Long before Vincent Perez, Eric Mabius, or Edward Furlong donned the white and black gothic face paint, Brandon Lee, son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, would unintentionally turn the James O'Barr character into a legend of sorts. Killed during production by what were to be the fake bullets for a pivotal scene, Brandon's career and life were ended before he ever had a chance to reach his prime. His father also died of mysterious causes at the peak of his career.
The question of whether or not 'The Crow' would have been a success if not for the tragedy will never be answered. Theatrical reviews indicated that some critics wondered what the film would have been like were it not for the reshoots and changes needed to make the film work. It's just odd, watching a film about a dead man who rises from the grave, knowing that the film caused that man to die in real life.
The gang that killed Eric Draven (Lee) before raping and killing his bride-to-be Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) thought they got away with the crime scott free. They didn't think they'd ever have to pay for their crimes, with no witnesses or evidence tying them to it. That is, until the man they killed comes back from the grave one year later, on Devil's Night, to exact his revenge on them. Bestowed with the power of invulnerability by a mystical crow, one by one the man formerly known as Draven will dispatch his enemies, and anyone who helps them. His quest is simple: revenge, and he has nothing to lose anymore.
Director Alex Proyas may be responsible for much of what is memorable about the great first film in what was to be an awful, unnecessary series that went to the well three times too many. The gritty, seedy city is a character, while the extreme blacks and darkly humorous attitude of the film permeate every shot. This isn't a straightforward vengeance film. It's about love, and justice. It has a main character who isn't about racking up a massive body count, only killing to get to those he already wanted to kill, even if it ends up being more than a handful. The use of effects shots to make the city seem bigger and nastier are the film's biggest strengths, helping it, in turn, feel much less myopic than any of the narrow sighted sequels.
The Draven character is a wonderful film hero. He mourns his past and his loss, and doesn't let anyone get close to him. He rides a fine line with the law, and finds himself being one of their targets on a night where normally 200+ buildings get set on fire. Apparently his dispatching of the men who are pivotal in creating said fires freed up more time for them to try to hunt him down...ironic! He quotes Poe (again, ironically, as he isn't exactly The Raven), and uses his enemies strengths and weaknesses against them, killing them in a fashion that acts as a statement for the other men in the gang.
The baddies? They're completely disposable, one note characters, which may be the one thing the sequels would improve on...albeit at the expense of the dynamics of the main character himself. T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Skank (Angel David), Tin Tin (Laurence Mason), and Funboy (Michael Massee) are all forgettable, though the way they're dispatched isn't. Higher up the chain, Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) and Myca (Bai Ling) are both forgettable and uninteresting. On the opposite side of the coin, Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) provides some nice, calm moments to the film, adding an element of control and order to help balance the anarchy and chaos. The lack of this balance and presence in 'The Crow: City of Angels' is one of its primary downfalls, as the equation works so much better when there's a yang to the yin.
'The Crow' isn't a perfect film. Once the four main baddies are killed, the movie is an absolute mess, as the story then turns to the ridiculous conjecture (that no one has any proof of!) about the actual crow itself being the source of Draven's powers, which turns out to be correct, leading to some of the more boring moments, the stretches that lose the audience. Then, there's the ridiculous Deus Ex Machina ending, a power that comes out of nowhere, that's not hinted at once in the film, that saves the day. Yeah, real great writing, that. 'The Crow' isn't a perfect film, and its flaws are glaring. But it's an interesting, moody, entertaining thrill ride for the majority of the slow moving run time, and it may very well be the gothiest film ever made.
The Disc: Vital Stats
The domestic rights to 'The Crow' were recently sold off, as Miramax titles are no longer a part of Disney, and there has not been an official announcement concerning the release of the film. There are numerous imports of the film, though only the one being reviewed here, the Japanese edition, will play on Region A players. The menu is in Japanese, so navigating it may be difficult for some, and the price of Japanese imports is often ridiculous, but the payoff? The only copy of the film in high-def that you don't need a special disc player to watch!
The 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode given to 'The Crow' might turn heads for the wrong reasons at first. The first third (or so) of the film is not exactly stellar looking high-def material. As the film progresses, though, the picture cleans up significantly, to the point that it starts being some pretty kick ass eye candy.
Skin tones are accurate throughout the film, while the very dark picture doesn't sap away the existence of the few bright spots, meaning crush isn't really all that much of an issue. Sure, there is some aliasing in the city effects, some light artifacting, and a fairly hefty amount of dirt blips, but the picture is consistently deep and pretty gosh darned realistic. Grain levels, black strength, textures, and overall clarity all dramatically change over the course of the film, so talking about them is a difficult proposition. Needless to say, grain goes from heavy to easy, blacks go from a dominant force to a perfect balance, and the sharpness and realness of the picture improves as the film progresses.
The one problem that stays throughout the film is the random shakiness, the occasional obvious telecine error. The picture can wobble at times, and, near the end, as we see Shelly's grave before the final confrontation, the entire picture shifts just slightly for a few frames, which is somewhat hard to miss.
All in all, I'm giving this one high marks, because, quite simply, this one has been a difficult proposition on home video in the past, and it has never come close to looking this good. The lack of artificial tampering found here makes it the benchmark on which the eventual Lionsgate release will be judged.
The audio for 'The Crow' comes by way of a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, which, by default, also has one of the two Japanese subtitle tracks on. Don't worry, though, as they're removable! While I was impressed by the video, the audio had plenty of room for improvement.
Rears, sure they get plenty of soundtrack bleed, but their levels of activity simply do not match the film, in any way. There simply isn't enough localized or moving effects that find their way into the rear channels, while ambience is far too random and inconsistent to praise. Dialogue is very pure, with only a few lines that feel hollow or flat, so it's hard to gripe about that, although any scene featuring actual yelling comes through quite poorly, as range is somewhat capped here. The track lacks the beef that the visuals pack, and gunfights and explosions are fairly wimpy, barely registering any bass activity, at all. Even the soundtrack, or music elements, which should get really thumping, have no power behind them. This is a film where you know there are more than a few scenes that should sound absolutely fantastic and balls-to-the-walls with activity, and that is not found here.
Passable, but the audio definitely leaves you wanting more.
Funnily enough, save for the commentary, the extras can all be played together, an en masse play all option, which rocks. Owners of the two disc DVD re-release will notice that the storyboards and poster concepts do not find their way onto this release, nor do DVD-Rom features, which are last gen's BD-Live...worthless.
Please note, there will never, ever be a release that contains the footage of Lee getting shot before he died. The footage was destroyed, and would be a cruel addition.
'The Crow' is a one of a kind film. It's sequels are dime a dozen. Mystical as can be due to the unfortunate events surrounding the production of the film and the death of its star, this Alex Proyas directed goth actioner will still find an audience, so long as the upcoming remake doesn't ruin it. The Japanese Blu-ray, which is the only one that will play in a USA Region A player, looks pretty damn good. This isn't a barebones import, either. It's pricey, but there is no domestic release announced yet, so importing it isn't a bad idea.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.