The Crow

The Crow (1994)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Brandon Lee, Sofia Shinas, Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson
Extras: Commentary Track, Feature, James O’Barr Interview, Deleted Footage, Storyboards, Still Gallery

In my opinion, "The Crow" is one of the most important films of the last decade. The film broke new ground in the genre of comic book adaptations, and was able to mix dark imagery with an exciting story, along with a pounding industrial soundtrack. Besides the magic that was taking place onscreen, "The Crow" also brought with it a real-life behind-the-scenes drama, that tells its own story of triumph over tragedy. Buena Vista Home Entertainment has seen fit to ask for forgiveness for their earlier movie-only DVD release of "The Crow" by brining us a new 2-DVD "Collector’s Series" set. But, will this package be everything that fans of the film have been hoping for?

"The Crow" stars the late Brandon Lee as Eric Draven. One year after Eric and his fiancé Shelly (Sofia Shinas) were murdered by a gang of thugs, Eric rises from the grave to seek revenge. A mysterious crow leads Eric on his quest for vengeance, and Eric soon discovers that he’s returned from the dead with super-human strength and invulnerability. One by one, Eric tracks down the members of the murderous gang, as he makes his way to their leader, Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). Along the way, Eric encounters Sarah (Rochelle Davis), a young girl whom he knew in life, and Albrecht (Ernie Hudson), a cop who investigated Eric and Shelly’s murders.

While the story of "The Crow" is fairly straightforward (as far as zombie-revenge movies go), it holds many serious themes. The film basically asks the question, "If you came back from the dead, what would you do?" On top of this very philosophical query, we have an exciting action/horror film, in which Brandon Lee was able to show off his physical talents, as well as his growing acting skills. Much of the credit for "The Crow’s" success must go to director Alex Proyas ("Dark City"). In "The Crow", Proyas has created a world in which darkness rules (he intentionally filtered out any blues or greens). The film’s look is beyond dark and the atmosphere created becomes another character in the film. "The Crow" set a precedent in modern action filmmaking, and became a milestone for Generatoin X.

Okay, so "The Crow" is a great film, but how does this new DVD set measure up? The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The image is definitely an improvement over the previous release (of which some copies had color problems). The picture is crisp and sharp, showing only a subtle hint of grain. The quality of this transfer is greatly appreciated, as "The Crow" is such a visual experience. As this is a very dark film, the DVD medium is perfect for it, as the true blacks look great on this transfer. Proyas’ color-scheme (or no color-scheme) gives the film tremendous depth to begin with, but the clarity of this picture only adds to it. The framing appears to be accurate, and as the first disc contains only the film, the commentary, and DVD-ROM materials, there are no problems with artifacting or compression.

This new and improved video transfer is complemented by an upgraded soundtrack. The sounds in "The Crow" are almost as important as the visuals. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track offers a good use of surround sound and a nice sound field. As the viewer is constantly treated to either sound effect or music (both the score and the original songs), the speakers throb throughout the film. The bass response is good and the dialogue is always clear and audible. The disc also includes a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 soundtrack, which improves somewhat on the dynamic range and the quality of the sound field with a clearer delineation of the track’s spatial integration. Both tracks show that the audio department at Buena Vista spent some time in remixing this film.

I’m going to forego any subtly and reveal that I found the supplemental features on this "Collector’s Series" DVD to be very disappointing. Allow me to explain. As a fan of "The Crow", I’m very familiar with the origin of the film and the production. I was curious in learning more about what happened after Brandon Lee’s death. I’m not talking about morbid details, I speaking to the fact that production was halted and the resumed several months later. A combination of CGI and doubles were used to replace Lee in the scenes, which had yet to be shot and some parts of the film had to be re-written or reconstructed. There is no light shed on these topics on this DVD. Some of this is hinted at during the <$commentary,audio commentary> with producer Jeff Most and co-writer John Shirley, but it isn’t until the very end of their talk that they even bring up the fact that there was a lapse in production following Lee’s tragic death. During the scenes where the film was altered (such as Eric’s return to his apartment), the duo never talk about how what we’re viewing was accomplished. They constantly talk about the themes of the film. "The Crow" isn’t exactly a subtle film — love, death, revenge — we get the central themes. We don’t need to hear a 90-minute speech about them. They do occasionally focus on the film and give some scene-specific commentary, but it’s usually not interesting information. I would’ve rather had a commentary with director Alex Proyas and co-writer David Schow. (The absence of Proyas’ involvement is felt throughout the DVD).

Equally disappointing is the 16-minute Behind-the-Scenes featurette. This segment includes interviews with several members of the cast and crew, most notably Brandon Lee. Notably absent is Alex Proyas. Lee shares his thoughts on the film and comes across as very open and engaging. There are also comments from Ernie Hudson, Tony Todd, and others. Once again, this feature gives us a lot of information that many of us probably already know. While it’s nice to get a feel for what the actors thought about the film while they were making it, this comes across as little more than a commercial for the film.

Doing a complete 180 degree turn, the DVD then offers us a "Profile of James O’Barr", the creator of "The Crow" comic. At 33-minutes, this interview (which was conducted in O’Barr’s basement studio), gets very in-depth and downright scary at times. O’Barr candidly shares his life story and talk about the tragic accident which led him to create "The Crow". The artist is very open with his feelings about Hollywood, and speaks briefly about his views on "The Crow" movie. This segment will tell you everything that you ever wanted to know about James O’Barr (and probably a little more), may give some viewers a new appreciation for comic artists.

As mentioned above, "The Crow" was altered heavily after Lee’s death, so one would expect a great deal of deleted footage (but not the footage of Lee being shot, which was immediately destroyed). However, the DVD offers little in this area. There are three extended scenes, "The Arcade Bombing", "The Fun-Boy Fight", and "The Shoot-out at Top Dollar’s". Of these, only "The Fun-Boy Fight" hold any real interest, as it gives us a peek at the unfinished sub-plot involving Eric’s vulnerability that occurs when he assists the living. There is also a deleted footage montage, which runs about five-minutes. The vast majority of this footage is simply bits and pieces trimmed from existing scenes, and much of the footage runs without sound (it is covered by samples from the film’s score). This segment does contain two shots from the abandoned "Skull Cowboy" scene, but if you weren’t familiar with this concept, you wouldn’t know what you were looking at. Admittedly, it is neat to see some of these shots in their raw form, before they went through the post-production processing. It’s amazing how bright some of them look!

The remainder of the special features are still galleries. The first contains abandoned movie-poster concepts for the film, and many of them are quite interesting, especially the one with the guitar. Next, we have a production design gallery, which shows sketches for the many locations and sets. Finally, we have storyboards for five scenes, including the "Skull Cowboy" sequence. Seeing these storyboards does help give one an idea of how this scene would’ve played and ultimately how it would’ve helped the film’s opening flow a bit better. (It makes more sense that someone told Eric to follow the crow.) Notably absent from the supplements is the film’s trailer. I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t turn up on the movie-only DVD, but its absence here is hard to ignore.

As a die-hard fan of "The Crow", this DVD presents a mixed-bag. The transfer is excellent and offers the film as it was meant to be seen and heard. But, the supplements only left me wanting more (and wondering why a single-disc wouldn’t have been possible). Fans of "The Crow" will certainly want to pick up this DVD, as it offers a near-reference quality presentation of the film, but little else. Maybe if we wait long enough, the ultimate "Crow" DVD will rise from the grave.