The Crow [retro review]

rcrow“They’re all dead. They just don’t know it yet.”

The Scoop: 1994 R, directed by Alex Proyas and starring Brandon Lee, Rochelle Davis & Ernie Hudson

Tagline: Believe in Angels.

Summary Capsule: Your basic nice guy gets a little miffed when he and his fiancé are killed on Devil’s Night, so he comes back for vengeance with the help of a little birdie.

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Justin’s Rating: The first R-rated movie I ever snuck out to see… this will always have a special, yet weird, place in my heart

Justin’s Review: The critical question arises, even without seeing the movie: Would The Crow be the cult hit it is today if its star (Brandon Lee) hadn’t died during the production? Maybe, but the tragic accident Lee had strangely echoes this dark movie and gives it a second level of significance.

And dark it is, both story-wise and set-wise. It’s another one of those films that’s set in a world where it’s almost always night, and what day is show is so heavily overcast you’d think a nuclear winter was setting in. We’re not left with the happiest of beginnings when Eric Draven (Lee) and his bride-to-be are killed the night before Halloween. This leaves child philosopher Sarah (Rochelle Davis) in the lurch, as her only other friend is a cop. She doesn’t get out much.

A year later, a crow brings back Eric to get revenge on the gang that killed him. The plot moves predictably from this point on (think: superhero dealing with inner and outer demons routine), but I have to admit that the visuals are some of the best in dark cinema, even for today. The bad guys are pretty bad, disturbing even (I try not to think about the eyeballs too much). The fight sequences are a fun level, comparing to Face/Off and The Matrix in some ways.

It’s bleak, it’s moody… ah, goth. We do love your happy tone. Fortunately, Lee doesn’t get too dragged down in the dark pits of despair that his character could have gone. He just ponders the deeper meanings of life a bit, then gleefully exacts revenge on all the bad guys. Once again, Hollywood tells us that two wrongs DO make a right. And crows make people invincible.

The Crow does have a few rough spots, particularly in the scenes that Lee did not finish shooting before his death. The philosophy of this movie is a bit peculiar, and really can’t make a choice between wistfull happiness and bloodthirsty vengeance. But — all in all — cult hit it is.

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Drew’s Rating: No wonder everybody’s so afraid of clowns…

Drew’s Review: Gather ‘round, children, and let’s play pretend. I want you to imagine that you’re back in high school, and you’re… well, a bit of a nerd. (Not too hard for some.) You’re smart, you wear glasses, you’re not winning any modeling contracts, you prefer writing and drawing to playing sports, and you get picked on a lot. But then, one day, you meet the girl of your dreams. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s beautiful and kind and caring… and best of all, she really likes you. And not even just as a friend — the two of you start dating, and as things progress you fall deeply in love, planning to be married as soon as you finish school. After literally years of angst and apathy, you’re happier than you’ve ever dreamed it was possible to be, in love with your own personal angel.

And then she’s killed by a drunk driver.

If you can imagine all of that, you just might be able to comprehend the mindset that caused James O’Barr to create a violent, gritty, black-and-white comic called The Crow in the late 80’s. As he explains in a DVD interview, the comic was an attempt to get all of his pain and rage over this tragedy out of his system, exorcising it onto the printed page. And while he claims it failed in that respect, it did become one of the most powerful comics of the decade, with a story so gripping and emotional that it was quickly scooped up and turned into a big-budget motion picture. Fortunately, the producers had sense enough to enlist O’Barr as one of the writers, ensuring that the film follows the comic closely while still eliminating the elements that wouldn’t work on screen. (Let’s face it, lines like “I am pilot error, I am fetal distress, I am the random chromosome… I am complete and total madness… I am FEAR” may look cool on the printed page, but they should only be spoken aloud by Darkwing Duck.)

See, here’s the thing: sometimes the simplest stories really are the best. Even Shakespeare knew this; the man didn’t have an original bone in his body when it came to plots, but damned if he didn’t know how to make the classics work for him. Lover dies, so man goes off the deep end and extracts vengeance from those who killed her? Yeah, it’s cliched… but it’s also extremely powerful, because it speaks to all of us. What WOULD I do in that situation?, we wonder. At the same time, a major part of the film’s success can be attributed to the fact that it doesn’t get locked into stereotypes: for the romantics in the audience, Eric is a sensitive, introspective, poetic rock star who done treated his woman right, and for your more “guy” types, he’s action star incarnate. Everybody wins!

As Justin said, the movie is always going to be overshadowed by the real-life tragedy surrounding it, the death of star Brandon Lee. While it certainly was a terrible occurrence, it would be a disservice to Lee to ignore how impressive a portrayal he gave before his life-ending accident. By turns pensive, sorrowful, enraged, and even playful, Lee gives the character depth beyond “The Punisher, but unkillable,” and it works in a way that most of the copycat brooding, androgynous, angst-filled heroes couldn’t dream of pulling off. One thing’s for sure — Lee may have to share the Goth King crown with Johnny Depp, but I never look at Depp and think, “Damn, but that guy could kick my ass six ways to Sunday.”

In the end, let’s not kid ourselves — Goth got real old, real fast. It’s not the mid-90’s anymore, and the all-black-wearing, melodramatic, disenchanted-with-life crowd have largely retreated back to their coffee shops and college basements. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the aspects of the genre that really were well-executed, creative pieces of work, and The Crow is both one of the first and one of the best. The cream of the Goth crop mixed healthy doses of humor, action, and optimism in with the brooding, and this movie is no exception. Check it out.

(Oh, and one final note: if you don’t get chills the first time you see Brandon Lee paint himself up and stride to that broken stained-glass window, crow on his shoulder, while The Cure blasts “Burn” in the background, there is something missing in your soul.)

Soon after, Jean Grey, aka "The Phoenix", was arrested for the crime

Soon after, Jean Grey, aka "The Phoenix", was arrested for the crime

Intermission!

  • Eric’s last name, “Draven”? Movie producers conceived it as a gag – De raven, Draven, get it? In the comic, we only find out that Eric’s last name begins with either a “C” or a “D,” and that the final letter is “s.”
  • Eric is apparently a fan of poetic irony, as each of the gang members perishes by his own effects: Tin Tin with his knives, Funboy with his morphine, T-bird with his car/explosives, and Top Dollar on his sword.
  • Brandon Lee died during a mishap on the set. A scene required a gun to be loaded, cocked, and then pointed at the camera. Because of the close-range of the shot, the bullets loaded had real brass caps, but no powder. After the cut, the propsmaster (not the armsmaster – he had left the set for the day) dry-fired the gun to get the cock off, knocking an empty cartridge into the barrel of the gun. The next scene to be filmed involving that gun was the rape of Shelly. The gun was loaded with blanks (which usually contain double or triple the powder of a normal bullet to make a loud noise). Lee entered the set carrying a bag of groceries containing an explosive blood pack. The script called for Funboy (Michael Massee) to shoot Eric Draven (Lee) as he entered the room, triggering the blood pack. The cartridge that was stuck in the barrel was blasted at Lee through the bag he was carrying. It hit Brandon in the abdomen, and did so much damage to his vital organs, being more powerful than a real bullet, that he died 12 hours later, in spite of being given 14 pints of blood. Eventually, the CGI effects needed to finish the movie added $8 million to it. After 700 hours of investigation the police concluded that Brandon’s death was an accident. The footage of his death was destroyed without being developed. Lee is the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who died in mysterious circumstances before completing Game of Death in 1978.
  • In the movie, Eric and Shelly were engaged to be married the day after they were killed. In real life, Brandon Lee was engaged to marry Eliza Hutton several days after the film was to finish shooting. Hence, the dedication “To Brandon and Eliza” in the credits. In addition, Lee and Crow creator James O’Barr became good friends over the course of the filming, further compounding the tragedy.
  • Numerous other accidents plagued the filming of this movie and its spinoffs, leading to rumors of a Macbeth-style curse. Aside from Lee’s death, various crew members have suffered everything from minor scrapes to severe electrical burns and screwdrivers through hands; the second movie, City of Angels, was the final film role of Thuy Trang (better known as the yellow Power Ranger) before her death in a car accident; and a stunt coordinator was accidently killed during filming of the TV series, Stairway to Heaven.
  • The original reason for Eric’s restored vulnerability near the end of the film wasn’t that his crow had been captured. Rather, a never-filmed scene had him encountering a spectral guide who informs him that since he has finished enacting revenge on his and Shelly’s killers, his supernatural powers are gone. After Brandon Lee died, that scene and a related one were cut and the explanation altered.
  • Veteran punk rocker Iggy Pop was initially supposed to play Funboy, but was unable to do so because of scheduling conflicts. He went on to appear in the sequel instead.

Groovy Quotes

T-Bird: Abashed the Devil stood and felt how awful goodness is.

T-Bird: I got trouble. One of my men got himself perished.
Top Dollar: Yeah and who might that be?
T-Bird: Tin Tin, somebody stuck his blades in all his major organs in alphabetical order.

Top Dollar: Greed is for amateurs. Disorder, chaos, anarchy: now that’s fun!

Eric Draven: It can’t rain all the time.

Eric Draven: Little things use to mean so much to Shelley – I thought they were kind of trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial.

Top Dollar: Ya know, my daddy used to say every man’s got a devil. And you can’t rest ’til you find him… but if it’s any consolation to you, you have put a smile on my face.

Sarah: People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can’t rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right.

Eric Draven: I have something to give you. I don’t want it anymore. Thirty hours of pain all at once, all for you.

Eric Draven: Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. Your daughter is out there on the streets waiting for you.

Top Dollar: Dad gave me this. Fifth birthday. He said, “Childhood’s over the moment you know you’re gonna die.”

Albrecht: You killed Tin-Tin?
Eric Draven: He was already dead. He died one year ago the moment he touched her. They’re all dead. They just don’t know it yet.

Albrecht : Police! Don’t move! I said, don’t move!
Eric Draven : I though the police always said, “Freeze!”
Albrecht : Well, I am the police, and I say, “Don’t move!” Snow White. You move, you’re dead.
Eric Draven : And I say, “I’m dead,” and I move.

Sarah: What are you supposed to be, some kinda clown or something?
Eric Draven: Sometimes.

Eric Draven: I’m not going to kill you. Your job will be to tell the rest of them that death is coming for them, tonight. And tell them Eric Draven sends his regards.

Eric Draven: Suddenly their came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. You heard me rapping, right?

Eric Draven: Victims; aren’t we all?

Eric Draven: It’s not a good day to be a bad guy.

Albrecht: His name is Tin Tin.
Lead Cop: God. Doesn’t anyone in this gang have a grown-up name?

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