from his totally rad-looking Predator arm tool. I didn’t actually see the movie until I was an adult, but that didn’t stop me and my friends from playing I Come in Peace, based on our limited, trailer-informed knowledge.
I Come in Peace, originally and (apparently) preferably titled Dark Angel, had more to live up to than any movie could ever deliver on – a 10-year-old’s vivid imagination. From this standpoint, I suppose it’s a disappointment, but, unlike the vast majority of childhood favourites, I didn’t actually get to see this one until I was an adult. So, with grown-up expectations firmly in place, I find that Dark Angel is a fun, amusing little movie. In the simplest terms, it’s basically a low-rent version of Predator (which itself was a high-rent version of Greydon Clark’s Without Warning) and was even released a couple of months before the very similarly staged Predator 2. It also borrows a bit thematically from The Terminator and visually from Robocop. Director Craig R. Baxley began his Hollywood career as a TV stunt performer before graduating to stunt coordinator and second unit director on high profile movies, like The Warriors, The Long Riders, and Predator. This eventually led him to a long career in B-movies, made-for-TV horror, and STV action, starting with Carl Weathers vehicle titled Action Jackson in 1988 and leading all the way up to a Casper Van Dien/Bruce Boxleitner vehicle titled Aces ‘N’ Eights in 2008. Baxley fills the role of a more than capable, medium-budget action director. He cuts deftly between overlapping events, his car chases are typical ‘80s action fare (perhaps with a few more explosions than average), and his alien razor-disc sequences are borderline brilliant bursts of Evil Dead/ Phantasm levels of energy. However, between Sam Raimi-ish action bursts and clever transitional edits, Baxley proves he’s less adept at maintaining tension and pace during the less exciting sequences. The straight-faced drama simply doesn’t work for any reason other than inadvertent comedy, which, I suppose, will be enough for many viewers.
The screenplay is credited to Jonathan Tydor and David Koepp (only three years from Jurassic Park), under the pseudonym Leonard Maas Jr. The script embraces almost every post- Dirty Harry cop movie cliché in the book – Jack doesn’t ‘play by the rules,’ he loses his black partner at the beginning of the movie, the case is ‘personal,’ he’s partnered with a nebbish rule follower, he’s trying to rekindle his relationship with his girlfriend, et cetera, et cetera. Characters speak almost exclusively in quotable one-liners and exposition, but it ends up working, because the tropes are being interspliced with the ridiculous sci-fi premise that aliens come to earth to harvest human endorphins. It’s difficult to distinguish Dolph Lundgren’s single best film performance, because his performance type is usually so singularly ‘Dolphy.’ He almost always works better in a supporting capacity, but, if we’re going to talk about Lundgren’s best lead roles, it’s hard to argue with Dark Angel’s nomination (though there’s something to be said for his version of The Punisher). Clearly, he’s miscast in the role of a Houston-based everyman cop, but his wrongful casting is so complete that it’s almost brilliant. Baxley even gives him a couple chances to whip out his real-life martial arts skills. The always undervalued Brian Benben, on the other hand, is perfectly cast as Lundgren’s equal/opposite FBI partner, Larry. Baxley takes every opportunity to visually exploit their awesome height difference. Betsy Brantley brings a sort of Bonnie Bedelia-like dignity to her role as the mature girlfriend, but the best, or at least most memorable, performance is Mark Lowenthal as Jack’s over-caffeinated, mad scientist friend.
Dark Angel never got a proper US DVD release. MGM released various anamorphic versions throughout Europe and in Japan, then did one of those Manufactured On-Demand, single-layered, burned disc things in the US. The results were better than a bootleg, but not what I’d call impressive, even for standard definition. Shout Factory’s 1080p, MPEG-4, 1.78:1 Blu-ray is, obviously, a sizable upgrade. Detail levels are generally limited, which should be expected, though they are still sharper and more complex than the single-layer release. Here, the edges and textures are a bit soft, but clean and not blocky (the footage in the special features is more in line with the jaggy SD versions). The image is a bit dark without obscuring important details or overstating the mood. Blacks are deep with only minor edge enhancement along the harshest high-contrast edges. Shout Factory (or whoever supplied them with this transfer) hasn’t taken any major effort to scrub the natural grain using DNR, leading to plenty of film texture. Baxley and cinematographer Mark Irwin don’t do anything particularly fancy with the colour palette. There are some Cameron and McTiernan-inspired blue gels, though I suppose the overall look is most comparable to Robocop and Verhoven’s neon/grey landscape. The red and pink highlights are particularly vibrant without blooming, but the warmer hues tend to have some low level noise during daylight scenes. The cooler hues are natural with only a bit of cross-colouration.
Dark Angel was originally mixed for the bygone Ultra Stereo process. This makes for a nice, effective Dolby surround soundtrack, as featured on every DVD release. Scream Factory, however, has gone the extra mile and included a 5.1 remix, which is available alongside the original 2.0 track, both in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I can barely tell the difference between the two tracks. The 5.1 track doesn’t even fully separate the dialogue into the center channel (though it does make a better effort than the 2.0 track) and features very few discrete directional effects in the surround speakers. The track’s problems revolve around volume consistency, specifically in the dialogue, which fiddles all over the place. It seems that the original tracks weren’t in the best shape, because the exact same artefacts can be heard on the 2.0 and 5.1 versions. Generally speaking the sound design is pretty thin and does not feature a whole lot in the way of aural layering. However, like many budget-constrained action flicks, Dark Angel attempts to make up for its lack of cash with some very big and loud explosions and these are plenty punchy, with decent LFE and stereo presence. The coolest sound effects relate to the alien weapons, especially the directionally enhanced, screaming, flying CD weapons. Jan Hammer’s synthesizer score is definitely ‘of the period,’ right down to the wailing electric guitar embellishments.
The brief extras begin with A Look Back at Dark Angel, an interview/featurette with director Craig R. Baxley, and cast members Lundgren and Brian Benben (24:20, HD). The discussion mostly surrounds the film’s script, limited budget, casting, and stunts, which were made simple thanks to Lundgren and Baxley’s previous experience and Matthias Hues physical prowess. The disc also features the original trailer (2:40, HD) and a poster/still gallery (4:10, HD).
I Come in Peace, or Dark Angel, whatever you want to call it, is a perfectly entertaining B-action/sci-fi hybrid that doesn’t quite transcend its modest roots, but is still more enduring than most of its contemporaries. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray release is a welcome upgrade for fans still stuck with single layered, manufactured on-demand DVDs, though, of course, a bit limited by the source material. The DTS-HD MA soundtrack sounds good in both 5.1 and the original 2.0 and the brief extras include a fun retrospective interview piece.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 27th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English
Extras: A Look Back at Dark Angel, Trailer, Still Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Craig R. Baxley
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Film-Noir and Sci-Fi
Length: 91 minutes
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