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 Disc: Vital Stats
Lionsgate brings 'The Crow' to Blu-ray from Miramax on a Region A locked BD25 disc. There are ten minutes (!) worth of pre-menu trailers, which have to be skipped one at a time, no shortcuts. The menu itself features some annoying as hell crow noises. Hooray!
This film has been released in a number of countries before this American release, though many have been Region B locked. Now the question is, what release is best? This review will compare the two Region A releases, this Lionsgate one and the Geneon Japanese disc, previously reviewed here.
Wal-Mart stores have this title available two weeks before the wide release to all retailers across the country.
Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.85:1, 'The Crow' looks superb on Blu-ray, a step up from the impressive release from Japan.
Gone is the light artifacting. Completely removed are the dirt and debris. The sometimes noticeable inconsistency? Vanished! This is the version of 'The Crow' you've been waiting for! Detail levels are as consistent as they've ever been, and there are wonderful, super clear shots spread throughout the film. Clarity is never an issue, crush is a near non-factor, and skin tones are awesome! Black levels never waver, either, which means this super dark film looks absolutely amazing, quite possibly the best the film has ever looked.
Miniatures will never be super sharp, and the light alias that they bring sometimes is hard to avoid, but they really aren't an eyesore. There's still some light shakiness, and there are noise issues that bugged me throughout, but none of it was enough to keep this title from earning the lofty score it deserves. 'Crow' fans: you know what you must now do. It may be safe to say if you haven't seen this Blu-ray, you haven't seen everything 'The Crow' has to offer!
With a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, Lionsgate's release of 'The Crow' is an odd duck, when compared to the Japanese release. You have to decide what matters more to you: soundtrack presence in rear channels, or bass activity, as that's the trade off. I was quite pleased with how spread out the music was in the review of the import earlier this year, but felt the low end was severely, and noticeably, lacking. Well, now bass is ever present, highlighting music, adding tension and depth to scenes, really hitting pretty hard at times...but there's so little rear activity that it's almost shameful. The Japanese disc had a lack of rear ambience, too, but at least it had something going on back there.
All that said, this American release is the winner between the two discs, because it sports superb separation and plenty of localization (to the sides, not the rear), wonderful volume spikes, and great range, where before there were none. This track has power, and is a winner in that regard, but it could have been a completely dominating, no questions asked winner if only there was more active rear channels. Sorry, that should say any activity in the rears at all.
Almost everything from the Japanese disc is here on the USA disc. The exceptions are the trailer for 'The Crow: Wicked Prayer' (darn...) and the audio commentary. A different track is found on this release, replacing Jeff Most and John Shirley with a different take. Most features are the exact same as before, but the runtimes vary on the featurette and the O'Barr profile just ever so slightly.
If you've been impatient and insisted on importing 'The Crow' from one country or another, it may be time to consider yet another purchase of the film, as Lionsgate's release of the film is stellar! Witness Brandon Lee's last film with unrivaled picture quality! Hear an Alex Proyas commentary for the film for the first time! If the audio were just a bit better, this would be a must own! As it is, this is highly, highly recommended.
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.