Synopsis: Before Sin City and The Dark Knight rose, there was The Crow – the “dark, lurid revenge fantasy” (The New York Times) from director Alex Proyas (Dark City) that entranced audiences and critics alike. Featuring Brandon Lee in his final performance, The Crow is the tale of young musician Eric Draven (Lee) who, along with his fiancée, is murdered on the eve of their Halloween wedding. Exactly one year after their deaths, Eric is risen from the grave by a mysterious crow to seek out his killers and force them to answer for their crimes.
The Crow 8.75
eyelights: Brandon Lee. Ernie Hudson. Michael Wincott. the overall look and feel of the picture. Graeme Revell’s score.
eyesores: Rochelle Davis’ delivery.
“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.”
‘The Crow’ will forever be one of my favourite films. When it came out in 1994, it struck a chord with me like no other movie had: it was dark, romantic, angry, funny, sumptuous, gritty, fantastic, and thought-provoking. It had a look I hadn’t encountered before, and a hero unlike any I’d seen before. Plus which I was (and still am) a sucker for a revenge fantasy – I relish seeing the baddies get their @$$es served when justice fails.
I ended up seeing this picture a few times at the big screen, bought the collectible cards, picked up the card game, got a few posters mounted on my walls, bought the soundtrack and the score, the VHS tape, then the laserdisc, the DVD and now the BD. I even went to see the first sequel, picked up its soundtracks and score, the poster, the baseball hat and the cards. I pretty much immersed myself in the world of James O’Barr’s ‘The Crow’. Or, at least, it’s movie incarnation.
I came close to becoming a cliché. I later discovered that dressing up as Eric Draven for Hallowe’en has become standard fare in goth communities. I never did that, but it was mostly because I don’t have the physique to pull it off. And, if you can’t make it look good, you might as well stay home. But I have no doubt that, if I looked even remotely as gorgeous as Brandon Lee did in this picture, I would have done the same as all those others. I had, after all, done just about everything else.
There was just something about Eric Draven that connected with me. Even today, I must admit that I would love to be the Eric Draven from ‘The Crow’: fierce, devoted, eloquent, sentimental, powerful, resolute, romantic, witty, deadly and gorgeous (dammit Lee looked good). Given the same circumstances, I would fully relish the chance to track down my fiancé’s killers and playfully return the favour, bringing a terrible chapter to a close.
I believe that most would want to feel powerful enough to change their lives when it gets railroaded, to have a sense of control over one’s destiny, to be able to shape or reshape the present and future with a specific vision in mind. But very few of us have that option, or anything near that level of potency. That’s probably why superheroes and/or revenge fantasies appeal to not just myself, but to a large swath of the public – it’s escapist fantasy that channels deep desires.
Eric Draven: “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. Do you understand? Morphine is bad for you. Your daughter is out there on the streets waiting for you.”
One of the things that I like the most about ‘The Crow’, however, is that Eric Draven attaches a moral code to everything he does. While he is out brutally killing the gang who murdered he and his girlfriend, he is also righting other wrongs, giving others a chance to start anew along the way. He provides comfort and a glimmer of hope to Sarah, the friend he and Shelley left behind, he cleans up Sarah’s mom, and he provides Sergeant Albrecht with an opportunity to redeem himself.
It’s not merely a revenge story; it has a certain depth to it. And while some people may dislike its somewhat Hallmark card sentimentality, I personally think that it’s exactly the perfect counterpoint to the oppressive grimness and hopelessness that the world of ‘The Crow’ is filled with. Without those moments, if not for Eric Draven’s fond memories and idealistic gestures, the film would be bereft of any joy – all that would remain would be anger and sadness. And there are plenty of films with so little on offer.
Brandon Lee is the perfect Eric Draven (at least, the cinematic version – ‘The Crow’ was originally a comic book, and the character has been adapted to suit the film). His delivery is flawless, plus he has the looks and the moves to make the character work. Being a martial artist, he was able to do most of his own stunts. It also provided him with a flair that would otherwise be missing from a less physical actor. Thankfully, it made him muscular, but sleek, toned just right for the part of a gothic ex-rock star.
Lee managed to cross many emotional lines with the character. On the one hand, he showed a tender side with Sarah, a jocular one with Sergeant Albrecht, was ecstatic with Shelly, angry with his enemies, but also imbued the character with melancholy and the correct amount of dementia that someone returned from the grave for one final dance would struggle with – after all, how does one cope with the tragedy of one’s death and also having to die again? This would fray the sanity of any person. Lee does it just right.
The rest of the cast is actually quite good. From the get-go, I found Sarah perhaps too inexpressive for my tastes, as though her mouth were numb, and her mom was a bit too brittle for my liking. But every other character is played with aplomb by the actors, from speed-freak Skank to the phenomenal Top Dollar. Michael Wincott’s Top Dollar is memorable for his voice alone, but he played it with such authority that he’s unforgettable. Ernie Hudson also stands out with his cop who casually goes through the motions, now a disillusioned man.
Unfortunately, Brandon Lee was unable to see the film’s completion due to an onset accident that took his life. But director Alex Proyas somehow managed to piece together a film that works. My understanding is that very little footage needed to be shot when Lee died, but it’s still quite remarkable that only a few seams are showing, given that Lee is the centrepiece of the picture. Proyas must have been sweating bullets when the accident happened, but he pulled together a fitting memorial to his fallen star.
I was equally impressed with the restraint of the action sequences. It would have been easy to indulge in violence for violence’s sake, but Proyas kept the proceedings to the point, not giving in to the temptation of making it more brutal. He tried to make it realistic, however, and this meant that the characters were decidedly mortal – in other words, unlike in most action movies, a single bullet wound is enough to put someone out of commission in ”The Crow’, as would a well-placed blade. In a Hollywood where heroes and villains alike are superhuman, this is quite a refreshing perspective.
Another tremendous treat is the music in ‘The Crow’. The music was important for two reasons: firstly because the lead character is an undead musician, but also because O’Barr originally conceived his comic book under the influence of a large number of artists/bands, including Joy Division, The Cure, Iggy Pop, amongst others. He even quoted their lyrics in the comics. So, to make the motion picture melocentric only makes perfect sense. I can’t even think of ‘The Crow’ without thinking of some of those tunes, notably The Cure’ s “Burn” and Nine Inch Nails’ cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls”.
But it wouldn’t be the same film if not for Graeme Revell’s incredible score. His mix of thundering drumbeats, guitars and synthesizers, sometimes delicate, other times fever-pitched, makes for one of the most well-suited scores that I’ve heard; it’s a wonder that he didn’t win any awards for his compositions. I played this disc ceaselessly, and even created a mixtape of the soundtrack and the score in chronological order. I was extremely surprised to discover that Revell would actually best himself with the follow-up; his breathtaking score to ‘The Crow 2: City of Angels’ is a standout of my extensive motion picture score collection.
Following its massive success, ”The Crow’ spawned three vastly inferior sequels (thus far) and ended up being remade as an incredibly bland television series. There is also the constant threat of a remake on the horizon. To me, there’s no recreating the original, and it’s a total classic. Some films are unique: it’s impossible to recreate them whilst retaining all of their flavour and magic.
I have shown this film to countless people over the years and it’s invariably a winner – it seems to capture all who watch it. Granted, one could dismiss it as merely an action movie – but it’s much deeper than that. Similarly, it could be labelled bleak, but it’s actually complemented by layers of beauty and hope. There is much to love in ‘The Crow’. And, for me, that love is forever.
“If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.”
Date of viewing: October 21, 2012