“The Crow” flies high. For a while rumored to be impossible to complete due to the tragic accidental death of star Brandon Lee eight days before lensing was due to wrap, pic that finally emerges is a seamless, pulsating, dazzlingly visual revenge fantasy that stands as one of the most effective live-actioners ever derived from a comic strip.
Despite a simplistic script that unfortunately brandishes its cartoon origins rather too obviously, the combo of edgy excitement, stunning design, hot soundtrack and curiosity about Lee will rep an irresistible lure for young audiences in large numbers, giving this very strong commercial wings. As far as Miramax/Dimension is concerned, it’s too bad the film isn’t moving into the marketplace right now, rather than on May 11, since there’s absolutely nothing out there that could compete with it.
Based on James O’Barr’s bold comic strip, which has generated a considerable following since he started drawing it in the early 1980s, “The Crow” centers on a dark angel who literally rises from the dead to settle matters with the gang of thugs who killed him and his fiancee on the eve of their wedding. Tale is more pungent than poignant, however, in that it’s set in a generic inner city so hellish it makes Gotham City look like the Emerald City.
Noted Aussie commercial and musicvideo helmer Alex Proyas drenches his debut Yank feature in a claustrophobic, rain-soaked atmosphere that owes more than a little to “Blade Runner.” But the movie still generates a distinctive personality due to its aggressive narrative vigor, agreeable mixture of sweetness and nastiness, and technical mastery.
Tour de force opening brings the viewer in for a slow landing over a bleak urban landscape blighted by fires on Devil’s Night, Halloween Eve. The Crow, as a girl’s narration informs, transports souls to the land of the dead, but if a crime was so heinous that the soul can’t rest, the Crow can bring it back.
That’s all the explanation needed for the rebirth, a year later, of Eric Draven (Lee), who, as is shown in brilliant, violent flashes of montage, was murdered by a bunch of drooling hooligans who then raped and mortally injured his bride-to-be. A rock musician by trade, Eric is led, one by one, to his vile assailants by a large crow that flaps above the desolate streets like a mythic bearer of dread tidings.
Pic’s main problem is an exceedingly straight, A-B-C-D narrative line with no subplots, twists or turns, which even Proyas’ protean direction can’t keep comfortably aloft the entire time. Banter and nasty repartee could also have been sharpened up and made more humorous.
But film creates one of the most imaginatively rendered, impressively sustained artificial worlds seen on film in some time, and the action is riveting. Vet video production designer Alex McDowell has devised a staggering look for the bombed-out cityscape.
McDowell, Proyas, ace lenser Dariusz Wolski (“Romeo Is Bleeding”) and costume designer Arianne Phillips have carefully calculated a shadowy, color-drained environment, melding their contributions into a vision worthy of a single visual artist. Special effects, particularly those involving the flying crow, are outstanding.
But certainly much of the attention here will rightly focus upon Brandon Lee. The 28-year-old son of the late Bruce Lee had not had a very distinguished career up until this, but this role would have made him a performer to reckon with, and perhaps a star. His striking looks, sinuous presence and agile moves lock one’s attention, and the painful irony of his role as a dead man returning from the grave will not go unnoticed.
Most supporting thesps seem to be competing for the title of meanest, nastiest, scummiest villain. Graeme Revell’s outstandingly moody score is supplemented by more than a dozen edgy rock songs that promise a fine soundtrack.
A sequel would have seemed like a foregone conclusion. But, so sadly, it would be missing this film’s central presence, Lee. Film is dedicated to him and his fiancee, Eliza.