Starting from a screenplay co-written with Eric Red, Kathryn Bigelow's second film as director stayed true to the script's basic story - of a hungry youth in a southwestern town, and his intense love for a beautiful, affectionate woman - and cleverly balances conventions of the western genre with a few new twists on the vampire legend. The basics were retained, and a few new twists added that perfectly suit the film's time period of then-contemporary America. Small town atmosphere, a strong handful of characters, and special effects that still hold up well in the Digital Age make this one a classic.
Anchor Bay's given "Near Dark" the deluxe treatment, offering pretty much everything you need to enjoy the film, and dig into its' production history via glossy packaging, and a 16-page booklet with stills, poster art, and notes from Michael Felsher that cover the theatrical and video release history, along with "12 Things You May Have Missed and Other Interesting Facts About Near Dark."
The digital film transfer preserves Bigelow's beautiful desert colours, though as she states (and restates) in her commentary, and in the film's documentary, the lighting and atmosphere could only come from the inspired mind of cinematographer Adam Greenberg. There's little artifacting for a film that mostly takes place at night, and the DVD transfer is a major improvement over old VHS copies that genre fans have had to live with for almost 15 years.
The film's sound was always superb, due to a great array of effects, and Bigelow's allowance of original score. In spite of a few source cues and bar songs, Tangerine Dream's atmospheric score, while thoroughly reflective of the style and musical technology of the decade, is thematic in the right spots, and offers lots of percussive tracks with lengthy, slow developments. The DVD offers the mixed soundtrack in DTS, Dolby 5.1, and the original Ultra-Stereo 2.0 mix. Where the 5.1 mix offers a better balance and more mid-range, the old 2.0 mix is still pretty bass-friendly, and typical of budget sound mixes, tweaks a few effects with minor reverb to simulate rudimentary surround sound.
Disc 2 contains the real extras, which will keep fans up late at night (and past workday bedtime).
"Living In Darkness" is an excellent making-of documentary, and has been assembled with great affection to create a fluid narration with pre-production anecdotes from director Bigelow, producer Charles Jaffe, executive producer Edward S. Feldman, and cinematographer Adam Greenberg.
Being the most in-demand cinematographer at the time after photographing James Cameron's "Terminator," Greenberg's selection of "Near Dark" as one of his next jobs just reinforces the luck that blessed the production. With the exception of the evasive Jenny Wright, most of the key actors are back to talk and reminisce, and the casting of Paxton, Goldstein and Henrikson - fresh from Cameron's "Aliens" - offers the funniest anecdote, though Paxton's migraines, Henrikson's drive to Arizona in character, and freak weather patterns are up there.
Bigelow is given a lot of room to talk about a movie that fans and colleagues still bring up, and her literate recollections and remarks on the film's longevity make her commentary track on Disc 1 largely unnecessary. Sporadic and mostly detailing obvious character and plot facts, Bigelow's commentary is perhaps best heard a little later, after you've gone through the set, as there's a lot of repetition.
(One key player in the film's creation is still missing from this DVD set: co-writer and co-producer Eric Red, who had already made a name for himself with the infamous "The Hitcher" in 1986, and had collaborated with Bigelow on "Undertow" (ultimately made in 1996), and "Blue Steel," in 1990. Red's contributions to "Near Dark" are acknowledged, but his participation in this project is sorely missed - a feeling made all the more sad because in May of 2000, Red was involved in a bizarre accident in which his auto crashed into a beer hall, killing 2 people, injuring several patrons, and sending Red to the hospital in a traumatic state.)
In older articles, some mention was made regarding deleted scenes or footage deemed too violent, and as the documentary addresses the violence in the film's major sequence - the roadhouse slaughter - the inclusion of a deleted dream scene shot with infra-red film is included on Disc 2, with commentary from Bigelow as to its placement and purpose.
Five sequences are given complete storyboard montages, set to score excerpts from the original soundtrack album, and viewers can follow Bigelow's visual ideas for "Caleb's Transformation" (4:20), "A Taste of Blood" (1:27), "Feeding Montage" (4:48), "Roadhouse Slaughter" (9:15), and "Motel Shoot-Out" (6:10).
Next are hefty still galleries, with 93 images comprising Production Stills - domestic and international poster art and campaigns, lobby cards, and publicity stills of every main cast member; and 29 Behind-The-Scene stills, focusing on a handful of major sequences with a few candid snapshots of director Bigelow and cast between takes.
The Talent Bios on Disc 2 are substantial, offering career histories for Bigelow, and actors Paxton, Goldstein, Henrikson, Pasdar, Thomerson, and Wright (who's pretty much retired from acting). Combining quotations from various published interviews, the bios end with filmographies.
Lastly, Disc 2 finishes with some DVD-ROM content, consisting of the screenplay in Adobe .PDF format, and screensavers for Mac and PC users.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan