Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.
I can’t think of a more diplomatic way of saying this: Army Of Darkness is a geek movie. It was made by geeks for like-minded geeks. It is embraced by the entirety of geekdom. It is quoted religiously by the same guys who revere Monty Python And The Holy Grail and think Cabin Boy is the ultimate test of a relationship.
This isn’t the first time Army Of Darkness has been released on DVD. There’s a featureless edition available from Universal. Anchor Bay released a two-disc limited edition last year that is no longer in print. That edition contained two versions of the movie: the U.S. theatrical cut and a director’s cut. It is the director’s cut from that two-disc set that is contained on this DVD. Anchor Bay also has a DVD containing the theatrical cut, a remastered soundtrack, and other extras.
Yo, she-bitch, let’s go!
For those unfamiliar with Army Of Darkness, here’s a little background. By all rights, its title should be “Evil Dead 3.” It is the third part in a series started by 1982’s The Evil Dead and continued in 1987’s Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn. The series launched the career of director Sam Raimi, who had gone on to direct The Quick And The Dead, A Simple Plan, and For The Love Of The Game. The Evil Dead series focuses on the misadventures of Ash, played by cheesemeister Bruce Campbell. In the first two installments, Ash and a group of friends spend a long weekend at a deserted cabin in the middle of nowhere. Unbeknownst to the college kids, a professor had used the cabin to research the Necronomicon, or the Book Of The Dead. The group finds the tome, reads from it, and awakens an evil presence in the woods. Each time, Ash is the sole survivor. The moral of the stories? Don’t go to deserted cabins in the middle of nowhere, and don’t read anything from books bound in human flesh. At the end of Evil Dead 2, Ash is transported through a portal to the year 1300. That’s where we meet him at the beginning of Army Of Darkness.
My name is Ash, and I am a slave.
Army Of Darkness is not the sort of movie you watch for its tightly wound plot, so I’ll give you the brushstroke synopsis. Ash is captured by a group of knights. Their land is under the influence of the Deadites, the same demons who caused all the mayhem at those abandoned cabins. The only way Ash can be sent back to his own time, and for the medieval folk to rout the Deadites, is for Ash to retrieve the Necronomicon. He bungles the job, and an army of the resurrected dead, led by Ash’s evil clone (don’t ask), is unleashed.
Buckle up Bonehead. ‘Cause you’re goin’ for a ride!
Ash is an antihero. Usually that term is reserved for hard-hitting characters played by Clint Eastwood or someone of that ilk. In this case, I don’t mean that Ash is a heroic figure who accomplishes his goals in unheroic ways. He’s not heroic at all. He’s a cocky, loudmouthed, bragging coward who screws up more than he fixes. His cool traits more than make up for his faults. He’s tenacious, fires off glib one-liners, and wears a chainsaw in the place of his right hand. If experience has taught me anything, you never argue with a guy wielding a chainsaw. Oh, and he keeps books like “Chemistry 101” and copies of Fangoria in his trunk. In a movie made for geeks, he is a Geek Hero.
Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the gun.
The director’s cut of the film adds fifteen minutes of footage that had been excised from the U.S. theatrical cut. There’s a love scene, because every geek wants to see the hero Get Some. The windmill sequence, where Ash battles several Mini-Ashes, is extended, as is the exchange between Good Ash and Evil Ash. The climatic battle with the army of the dead is extended in places. The grooviest addition is the original ending of the film — the one seen in Europe but deemed too much of a “downer” for American audiences. It is a very fitting end to the film (Ash does something stupid, and suffers for it), and leaves room open for an Evil Dead 4. (Not that I want to get your hopes up; Bruce Campbell has all but said there will be no Evil Dead 4.) The bad part of the director’s cut? For some inexplicable reason, the best line from the film — the one I quoted preceding this paragraph — has been changed to the lame “I’m not all that good.” Argh!
Maybe, just maybe my boys could stop ’em from getting the book. Yeah, and maybe I’m a Chinese jet pilot.
It is something of a mixed blessing that Sam Raimi has turned away from his roots in cheeseball horror and gone “respectable.” He has made several very good films, such as the western The Quick And The Dead and the amoral crime drama A Simple Plan. He accomplished many things with The Quick And The Dead: he took the Western genre and turned it on its ear, he proved he could make a serious movie, he showed us the acting potential of Russell Crowe five years before his breakout success in Gladiator, and he made Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, and Leonardo DiCaprio watchable. It is such a shame that A Simple Plan, easily one of the best films of 1998, was shut out at the Academy Awards. It received two nominations: one for Billy Bob Thornton as Best Supporting Actor, which he lost to James Coburn for Affliction, and one for Best Adapted Screenplay, which lost to Gods And Monsters. His films still often carry his signature filmmaking trait: shots made from skewed angles or from unusual points of view. It’s those little touches of creativity that make his films stand out. I’m very interested in his upcoming projects. The Gift is being billed as a supernatural murder mystery, and stars Keanu Reeves, Cate Blanchett, Hilary Swank, Greg Kinnear, and Katie Holmes. It is scheduled for release in December 2000. Raimi is also at the helm of the live-action Spiderman adaptation scheduled for November 2001. The only confirmed cast member is Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, but it’s been rumored that John Malkovich will play one of the villains.
Alright, you primitive screw-heads, listen up. See this? This…is my…BOOMSTICK!
Anchor Bay’s new director’s cut release of Army Of Darkness shares many of the problems levied against the two-disc set’s presentation of the director’s cut. Video quality leaves much to be desired. I don’t believe the fault is with Anchor Bay’s transfer, but with the quality of the source material. The film is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. (If you’re wondering how that works, the image is presented letterboxed, with small black bars on all four sides.) For the most part, the image is sharp and free from defects. However, some of the scenes reinserted into the film are blurry. In fact, nearly the entire battle scene between Ash’s followers and the army of the dead is fuzzy and dim to the point of indistinctness. It is so bad that the participants of the commentary track mention the phenomenon several times. The box states that audio is Dolby 2.0 Surround, but my receiver decoded it as standard stereo. It was presented theatrically in stereo, so that’s not surprising; however, the theatrical version available from Anchor Bay has a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Honey, you got REAL ugly.
Extras consist of production artwork, four deleted scenes (above what is included in the director’s cut), a commentary track, and storyboards. The commentary track is the disc’s most enticing special feature. It was recorded by Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Ivan Raimi (Sam’s brother, who co-wrote the screenplay). Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have a natural rapport, for they have been friends since their high school days. They joke back and forth constantly, and have many interesting comments to make about the production. The storyboards make use of the subtitle feature, so you can see the corresponding storyboard for the onscreen action. A minor annoyance is that when a storyboard was not available, it displays “No storyboard available for this scene.”
I am rather disappointed with Anchor Bay’s treatment of this disc package. It smacks of a way to cash in on all the poor souls who didn’t pick up the two-disc set. It has fewer features that the release of the theatrical cut, meaning that you’d have to buy both discs to have all the material available. I can’t blame them for wanting to make a buck off a lucrative movie, but geez, I picked up this disc hoping I would have its definitive presentation (or at least the most definitive next to the two-disc set).
Well, hello Mr. Fancypants!
Unlike other Director’s Cuts, such as Blade Runner, The Abyss, or Terminator 2, I would hardly consider this version of Army Of Darkness to be a replacement for the theatrical cut. The added scenes are cool, but they add little to the story or to the characterizations. The original ending does seem “appropriate” (as Bruce Campbell calls it), but it isn’t as fulfilling as seeing Ash back at his job at the S-Mart.
If you don’t have the two-disc set, and don’t want to pay eBay prices for it, get yourself a copy of this Director’s Cut version. Don’t unload your theatrical version though, because this disc is hardly a replacement.
I would encourage you to follow the link at right to Bruce Campbell’s website. As fans would expect, it is filled with his sharp sense of humor. Take a look through the Babblings section, particularly the one entitled “Call Waiting.” As someone who works with that same company every day at work, I can sympathize.