By Hervé St-Louis
August 4, 2003 - 15:50
Elektra is very important when looking at this DVD's marketing campaign. The folks at 20th Century Fox would have probably given actress Jennifer Garner, who interprets Elektra top billing, if it the fact that this is a movie about Daredevil primarily did not block them, and that his name is one the box. Nevertheless, actor Ben Affleck, who plays Daredevil is almost an afterthought in the DVD.
Perhaps Ben Affleck's lacklustre support from fans and the marketing team behind the DVD release highlight that he really wasn't the best choice for the role. Unlike Batman, in the comic books, Daredevil has always been the prime attraction. Just like Spider-man, he has a strong support cast and major opponents, but the reader's interest is always directed at the central character.
Elektra is a strong character but she is not the only major figure in the Daredevil universe, though she remains one of the most important figures. This is especially true when one remembers that she was not the first femme fatale to cross Daredevil in the rooftops of New York City and in his bed. The difference with Elektra and the Black Widow, the first femme fatale to have dated Daredevil was the writer.
Elektra is associated with the seminal work on the character. Black Widow is not. Few can accurately name who was responsible for pairing Daredevil and the Black Widow. However, every Daredevil fan, and increasingly, his new non comic book fans know that a certain Frank Miller created Elektra in the what many consider the best stories about the Daredevil.
In comparison to Jennifer Garner, actors Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell, the actors who interpreted Daredevil's opponents, the Kingpin and Bullseye, received modest and appropriate billing on the DVD back cover art. It seems that 20th Century Fox will not make a cool butt-kicking babe movie with those two. They continuously hype garner's looks in various parts of the DVD. I think we get the point.
Beyond the cover of the DVD, one will find two discs full of extras and other goodies. Upon installing the first DVD disc in a computer drive, the DVD-rom features will start. It is an annoying feature. 90% of the people who play this movie for the first time will want to get directly to the movie track, as opposed to playing some games and viewing other features available for computer users.
The DVD-rom starts with a Flash introduction using comic book illustrations and pictures from the movie to fake an animated trailer. For an animatic, this type of thing works, but on a blockbuster's movie, it looks very cheesy. One thing studios should always remember is how the material they think in cool will look in six months. If they had, they would have scrapped the animatic-like Flash animation.
Designers probably created the DVD-rom's contents with Flash MX. However, they decided to block the zooming options, usually available with Flash MX-based presentations. This makes the readability of several sections, such as the first page of the Comic Book History feature difficult. The anti-aliasing added to the small texts increase the discomfort. The next pages are better. The navigational interface is clear.
The short historical recaps are great for new Daredevil fans. The recaps mention several Daredevil creators and a complete publishing history of the character is available. There's also an origin piece on Daredevil. The sections contain familiar images from the comic books. A greater variety of images would have been more pleasurable rather than the constant showcasing of recent artists.
The next section features short bios on the four major characters from the film with the first comic book appearance of the characters. Again, the text is very small and this time. The red backgrounds amplify the readability problems. The backgrounds are probably from current Daredevil artist Alex Maleev.
Marvel Comics, the publishers of Daredevil, which probably designed much of the contents on the DVD-rom really wants to promote their series to non comic book readers by displaying the realistic style of the artist. This is a good strategy. However, making the comic book "acceptable" and beautiful to non comic book readers, may ignore the campiness of the medium that attracts many of them.
The other DVD-rom sections include links to the official Web sites of the Daredevil movie, the X-Men Two movie and Marvel Comics. Another section features desktop images that can be saved on one's computer drive. In that section, users can link to one of ®Marvel's dot comics. Marvel Comics should have polished their dot comics before putting the link on the DVD.
The dot comic features a story where by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev where Kingpin's wife hides him away. The dot comic is a Macromedia Flash MX presentation. The dot comic is a Flash-based comic book where the visitor changes the pages by clicking on the page indicator or the panels. Each strip also zooms in, when pressed on. The dot comics' interface cuts the pages at the bottom.
There are no page indications on the dot comic. One never knows on which page one is. Also, the pages take a long time to load, and beyond the first introduction, no progress bar lets the user know how much more is left before we can switch the pages. It also seems like the pages in the back do not load on the user's computer, until he actively seeks them. This should not happen.
Fortunately, Marvel Comics' designers replaced the texts bubbles from the comic book with Flash-based ones. The compression artifacts that diminish the quality of the illustrations do not impede on the readability of the comic book. There is also an auto pop up feature letting users decide whether they want the panels to remain static until one clicks them or to make them zoom in on their own.
The final part of the DVD-rom, is a sensory game. Users go through a series of skill tests testing their memory, their sense of touch, sight and hearing. These games are very well designed although the interface is not optimal. They were available on the Daredevil movie Web site before 20th Century Fox released the film. Although, Flash-based games, they mimic the powers and limits of Daredevil very well.
The Movie Tracks
The opening of the movie feature the familiar Twentieth Century Fox logo morphing into an approximation of what is perceived by Daredevil's sonar. The menus on the first disc and the second, feature animated clips portraying a back alley, Daredevil's normal office. Unlike the opening 20th Century Fox animation, these are not as sharp and look too digital, probably because film grain was not added to the clips.
Nonetheless, they are enjoyable animation and as elaborate as other 20th Century Fox menu sequences. The studio is one of the few to devote so efforts on DVD menu animations. The theme of the menus' interface is braille writing. Various street sounds are added to capture the cacophony effect of Daredevil's sensitive senses.
When starting the film be wary of the volume. It often seems that the DVDs have lower sound levels than what is available on a television set because the level in a DVD disc is more accurate to the levels heard elsewhere. However, the level found in the opening 20th Century Fox animation can be deceiving. The normal volume for the rest of the DVD is much lower than the opening track. Don't lower the volume!
The movie track options are excellent. Perhaps this was to compensate for the lack of extra scenes rumoured to be included in the film. One of the major criticism of the film, was it short length. Jennifer Garner, whom the studios based their entire marketing on, has but one fight scene in the entire film, if you discount her beautiful sai session and her merry-go-round infatuation scene with Ben Affleck.
It seems that many scenes planned for the DVD were never filmed at all. Therefore, director Mark Steven Johnson included as much as he could in his film. Nonetheless, as can be guessed on the full length commentary, by Johnson and producer Gary Foster, this movie was a labour of love. No matter the faults many have found with the plot of the film, its director gave his best shot.
Much of the commentaries are lively, although a few seem to veer off topic. We also get a glimpse of the politics behind 20the Century Fox. Hardcore fans always appreciate these "lapses." Many of the best comments by Mark Steven Johnson are when he anticipates weaker areas of the film. He apologizes and worries so much, that one feels really bad for him. It humanizes the film very much.
There are several tracks available. There is an English DTS sound track, which is not very common in commercial movies. If you have the proper equipment, use this sound option. Of course there are Dolby versions in French and Spanish, for the North American version of the DVD. Finally, the coolest version is the visual impaired cut. This is very appropriate, considering Daredevil is a blind character.
There is a text commentary option, containing much background information on the characters and the movie. The other track option, the extended viewing option contains production notes and comments on the visual effects used in the film by John Kilkenny, the effects' producer. Whenever viewers click on one icons, featurettes containing much groovy information on the film appear.
This movie marks the second time Daredevil was adapted into a live action movie by a major studio. There exists a cult independent movie by a French director, but few have seen it. It also mysteriously disappeared from several Internet sources. The other adaptation of Daredevil into live action was in the Hulk TV movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, which starred the cast from the 1970s.
The Daredevil in the TV Hulk movie wore black spandex and the action scenes were good, for a 1989 audience. However, the movie has not aged well since. The folks at 20th Century Fox almost changed Daredevil's costume colour to black. They finally decided to leave the character red, although leather replaced his spandex. It works. The one major annoyance, though, is the bandana mask.
Daredevil is Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer, who fights villains in the court room during the day and at night as a vigilante. Originally, a poor's man Spider-man, Daredevil gained notoriety in the early 1980s, when writer-artist Frank Miller took over the series, at first, he subtly introduced mature themes for an older audience. As the book was not a big seller at Marvel Comics, they allowed the experiment to continue.
Miller borrowed the Kingpin permanently from the Spider-man world, where other writers perceived him as a joke. Arch opponent Bulleyes returned and Elektra, the ninja assassin, made her first appearances. Over the next few years, the continual fight among the four characters thrilled fans. Miller partnered with several top creators, such as David Mazzucchelli, Klaus Janson
Since then, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics' most respected and acclaimed series. Unlike Spider-man or X-men series, creators on Daredevil were not necessarily fan favourites, when starting, but they needed to be competent, creative and smart. Since the departure of Frank Miller and his associates, creators have tried, whether they admit or not to top the work of Miller, or at least add to the legend.
This constant effervescence surrounding Daredevil has made the series the perfect fodder for director Mark Steven Johnson. In the movie, several of the best ideas and elements of the character were used to mesh one story. One can scent the rich subtext and quality background of the character, throughout the film. However, borrowing from so many rich sources has not made the movie the best.
The movie follows much of the folklore developed in the comic books. This is great for hardcore fans but not always good for other viewers. Too much time is spent on building the character's background as opposed to straight storytelling. Outside the main plot, not much time is spent showing Daredevil. The super hero material almost seems to intrude on the lives of Matt Murdock and Elektra Natchios.
Mark Steven Johnson, credited for the script of the film, used a large amount of clich®s in the plot of the movie. For example, the burning message, left by Daredevil was explained by the director as an homage to the movie The Crow. Well, the scene makes little sense as Mark Steven Johnson has not characterized Daredevil in other parts of the movie as the type of vigilante who leaves messages behind.
Much of the "justice is blind dialogue in the court room lent a high level of cheesiness to the movie. Matt Murdock, might be in his mid 30s in the movie. He has probably practised law for a decade now. One would expect that after so much time as a lawyer, he would have stopped using such cheap clich®s, especially as a blind man. It gave the film a tone of "hey, we're trying to be hip and relevant, look at us."
The other main problem in this movie is Ben Affleck. It's not that he is not a good actor. The problem is that much his Daredevil acting is not believable. The singular example of this is the scene where he crawls on the floor of the church, in the beginning of the film. All suspension of disbelief is lost. It looks like an actor crawling on a floor, following the instructions of a director, instead of an injured vigilante cowering.
The second disc from the set includes many things DVD fans expect and more. There are two main sections. One is about the comic book, the other about the movie. The first noteworthy extra, is the feature on the movie section is the short clip on movie advisor Tom Sullivan. Sullivan, a blind man since birth, counselled the crews on the topic of blindness. The worst part about the clip, is that it's too short.
There's a good behind the scenes section on the film, unfortunately, it reuses too much contents from other parts of the DVD, such as the Fox movie prequel, hosted by the Jennifer Garner. Included on the disc are dailies, and screen tests by the various actors. Some even have multi-angle features. The only let down, is the high compression rate on those clips.
A good section of interest to the visitors of this site is the still gallery, collecting pre production elements from the movie. Surprisingly, the film's storyboard has much more the trappings of a comic book, than a traditional storyboard. The highly stylized panel layout seems to not have caused much problems to the production team. Other galleries contain model sheets, prop, costume, production, and set designs.
The section on the comic book contains a very good interview with several Daredevil comic book creators, such as the character's inventor, Stan Lee, Frank Miller, film director Kevin Smith. Past and presents artists and writers such as John Romita Senior and Junior, Brian Bendis, Joe Quesada, Dave Mack and Gene Colan are there too. Each contributor shares some of their thoughts on the character and their work.
It's always fun to see Stan Lee talk about Marvel Comics' characters. He always seems to have a good anecdote related to each character, making a compelling argument against those who think he just likes to take away others' credits. As any good communicator, and he is one of the best, he succeeds in selling the idea of the comic book medium to an audience who seems to have forgotten its existence.
The other sections on the comic book section of the disc are less interesting, although the animated montage on Daredevil's senses includes some of the campy illustrations that were virtually absent from the DVD-rom section. However, the compression on the illustrations has softened them too much.
Many called daredevil the "underdog" of the super hero movies of 2003. It was dodged by complaints that it would startle Marvel Comics' aggressive foray into live action feature film. Daredevil did not garner the media coverage and the blockbuster aura of neither Spider-man, the X-Men nor the Hulk. Instead, it carved itself its usual niche where collectors savour it as an acquired taste.