Universal Home Video
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Ted Raimi
After seemingly millions of versions on DVD, Sam Raimi's "Army Of Darkness" is now also available in high definition on HD-DVD – for the first but most likely not the last time. It is very exciting to have this film on HD-DVD so early in the game, but the release is a mixed blessing. The good news is that it looks great. The bad news is that it is entirely devoid of any extras!
"Army Of Darkness" is the third part in the notorious "Evil Dead" series and after the events at the cabin in the woods, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is now transported back in time to the 13th century and teleported to England. Here he finds himself in the Dark Ages of England where rivaling lords battle for supremacy. Sadly, Ash and his '71 Oldsmobile get in the middle of things and ends up a prisoner. When he shows that he is capable of dealing with the Deadites – undead – that have been popping up all over the place, he is released and promises to help, but only if the local Wiseman would transport him back into the future. For that, however, he would need the Necronomicon – the book of the Dead – that started it all. Valiantly, Ash decides to ride and obtain the Necronomicon but if only he could recall the proper incantation he is supposed to recite while retrieving the book. And thus he unleashes the Army of Darkness, an army of undead soldiers, dead-set on destroying mankind.
"Army Of Darkness" is a classic, like the other "Evil Dead" films but it is clearly not as dark and horrifying as the other two films. This one has a much lighter note and comes across more as an adventure comedy with an army of skeletons in it. The film is good-humored and will bring a laugh on your face very frequently with its campy qualities and Ash's one-liners.
Universal Home Entertainment is presenting "Army Of Darkness" in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this release in the movie's original R-rated theatrical cut with a 81-minute running length. The transfer looks great and is absolutely clean and free of blemishes. No grain is evident either, but I noticed that the production's budget limitations are emphasized a little in this high definition version. The special effects and matting look pretty harsh like cut-outs at times, standing out noticeably more so than in previous versions, as does some slightly over-done make-up. It is a problem a number of films will have to deal with in the future, as high definition presentations simply do not disguise shortcomings the way standard definition video formats did.
But other than that, "Army Of Darkness" is a beauty to behold. Strong colors make it a wonderful experience, especially in the colorful night scenes where vivid oranges and blues bathe the screen. Skin tones are also faithfully reproduced and the level of detail brings out every pore and every dust particle on actors' faces. Overall I was very impressed with the level of detail and definition on display in the transfer and the film looks much better than I had expected. Black levels are also solid, giving the image good depth and rendering deep shadows, which help set the mood for this film.
A minimalist release in many ways, "Army Of Darkness" comes only with a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus track in English and a Spanish Dolby Stereo track. The track is good and without problems, and has a nice clarity to it. The film's wonderful score by Joseph Lo Duca and Danny Elfman is also coming across nicely wit ha wide sound stage and very wide frequency response.
No extras are included in this high definition version at all! It makes the main menu look remarkably meager with only three entries, and this may just be the very first HD-DVD title that is completely featureless. Considering how many supplemental materials Anchor Bay has been able to assemble over the years and release on DVD it is a shame that Universal Home Entertainment hasn't been doing more with this release.
Since this is a HD-DVD/DVD combo, you will find the film's DVD version on the flip side of the disc but it is equally Spartan, serving up only a trailer as a bonus.
"Army Of Darkness" is a cult classic and fans always flock to this film. As such it could have served perfectly to generate notoriety and interest in HD-DVD. Universal seriously dropped the ball here by missing the opportunity to release a high quality version of the film here. While the feature film itself is without flaws, the lack of any bonus materials and the concept of turning it into a HD-DVD/DVD combo for no reason other than being able to charge a premium, is truly a shame. After ten or more DVD incarnations of this film, I can't believe anyone at Universal truly supposes there is still an interested DVD owner out there who has not yet bought this film on DVD, and is willing to shell out a $10 premium for a DVD with no extras for that matter. Considering that Universal's own "Army Of Darkness" DVD is available at retail stores for under $10, there is just no logic to this decision at all and the studio would have been better advised to turn this into a solid HD-30 release and serve it up with a couple of cool extras for $29.98.
I am said to say that this HD-DVD while great-looking is mostly a missed opportunity, so save your money. This is not how you kickstart the high definition market.