John Cusack and Luke Evans star in this blood-curdling tale of terror that's as dark and haunting as the legendary master of the macabre who inspired it - Edgar Allan Poe.
Baltimore, 1849. While investigating a horrific double murder, police detective Emmett Fields (Evans) makes a startling discovery: the killer's methods mirror the twisted writings of Edgar Allan Poe (Cusack). Suspecting Poe at first, Fields ultimately enlists his help to stop future attacks. But in this deadly game of cat and mouse, the stakes are raised with each gruesome slaying as the pair races to catch a madman before he brings every one of Poe's shocking stories to chilling life...and death.
'The Raven' is another example of the sad state of affairs currently plaguing many of this year's Hollywood features — full of grand, original ideas that are wildly entertaining and exciting on paper but their execution only seem like an exhaustive effort to cover up how lame and boring those ideas really are. From the director of 'V for Vendetta,' James McTeigue, the film comes with a Gothic visual appeal that's often impressive and does well to maintain interest. After a while, however, we see through the disguise and discover a rather humdrum mystery with a frustratingly weak payoff. It's only clever twist is that it involves famed American author of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, a major influence of the science-fiction genre and the undisputed father of the detective story.
Taking enormous liberties with his life and works, this fictionalized tale of Poe's final days before his real-life mysterious death imagines the author as a famous, mildly-respected scribe. Unfortunately, the man was better known as an austere literary critic and lived his life largely unrecognized during his time, except for the narrative poem from which this movie takes its title. He died a miserable, penniless man likely due to his alcoholism and drug abuse, not a confrontation of wits against a crazed maniac. Yet, that's the one endearing aspect of this script from Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare that attracts Poe fans like me. I wanted to see the creative genius behind C. Auguste Dupin, whose methods of logic and deductive reasoning eventually served as the influence to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, turn intellectual detective himself.
What we get instead is an assortment of hokey scenes with a dour-looking yet very angry and confident John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe. A series of brutally, grisly murders which have stumped Baltimore law enforcement require his assistance because the slayings are inspired by his horror mysteries. Cusack's performance and uncanny appearance are a genuine highlight, breathing life into a legendary figure without seeming mocking or like a caricature. Sadly, he's not very likable either, which may have more to do with the filmmakers' intentions and not Cusack's otherwise excellent portrayal. The character's love-affair subplot with Emily (Alice Eve), daughter of a wealthy father (Brendan Gleeson) who despises him, is a forced attempt to gain our sympathy but ultimately does little more than serve as the central motivational device for solving the mystery.
The lead investigator is a hungry go-getter with a permanent furrow in his brow, Inspector Fields, played by Luke Evans who recently starred as two vastly different Greek gods in 'Clash of the Titans' and 'Immortals.' His role is somewhat perplexing, a decisive personality who admits to recognizing the first crime scene to feel compelled in asking Poe for help, but suddenly and very conveniently incapable of figuring out the murders that follow in similar fashion. Admittedly, the interactions between Cusack and Evans piecing the clues together are the film's strongest areas. The sequence involving Maurice and a pocket watch that has stopped at 12:27 is particularly well-done and suspenseful, but it only reminds me that I wish the movie had more of the same. It's also the one moment when Cusack's Poe actually plays detective. Otherwise, he brings little to the table and feels largely incompetent except for pointing how clues relate to his stories.
With cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann creating a dreary, somber atmosphere which complements the gruesome nature of the crimes, McTeigue does a competent job giving audiences handsome visuals but pieces them together with poor and unengaging pacing. Exposition at the start is terribly dull, and a heartless conclusion drags unnecessarily while the entire middle only offers sparks of inspiration that are never sustained. It all looks pretty but lacks the substance to make audiences care or make the film the least bit memorable — aside from Cusack's performance. The idea of imagining Edgar Allan Poe as an intelligent, skilled detective holds plenty of potential, but 'The Raven' fails to capitalize on it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'The Raven' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a glossy cardboard slipcover. The first is a Region A locked, BD50 disc while the other is a DVD-9/Digital Copy combo sitting comfortably on the opposing panel. Both are housed inside a blue eco-cutout keepcase. After a small assortment of skippable trailers, viewers are greeted with the standard main menu option with full-motion clips and music.
'The Raven' takes flight on Blu-ray with a heavily-stylized yet marvelous AVC-encoded transfer (2.40:1). Danny Ruhlmann's dark cinematography generates a melancholy and gloomy vibe, and this presentation is faithful to the intentions of the filmmakers.
The color palette is noticeably subdued and limited, but primaries remain accurate and bold throughout. Indoor scenes use natural orange-brown lighting from the lamps with lots of oppressive shadows, creating a sepia-like tone without ruining visibility of background information. Daylight sequences display a gray overcast, but contrast is comfortably bright with crisp, brilliant whites. Black levels are full-bodied and dynamic with excellent gradational details, except for maybe one or two moments where the image loses just a bit of its luster. Definition and clarity are superb for a majority of the time with exceptional lifelike textures during close-ups. Beneath a very thin layer of grain, we can make out every pore and wrinkle in the faces of actors and every fine line of the costumes and surrounding architecture.
Like the video, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack shows a great deal of intentionality in its design. The film is dialogue-driven, which draws our attention to the front where vocals are well-prioritized with excellent intonation. Channel separation comes with outstanding balance and fluid movement, creating a wide and welcoming soundstage. Dynamic range is extensive with room-penetrating clarity and sharp definition of several high-pitched sequences. Low bass offers a nice punch and even response with several palpable segments which add to the suspense.
Rear activity is used in a rather interesting and generally satisfying manner by being noticeably silent for a good amount of time. Atmospherics are reserved for those scenes requiring them, extending the soundfield at specific moments which ideally enhance and intensify that particular scene. For example, a minor disagreement between Cusack and Evans is coupled with the sounds of a thunderstorm and the loud cracks of lightning heard overhead. Such sequences work exceptionally well, creating an enjoyably immersive environment.
Only two supplements are shared with the day-and-date DVD release.
Full of grand, original ideas, with plenty of potential to entertain, 'The Raven' ultimately lacks the substance to make audiences care or make this fictionalized mystery thriller the least bit memorable. John Cusack's performance as famed American author of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, is the only genuine highlight, but it's somewhat wasted in a story about a serial killer inspired by the scribe's works with a terribly dull payoff. The Blu-ray debuts with an excellent audio and video presentation that's gloomy and entertainingly spooky. Bonus materials are not very extensive or great interesting, but the majority is exclusive to the format, making this package the one fans will want to purchase. For non-fans, this is a rental at best.