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New to Video/DVD: 'Daredevil' director calls himself a 'big DVD fan'

Friday, July 25, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Doing double duty as writer and director of "Daredevil" must have made Mark Steven Johnson feel like comic-book hero and nemesis, all at once.

 
 

VIDEO BITS

New this week:

"The Life of David Gale"
Kevin Spacey is an activist fighting against capital punishment who lands on death row in Texas, of all places, after being convicted of rape and murder. Kate Winslet and Laura Linney also star.

"Final Destination 2"
Once again, death won't take no for an answer in this sequel to the 2000 hit about students who bolt from a plane that ends up crashing. This time, death has a date with some motorists.

"Read My Lips"
Emmanuelle Devos won a Cesar, the national film award of France, for her portrayal of a hearing-impaired woman drawn into a heist scheme. With Vincent Cassel.

"Ararat"
This Atom Egoyan film reflects on the Armenian genocide of 1915 from the viewpoints of present-day residents of Toronto.

"Spun"
Jason Schwartzman plays a college dropout and out-of-control speed freak who is introduced to the local crystal meth cook (Mickey Rourke) through his dealer (John Leguizamo) and agrees to serve as personal driver in exchange for free drugs.

"Best of Bonanza, Volume 1"
Eight episodes from the classic TV series featuring Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon have been assembled on two discs. Guest stars include Ida Lupino, Jack Warden, Howard Duff, Lee Marvin and Arthur Hunnicutt (as a prospector whose dog Walter is more valuable than gold). Suggested retail price is $24.98.

Also:
HBO miniseries "The Corner"; NBC's "Kingpin," with six episodes that aired on TV plus extras; "Nicholas Nickleby" starring Jamie Bell, Jim Broadbent and Anne Hathaway; second season of "Felicity"; "James & the Red Balloon & Other Thomas Adventures"; and volume 11 of "Yu-Gi-Oh," with episodes from the hit TV series.

   
 

The writer, for instance, had crafted another 25 to 30 minutes of material that the director -- at the studio's urging -- had trimmed after filming. "That was really hard. That was a matter of, the studio wants to keep the pace going, which I understand. But at the same time, one of the criticisms of the film was there wasn't a lot of story there. So, when you cut 25, 30 minutes of the story, it makes a big difference.

"It's hard for me to watch the movie sometimes and not just see everything that's missing, and feel like it's just too thin. ... And then there also are some trims that had to be made for the rating," to ensure a PG-13, to capture the largest possible audience.

On Tuesday, "Daredevil" will go even wider when it arrives on DVD and VHS. The movie starring Ben Affleck as the sightless hero who is attorney Matt Murdock by day and Daredevil by night will have a suggested retail price of $29.98 for the DVD, $22.98 for the VHS.

The two-disc set has more than eight hours of bonus features, which Johnson closely supervised. "I'm a big DVD fan," the 38-year-old says by phone from California. "It's something I feel real strongly about. It's my first real DVD, because I worked on smaller movies and the 'Grumpy Old Men' movies were before DVDs even came out."

He wrote "Grumpy" and "Grumpier," the comedies reteaming Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, wrote "Big Bully," was one of the writers of "Jack Frost" and adapted the John Irving novel "A Prayer for Owen Meany" into "Simon Birch," which he also directed.

Now, he's busy promoting "Daredevil" for its home video release and readying his next project, "Ghost Rider" with Nicolas Cage. Another comic book adaptation, it could start filming in February.

"So, this is kind of my first thing, and I really wanted to do a lot for it, and we spent a lot of time on not just the movie, but on the comic book and on the creators. That's a big thing on this." And when you load the DVD, you can click on film or comic book.

The extras include a commentary by Johnson and producer Gary Foster; the screen test of Jennifer Garner for the role of Elektra, a wealthy businessman's daughter; music videos by Evanescence, Fuel and The Calling; and new documentaries, "Beyond Hell's Kitchen: Making Daredevil" and "The Men Without Fear: The Art of Daredevil."

In addition to Affleck and Garner, the movie stars Colin Farrell as the ruthless assassin Bullseye, Michael Clarke Duncan as a crime kingpin, Joe Pantoliano as an investigative reporter, Jon Favreau as Matt's law partner, David Keith as a beleaguered prizefighter and Matt's father, and Scott Terra as the 12-year-old Matt.

In a bit of risky business, Johnson gave his assistant a camcorder and had him make a behind-the-scenes record of the movie. Johnson knew that when the EPK or electronic press kit staff shows up -- to provide canned interviews and on-set footage for mass-produced publicity -- everyone is keenly aware of the crew.

"And it feels real phony. So I said to my assistant, just get everything and because he's there all the time anyway, no one ever pays attention. The entire movie is captured behind the scenes that way, and it's really honest. It's brutally honest."

Asked if passages make him cringe, Johnson says, "Oh God, yeah. When they cut it all together, they came into the editing room and said, 'Hey, we want to show you, it's really great.' And they played it and I watched it for five minutes and I said I can't watch this anymore. ... It was just too much. I mean, I just see how stressed out I was and how intense of an experience it was. But I think people should know. I mean, it's interesting, to see what it's really like."

That, after all, is the foundation for HBO's "Project Greenlight," a brainchild of Affleck and Matt Damon that shows the angst behind the cameras.

Affleck, it turned out, was a fan of the comic books, as was Johnson who had discovered the character at age 10 when he was a Spider-Man fan. He found Daredevil "a lot darker and more dangerous, and I was at the age where that was really appealing." Affleck's size ("he's a big guy, that really works for the role") plus his box-office appeal also made him perfect for the part.

"Honestly, it was a way to take a comic book no one had ever heard of and give it more visibility with Ben's name. If you have Spider-Man, you can go with Tobey Maguire who, at the time, wasn't as well-known as he is now. But with Daredevil, you can't."

"Daredevil" didn't reach the sort of over-the-moon numbers of "Spider-Man" but it made more than $178 million worldwide, which is none too shabby.

"The movie did real well. They were real happy with how it did in theaters, but there are still a lot of people who haven't seen it. So it's nice, because it's your chance to have the movie look and sound as great as it can be. The truth is, at home on DVD, is the best the movie will ever look, ironically." No dying projector lamps, no sound coming through only one speaker, no noise bleeding through from the auditorium next door.

One element you won't find on the DVD: deleted scenes, squeezed out by other material. "There were so many. There's a whole subplot to the movie that got cut. ... There was literally no room to put those on," but Johnson isn't ruling out another version down the road.

In the meantime, he thinks fans will be tickled by the movie vs. comic book option on the DVD.

"If you want to go to the film, there's a whole list of behind-the-scenes and making-ofs and whatnot, which is normal, but if you go to the comic book side, there's a whole list of production art, interviews with all the famous creators of Daredevil and writers, from Stanley [Lee] to Frank Miller and Kevin Smith. It's really, really great stuff for people who are fans of Daredevil to find out about how he was created, what brought him up to this current day. ... I'm really proud of that."


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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