A few weeks ago when I was writing the column about adult rated super hero films, I went through and did a quick look at comic book based movies with harder ratings and one of the films that popped up was The Crow.
Coincidentally a few weeks later, Gods of Egypt came out in theatres and was directed by Alex Proyas, the director behind The Crow.
Taking these things as signs, I sat down to re-watch the film. A movie that I loved in high school but honestly hadn’t revisited in nearly a decade. Would it hold up? What would I notice about it that I hadn’t before? Or would it turn into a piece of crap like a few other films that I hadn’t watched in years and couldn’t leave the memory alone? We’ll get to that, but first, a little bit of background for younger readers.
A quick look at the film landscape of 1994, you get a little bit of everything. Films that lodged themselves into the public consciousness like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Reality Bites. A few action film favourites like True Lies, Speed and Stargate. Even a few out right classics like Forest Gump, The Lion King and Leon (The Professional).
And then you had The Crow, a film that under other circumstances, we never would have seen.
At the time, The Crow was best known as the movie Brandon Lee had died on. There’s no other way to put it. If you look at the press surrounding the film before it’s release, the big focal point was the star of the movie was dead due to an on set accident. The film’s first distributor, Paramount, had bowed out due to that death and the violence that was represented in the film. The death of an actor on a film, especially a main actor, can often lead to a film never seeing the light of day or a delay of a huge length of time. River Phoenix’s last film, Dark River, did not see release until 2012, nearly twenty years after his passing. Add to it the problems that occur when a major distributor pulls out before the film is finished and there become many complications in it’s release.
But something interesting happened. Instead of giving up on the project, The Crow went forward. Brandon Lee had almost finished his part of the film, approximately three days were left in his schedule and by some reports, the film itself only had eight more days of shooting. Director Alex Proyas, the producers and crew rallied around the project. If you read the accounts at the time and even now, it comes off more as a “We wanted to finish this as a tribute to Brandon” as opposed to monetary gain. Miramax would come on as the new distributor of the film and on May 13th of that year, it would be released. It’s only competition: Spike Lee,s Crooklyn.
In part due to the publicity that surrounded the film and no competition at the box office that week, The Crow became a bit of a hit, eventually grossing over fifty million dollars.
The plot is pretty simple. Eric Draven (Lee), a musician and all around nice guy, comes home to find his fiance being raped by a group of thugs who murder him and leave his fiance for dead. One year later, he comes back for revenge. It’s a story we’ve seen numerous times and variations, but it’s how this movie was put together and executed that make it so good.
You kind of feel bad for Alex Proyas. After years directing music videos (good ones mind you – he directed the great video for Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over”), he got his shot a making a film and made something visually amazing for the budget he had. And then it kind of gets pushed to the side due to things out of his control. Even in 2016, The Crow still looks great and not quite like anything else out there. A few of the visual effects shots are now more evident with the passage of time but oddly, a few of them add to the over all visual effect of the film (especially one or two of the roof top running scenes).
Brandon Lee delivers a fantastic rendition of the Eric Draven character. If you’ve ever read the original Crow graphic novel, you will notice that the character is incredibly manic, which I think works fine in the comic but when translated to a real person, would be cartoonish and over the top. Lee seemed to bring just the right amount emotion and mood to connect with the viewer. You can see why the filmmakers wanted to finish this film because had he lived, The Crow would have been a great showcase for Brandon’s talents. You can see a talent that may have very well went on to do more dramatic roles and been able to do them well.
Lee isn’t alone, as most of the supporting cast really brought their A game. Ernie Hudson makes a great cop who has been beaten down in his job but refuses to give up because he can still do some good. Michael Wincott is fantastic as the big bad, Top Dollar. Wincott turns in a performance that reminds you a lot of his Robin Hood co-star Alan Rickman, just a great villain that you also love. Hell, Bai Ling is perfect as a creepy witch like woman and nine times out of ten, she is terrible in everything else she has done.
All of these added up to a great film that can easily be watched and help bring about other films of it’s like. The Crow‘s style and popularity set the stage for another great comic book film with a hard rating, Blade.
In fact, the only real bad thing about The Crow is that it gives us multiple glimpses of greatness that we don’t get a chance to see again. The Crow hints of what Brandon Lee could have been had his life continued but we’ll never really know for sure.
Alex Proyas followed up this strong directorial debut with an even better film called Dark City. Unfortunately, at the time, no one saw Dark City (it has since become a bit of a cult classic) and it was there Proyas seemed to lose a bit of his shine in Hollywood. He followed up Dark City with a small but very good film called Garage Days. After that, Proyas directed a bunch of very well directed films that were failed by fairly terrible scripts (I, Robot, Knowing and most recently Gods of Egypt).
There was even potential for a great film series. If you look at the surrounding Crow stories from the various comics and novels that have been released over the years, there is some really interesting stories and ideas in the Crow mythos to create a film from. Unfortunately, they decided to try and recreate the original film multiple times with slight variances. The first sequel, The Crow: City of Angels was gunning to be something different but the director was forced to change the film into something that looked more like the original causing both the director Tim Pope and writer David Goyer to disavow the final product. From there it just got worse. A fairly mediocre television series (The Crow: Stairway to Heaven) followed as did two more terrible films. The Crow: Salvation took a very decent and original Crow novel (The Lazarus Heart by Poppy Z. Brite) and took out everything that made it different. The final film, The Crow: Wicked Prayer is just a piece of crap. Truly bad film making that barely attaches itself to the franchise.
But a reboot has loomed on the horizon for a while. Supposedly, the producers want to take the film back to it’s dark roots, perhaps a closer adaption of the original comic. Not a bad idea as the original film really falls more into an “inspired by” category then it does a direct adaptation. If this reboot goes through (it has fallen apart a number of times but I’d be amazed if it weren’t back on due to the popularity of the Deadpool film), maybe they will take a look at the original film and try something different but also try to maintain that quality that the first film achieved. Here’s hoping.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!