James O’Barr’s “The Crow” comic book, which originally ran in the late ’80s/early ’90s as a 4-issue mini-series, was a brilliant and nihilistic story of everlasting love, unrelenting pain, and human nature gone terribly, terribly wrong. The movie “The Crow”, directed by Alex Proyas (“Dark City”) and written by David Schow and John Shirley, is a violent story about brain dead punks, clich’ villain types, and capitalism in the guise of arson.
Essentially a one-hour movie with 40 superfluous minutes tacked on to appease the Gods of Movie Commerce, “The Crow” follows Goth rocker Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) who, exactly one year after his, and his girlfriend’s, brutal murder at the hands of 4 street thugs, returns from the grave with supernatural powers. His quest for revenge unexpectedly leads him to Top Dollar (Michael Wincott, “Alien: Resurrection”), a gang leader with real estate aspirations (!). Being that Draven is superpowered by an actual crow that flies around and gives him groovy “crow vision” and stuff, it’s a lucky thing Top Dollar has on hand a sadistic sidekick who, without much preamble, guesses that the source of Draven’s power is the crow.
The “bible” for “The Crow” franchise came from O’Barr’s idea of a man rising from the dead for vengeance coupled with the notion that the Crow’s powers come from a flying black bird. As is the case with “Crow: Salvation”, it’s also a given that sooner or later the bad guys will go voila! and miraculously figure out that the way to “get” to the Crow is to go after the bird. This is precisely the template for the franchise in its last 3 appearances, right down to the master bad guy behind all the machinations that cause the Crow’s original death, and the master bad guy figuring out the whole Crow-bird power scheme. As a result, once you’ve seen one “Crow” movie, you’ve seen them all.
Needless to say, I find the above notion to be rather painful to endure. Especially in light of my love for O’Barr’s original books, which was really of a series of poems and vibrant free flow thoughts jotted down to haunting and rough imagery (not to mention very rough art). Leave it to Hollywood to add a completely lame subplot like Top Dollar’s business dealings when the original story was about a simple, good man who returns to kill 4 bad men, and at the same time has to deal with the fact that he and the greatest love of his life are dead, and that he’s trapped on this Earth until he finishes off the killers. Leave it to lazy and unoriginal screenwriters to be so dense as to be unable to fully grasp the simpleness of “The Crow” comic book.
Not surprisingly “The Crow” works best when it stays true to O’Barr’s ideas. Draven’s poetry-as-dialogue, his look, and his saving of Sarah’s drug-addicted mother as a way to save Sarah (Rochelle Davis). (Although the Sarah character was a minor one in the books.) In the movie, the expanded Sarah role also provides narration, adding that ridiculous line about the crow bringing back dead people, thereby completely undermining any idea that Draven’s return is special, but rather commonplace. Ernie Hudson also appears as a demoted cop.
The real reason to sit through all of “The Crow” is director Alex Proyas’ amazing visuals. As he would later do on “Dark City”, Proyas uses tight and complex editing and a city bathed in darkness for his canvas, bringing to mind phrases like gothic, nihilistic, and just downright coolness. “The Crow” is visually brilliant, and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (“Bad Company”) swoops across the hellish cityscape with the ease and majesty of an eagle (or is that crow?). As pure spectacle, the film more than makes up for the lazy screenplay.
If you were to just concentrate on the effective performance of Brandon Lee (who unfortunately was killed during the shoot) and the visual eye of Proyas, “The Crow” is a stunning film to behold. But for fans of O’Barr’s original works, the movie begins to falter at about the hour mark, when Wincott’s character starts to come to the forefront. Also, why does the Crow go around telling everyone who cares to listen who he really is? You’d think a fellow who just came back from the grave with groovy supernatural powers would be a little more discreet.
Alex Proyas (director) / James O’Barr (comic book), David J. Schow, John Shirley (screenplay)
CAST: Brandon Lee …. Eric Draven
Ernie Hudson …. Sergeant Albrecht
Michael Wincott …. Top Dollar
David Patrick Kelly …. T-Bird
Angel David …. Skank