Daredevil (2003)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Ben Affleck, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Garner, Michael Duncan Clarke
Extras: Commentary Track, Text Track, Extended Info Track, Featurettes, Trailers, Music Video, Comcic book Documentary, and much more

Superheroes are hot property these days. Never has the interest and demand in superhero movies been stronger than in recent years. Part of the explanation why, may be that with today’s technology it is actually possible to show these superhumans and their feats in a way that appears more organic than ever before. There’s no miniature photography involved, no stop-motion monsters and no paper-mache sets. Superhero movies have never looked better than today, so much is clear, but what about the contents of these films? Are they comic books come alive, or are they just cheap shots at the boxoffice by using special effects and cool trailers to draw adolescents into theaters? Certainly that question has to be answered on a case-by-case basis, and with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s upcoming release of Mark Steven Johnson’s version of "Daredevil" I decided to take a look at this one.

The movie first introduces us to the tragic backstory behind Daredevil. Matt Murdock loses his eyesight as a child through an accident with radioactive waste, and is later witness to his beloved father’s murder. Seeing that a good human being like his father is being killed by exploitative forces larger than him, Matt decides to become an avenger. Someone who stands up for the weak, the suppressed. His first step in doing so is becoming a lawyer who represents those who typically can’t afford representation in court. The second step is to take on a second identity as Daredevil. Since his accident, Matt had the ability to *see* through a special radar sense that creates an image in his brain, based on the sounds and noises that surround him. In a way it works like a supercharged echo-location system, the same way bats use it to locate their prey in the dark.
Every night Daredevil roams the streets high above, on the city rooftops and comes crashing down on the evildoers that suppress the weak.
Eventually, that draws the attention of Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) on him, who is the self-proclaimed ruler of the streets. Kingpin sends out his henchmen to find and destroy Daredevil, and especially one hired assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell) poses a truly formidable opponent to the blind avenger.

Daredevil is standard Marvel comic fare. The backstory, the backdrops, the superpowers, the antagonists and the plot is in many ways identical to countless other superheroes, and more than once you will find yourself reminded of scenes and strips you have seen in other films or comic books before.

However, I found the film never manages to create the sense of wonder that films like "Batman Returns," for example, conjured up. It always feels like a glossy Hollywood picture made for blockbuster results, rather than a *vision* that is translated to the screen. The film tries hard to be hip, which his evidenced by the music and more importantly by the superficial martial arts sequences that are littering the film. No matter who, everyone in this movie appears to have spent an apprenticeship at a Taoist temple, even the dumbest bully from an Irish pub. Sadly it is evident that the actors were in reality not very good at their martial arts and the effect is only created through rapid editing of tiny bits of movement. Any serious martial arts fan, or Hong Kong filmmaker, will simply laugh at the ridiculous attempt to create an illusion that just doesn’t work. Somehow the filmmakers seem to have forgotten that Marvel superheroes are a definitive American invention and not imports from Asia. The film is also overly dark while at the same time lacking some of the alluring visuals that some other superhero films have to offer.

Don’t get me wrong – "Daredevil" is not all bad. It is just not quite as good as it could have been. It lacks a certain vision and in a few scenes too many I am reminded of Sam Raimi’s recent "Spider-Man" in terms of staging the action, shooting it and the editing. The casting of the movie varies wildly, and though Electra, Kingpin, and of course Bullseye were great casting choices, I am afraid that Ben Affleck is just not the right man for the part of Daredevil in my book – as good as he is in some other parts he’s played.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is presenting the film in a gorgeous transfer on this DVD. The image is absolutely clean and shows an impressive level of detail. Given the dark cinematography of the movie it would have been easy prey to a transfer that blacks out every shadow detail, but in fact, Fox’s presentation of the film here manages to keep every bit of the production design fully intact. Shadows are black and solid when asked for, but also maintain a good level of detail when shadows are more ambient and require that extra hint of definition. Colors are faithfully reproduced also, creating some stark and vibrant contrasts throughout the film. There is a hint of edge-enhancement visible occasionally but it never gets in the way of the presentation and never becomes distracting. The compression has been handled very well and makes sure that every bit of detail is fully reproduced on your screen.

As you would expect, aurally, "Daredevil" is also rolling out the bombast on every possible occasion. Bombarding the viewer relentlessly from all directions, the movie makes very aggressive use of the split surrounds, especially, of course, in the action scenes. But there are also more subdued scenes in which the filmmakers have made superb use of the multi-channel presentation. Trying to give the audience the best possible impression of Daredevil’s unique sense of echolocation, the soundtrack uses these particular scenes to create an extremely immersive, ambient soundfield. Look out for the scene of Matt and Elektra in the rain, and you will truly hear the drops raining down on you from all possible directions.

The audio track has a very good frequency response with a strong bass extension that drives the explosive moments and the music home like there’s no tomorrow. At the same time, the track has clear high ends that are always free of distortion of sibilance. The dynamic range is equally impressive, making sure every moment of the movie has its proper acoustic representation, especially evident on the <$DTS,DTS> track of the disc.

A <$commentary,commentary track> featuring director/writer Mark Steven Johnson and producer Gary Foster can also be found on this release. It is a solid commentary but definitely lacks a certain distance from the movie in order to make it more than a direct production elaboration. Still, it is filled with exciting and valuable information throughout and makes for a great addition.

Also, the DVD contains an enhanced viewing mode in which Visual Effects Producer Jon Kilkenny will comment on selected scenes. Even better is the text commentary that is found on the release. It is filled to the brim with exciting info and background information about the characters, locations, story, and the film’s production. Every bit of detail imaginable is covered here and it is clear that this track has been very thoroughly researched.

The second disc of the release takes a two-pronged approach. One part of it is covering things related to the film, the other, those related to the original comic books. In the film-related section you will find things like "Making Of" featurettes, HBO "First Look" featurettes, trailers, music videos and all the other promotional fare. However, it also contains Jennifer Garner’s screen test, and a focus on Kingpin with a Michael Duncan Clarke interview.

It also contains a featurette on Tom Sullivan, who has been blind since birth, and acted as the blind consultant for the movie. It is great to see how he has overcome his impediment and shaped his life like everyone else, and how his active lifestyle has made many things possible for him.

In the Comic Book" section of the disc, we find a documentary that sheds some light on the genre of comic books in general, its characters, its plots, its backgrounds and origins, as well as its stars. Viewers get to meet many of the people who made the Daredevil comic books in this exciting look behind the scenes of an industry that is typically hidden from sight.

"Shadow World Tour" is a comparison of how the comic books presented Daredevil’s special sense of hearing, and how they were translated to the movie. A few bio sheets of the characters from the comic books are also included here.

"Daredevil" is a mixed bag as a movie. It certainly has its ups and is an entertaining movie to watch, but ultimately it falls short on some ends despite its good intentions. The DVD on the other hand leaves nothing to be desired. It is filled with cool extras that convey a lot of additional information about the movie, and the comic book series as well. The extras strike a good balance between promotional material and informational content, and the supplements are certainly designed to cater to the fans of the film and comic book alike.