This review is dedicated to Jon Polito (Gideon) and Michael Massee (Fun-Boy) who appeared in prominent roles in this film, and have both passed away within the last 2 months.
Once upon a time a teenage Art student nicknamed “Big Cheese” by several classmates and a teenage fart-loving metalhead named Jon shared a classroom for 2 years and became friends. One day, Jon introduced Big Cheese to what was known at the time as “The Crow Trilogy”, which Big Cheese took home and watched every night for 3 nights. The second 2 sucked. When their time in school finished, Big Cheese and Jon remained friends for several years, bumping into each other in the street and talking like that final day was yesterday. Until disagreements became galore, distance was created, and lastly, a Facebook page was deactivated. It’s a strange world. But it happens to all in one way or another. Big Cheese took the opportunity to revisit this film, and now the question is asked: Does 1 of the most memorable gifts that Jon ever gave Big Cheese still live up to its hype? I guess I’ll have to discuss that.
Set on October 30th (Mexico’s Day Of The Dead) in Detroit, Michigan on what’s known in the film as “Devil’s Night”, our story begins with a crime scene. The lead guitarist of the rock band Hangman’s Joke, Eric Draven, and his fiancé, Shelly Webster, are attacked in their dilapidated apartment by T-bird and his gang of misfits, Skank, Fun Boy and Tin Tin. Eric was killed instantly, after being brutally shot and then thrown out of a 6 storey window. Shelly survived her rape and beatings, but died later that night in hospital. Due to how great the tragedy was, and the fact that nobody was caught, Eric’s soul was unable to rest. And exactly a year later, a Crow brings him back to life in order for him to find the people who killed him and Shelly, hunt them down, kill them, and then he himself can rest in peace.
This plot was rehashed/remade/retold in the sequels. But this was well and by far the best adaption…and the most tragic. Overshadowing this film is the fact that its main star, Brandon Lee (son of legendary martial arts movie star Bruce Lee) was accidentally killed during its production on March 31st 1993 due to a shard from a previous blank in a gun being dislodged. He was 8 days away from finishing all of his scenes, and it left everybody involved badly shaken, even to this day. Thankfully, the cast and crew decided to be creative, and with several rewrites, stunt doubles and the CGI available at the time, they finished it. To add even more tragedy again – Lee was engaged in real life to his girlfriend Eliza, creating a parallel between real and fiction.
Now to look at the parts that make the whole:
The Acting is over the top and at times cartoony on different of levels, like some comic book movies should be, pre-marvel cinematic universe. Some could argue that you need to be in the mood for this sort of “’89 Batman” performance, but that doesn’t make it bad. Ernie Hudson from the Ghostbusters movies is in it, and he’s great as Sergeant Albrecht (who is white and plays a small role in the comic, but is so much better presented and useful for the story here). David Patrick Kelly as T-Bird practically reprises a role he had in 1979 in a film called The Warriors, where he plays Luther, the leader of a gang called The Rogues (Warriors! Come out and plaeeeeay! That’s him…) – so imagine that he’s playing an older version of that character who survived, moved state and changed his identity. Michael Wincott as Top Dollar is a great Villain, and provides a combination of twisted humour, a deep, gravelly voice and wonderful looking long hair (wig!). In terms of performances, this film would have been what made Brandon Lee a star. He strikes a lot of poses and pulls some relatively cheesy facial expressions and movements here and there. But he also delivers some very memorable lines (in fact, at least half of his dialogue is quotable as pop culture references for better or worse), excellent action scenes for their day (doing his own action), and was very touching in the quieter scenes of the film. But overall it’s definitely his best performance. The villains are very well done within context, and I’ll get to that soon.
The Characters in this film could be best described as “pretty faithful to its source material”. Not necessarily in its narrative (for instance, Top Dollar is the main villain in this film, but in the comic it’s T-Bird and Top Dollar’s very much secondary), but rather in how James O’ Barr presented them in his comics. When O’ Barr created The Crow, it was a project to help him cope with real life tragedy, as his fiancé was killed by a drunk driver when he was only 18 (He grew up an Orphan) and he was inspired by a Detroit news report about a young couple who were killed over a $20 engagement ring. His rage can be seen in every page of the comic book, as he provided his villains with no redeeming qualities and presented them simply as evil, savage beasts who live for the moment, enjoy the chaos and do anything to get high. Such a presentation and evil is perfectly replicated in the film, and within this context, it’s an excellent translation. On top of this, you feel the great pain, anger and tragedy that Eric Draven went through, and despite his occasional playfulness (as someone who can’t be killed by those he’s hunting down), it’s simply sweet revenge to him, and an opportunity to make the world he left behind a better place.
The Story is not a direct-to-screen version of the comic book, as both are very differently paced with the ending of the comic being happy, but a little anti-climatic and abrupt for cinema. What James had on pages was better taken apart, edited and put back together for the movie. Are there plot holes? Yes, some. But not too many. It’s action-packed when it needs to be and slow when it needs to be as well. As I’ve said before, the story is basically the same in every Crow sequel, and this 1 is very much the best written and best paced of the bunch. It even has some great one-liners in it – which on their own would have been enough to inspire the pro wrestler Steve Borden when he was changing his gimmick.
The Music in The Crow is…awesome. A thoroughly inspired collection of scores by Graeme Revell and original music by a range of musicians, including Nine Inch Nails covering Joy Division’s “Dead Souls”, Henry Rollins covering Suicide’s “Ghostrider”, Pantera covering The Badge by Poison Idea. Lesser known bands like Medicine and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult received in-movie performances like it was an episode of Buffy or The Young Ones. The Cure, 1 of the bands James O’Barr listened to when he was making the comic, do an original track for the film (called “Burn”). Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Helmet – it was a bit of a who’s who in Alternative American music. And then of course there’s the end-credits theme “It Can’t Rain All The Time” by Jane Siberry. A very fitting end in numerous ways that might make you teary eyed the first time you hear it. Graeme Revell does an amazing job with the film’s score with a combination of electric lead guitar, brass, light vocals, synthesisers, an orchestra and some middle eastern sounding scales mixed into haunting ambience and dark tones. On its own, the music can tell its own story. It’s phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal…and beautiful. I own both CDs, so I can vouch on that.
The Cinematography and special effects are like watching numerous music videos put together to create a story – which can be expected, because director Alex Proyas directed a number of music videos for MTV. Everything is very stylised, and while it’s clear that they were showing a miniature city, in certain resolutions other than HD, it blended in pretty well. Much of the film is presented with quick, flashy editing and some awesome use of green screen effects for its day such as Eric Draven on top of the miniature city
The Art Style is delightfully gothic, dirty, dark, grungy and wet, just like the alternative music scene of its day. Everything is so delightfully alternative ’90s, it’s difficult to get enough of it in this film. The architecture, the decay, the dark shadows – so much stuff worked well, particularly in its day, and even today some of it holds up very well, despite the evident “set-piece” appearance that HD TVs gladly bring up in Batman Returns and other fantasy films that used creative ways of presenting itself without necessarily having a life-size set or a real life filming location. For a film that’s shot entirely indoors, it looks great.
The CGI has become dated overtime as television quality got better and mistakes in design and execution became more and more clear in the visuals. But this doesn’t stop the film from doing what it set out to do (including in the new challenges created after Lee’s death) and doing it incredibly well for the time period.
Would I recommend The Crow? Definitely! While comic book movies have come a long way and the technology to present them has become absolutely amazing – The Crow deserves its place in history as 1 of the few really good comic book movies made in the 1990s, along with Batman Returns, Blade and Men In Black, because the ’90s was a very dark time for comic book fans at the movies. Has the film changed on Big Cheese? No – Big Cheese is simply a different person to what he was. But he hasn’t forgotten the impact this movie had on him during a certain time in his life. As for Jon – maybe we’ll find out what’s he’s up to later.
Art Style: *****
CGI: **1/2 (Today) ****1/2 (in 1994)