The Crow finally gets a release which presents it as it deserves, this new US Region A-locked Blu-ray coming complete with a 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. It has been privy to some of the worst Blu-ray presentations known, including the UK release, which, whilst purporting to be 1080p, was indeed a shocking 1080i image, soft, defect-ridden, cursed by artefacts and overwhelming grain, it was commonly regarded as the polar opposite of a SD-DVD upgrade – if anything many fans wanted to return it and hold on to their DVD instead. Finally, this new release, complete with 1080p video, gets it right.
Detail is generally very good throughout, wavering in some sequences, but standing out better than ever before in others. There were obviously always going to be some inherent issues with a production which was completed, to a certain extent, in post-production – effects were not great back when The Crow was made, and the superimposed Brandon Lee shots do have a knock-on effect on some of the image quality. Still, those shots notwithstanding, the movie simply has never looked this good. The artifacting, defects – dirt and scratches – prevalent in the UK release are no longer present, and indeed the image looks largely devoid of anything that could be deemed much of a distraction: only some light aliasing, and a hint of crush preventing this from getting a stellar perfect-10.
The movie is shot almost entirely at night – even the indoor sequences were apparently shot at night too just to keep the cast and crew running on their night-time clock – and thankfully the black levels remain strong throughout, which is a real blessing for a film that is this dark. The rain-soaked shadows and moonlit sequences look impressive, and the skin and colour tones generally come across as rich and authentic: pale and bloodless where appropriate, but, conversely, blood given vivid prominence. Somewhat surprisingly the grain levels have been reined-in to provide a presentation that both has a solid level of depth, detail and texture, but is not overwrought with heavy, rampant noise. A fine layer of suitably filmic grain still pervades the piece, reminding you that the dreaded DNR has not been working overtime, and overall The Crow looks fabulous, better than ever before, and just about reference quality, if only because you’ll never have better blacks to show off than with this darkest of dark films.
This new US release of The Crow also benefits from a stomping DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which blasts the UK-equivalent non-HD track out of the water. Again, the way in which the movie was finished led to plenty of issue with sound – most easily noticed with respect to Brandon Lee’s dialogue, which, in some cases, required ADR that simply was not possible without the star. These moments are not distracting – they’re not even all that bad – you just notice a different ‘sounding’ sound to the scenes around them, with the atmospheric street noises amped up higher than before. Overall though the dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, largely dominating the frontal array and, indeed, the majority of the track comes at you front and centre, with some serious bass bringing up the low end, but not all that much coming at you from behind. Still, if you wanted one word to describe this track, it would certainly be: loud.
Hefty atmosphere is created even using the front-dominated array, with oppressive rain punctuating the outdoor sequences, and music often dominating the indoor scenes. Directionality is most noticeable during the gunfights, where bullets whizz around the soundscape, distinct separation occurring across the surround channels, and the track shows off great range and impressive dynamics. The soundtrack has to be the most potent offering though, not just the beat-laden tracks included (including a fantastic offering from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor) but actually the underlying score by Graeme Revell, which is very dark indeed – check out the nightclub shootout, when the band stop playing and Eric escapes across the rooftop, the percussive, penetrating score is perfectly chosen. A little more rear action and this track could have also been a perfect-10, but, like the video, it just about loses out on that, still impressive however, with a reference quality rating.
The Crow was released over a decade ago on SD-DVD as part of the Miramax/Dimension Collector’s Series with a whole host of extras which are largely ported over for this release. Oddly though, two fairly sizeable extras have been left out – one of them being the comprehensive, feature-length Documentary on The Crow (that did not even make said SD-DVD edition), and one of them being that edition’s Commentary, provided by Producer Jeff Most and Screenwriter John Shirley. Replacing that track we do however get a solo offering from Director Alex Proyas. Perhaps this is not the definitive edition, but the majority of the important stuff is here, and fans will be particularly happy to hear from the Director.
Audio Commentary With Director Alex Proyas – This is quite a good offering, but it is a distinctly variable track; fairly informative throughout, but also quite flighty, with the director often veering off-track for long period of time. It’s compelling mostly because he is the director, and he has a great deal of background information, but you do sometimes wonder whether he could a) not drop out for so many long pauses and b) stay a little bit more focused. Amidst the highlights are his reflections on Brandon Lee, his dedication to the film and his contributions to the character; the effects done, the miniature work and the digital techniques they implements; and the way in which he tried to bring the original comic book to life, using primary tones of black, white and red to tell the tale and saturating the movie to avoid blues and greens, and embellishing the poetical prose. Worth dipping in and out of, this is certainly a welcome addition for fans who have previously only encountered the Producer/Screenwriter’s Commentary on the prior edition, but it’s a shame that they don’t include both because then this release would definitively replace the previous SD-DVD.
Behind the Scenes Featurette – Running at little over a quarter of an hour in length, this making-of featurette gives you a decent overview of the production, from the design and preparatory work done, through to the effects work done, with most of the ingredients in between given at least a bullet-point notation. It’s a shame we don’t get the longer, inevitably more comprehensive ninety-minute long Documentary here instead, but this little offering will suffice – benefiting at least from a wealth of interview snippets from the cast and crew members.
A Profile on James O'Barr – This rather personal extended half-hour monologue, shot in almost a video-diary form from the writer/artist’s own basement, charts his entire life: from abused childhood, through foster homes, to meeting the girl of his dreams – and then having her ripped from his life. His outward appearance is kind of exactly what you would expect from a basement-based geek extraordinaire, and you do wonder how much this guy gets out, but his heartbreaking story, told with little extravagance or embellishment (although he has got a strange aura of entitlement about him though), is compelling from start to finish.
Extended Scenes – Here we get three extended scenes, totalling an extra 11 minutes of footage: The Arcade Bombing, The Funboy Fight and The Shootout at Top Dollar’s.
The Arcade Bombing is an interesting opening sequence, which first showcased Eric’s powers of ‘reading objects’, and which also showed exactly what happened in the explosion that draws everybody’s attention towards the beginning of the movie. It was also an idea that was not in the original graphic novel. Considering there’s a fair amount of Brandon Lee footage here, I’m a little surprised they did not keep this in, although perhaps (as stated in the main body) it had something to do with the lack of close-ups available (because they were never shot).
The Funboy Fight is more violent – well the original scene wasn’t really much of a fight at all – but had to be removed because continuity was an issue: the scene was supposed to show that when Draven used his 'powers' (i.e. to take the morphine out of the mother's veins), he temporarily made himself human again, so he was vulnerable to the slashes from Funboy; but because Lee's absence prevented them from fully explaining this character development, they decided to just remove the confusing elements. Still, although bathed in darkness, and incongrous to the finished product, it’s nevertheless an interesting extended look, also presenting more from Lee.
The Shootout at Top Dollar’s includes a smattering of extra dialogue from Lee, as well as a much longer, protracted shooting sequence where a table-full of villains empty their guns into an arms-wide-in-a-crucifix-shape Lee, obviously invulnerable to any damage. It was probably wisely cut both out of respect for the departed, and also because it made the character even more invulnerable – when the end of the scene was surely supposed to show that even he needs time to recover. Still there are some great fight moves, excellent executions, and overall this is well worth checking out.
Deleted Footage Montage – A five-minute montage of b-roll footage, which includes some moody shots of the street, a little bit of the discarded flashback footage of Eric and his fiancée, an excellent alternate opening conversation between the cops, more drug-taking, a few great lines from Lee, and some clips of the excised Skull Cowboy character. (The Skull Cowboy was an interesting character from the graphic novel but they did not get around to filming his integral dialogue scenes before Brandon’s death, so this is all we’re left with.) There are also a few different angles of the Top Dollar shootout, and a rather obvious stunt double shot; and, as mentioned in the main body of the review, a really quick glimpse of some alternate chase footage, which included Brandon being strapped to the top of the car (from the scenes unfilmed). Definitely worth watching, it plays almost like a mini-tribute to the late Lee, and closes with quite a haunting shot of him.
Original Poster Concepts – offers up a range of 23 poster designs.
Production Design Stills – shows a selection of 12 art shots from pre-production.
Storyboards – This is perhaps the most interesting gallery as here we get three key unfilmed scenes with their storyboards laid out almost in their entirety. We’re talking hundreds of frames, so it takes a while to click through the sequence but it’s well worth your time. The three scenes are: The Skull Cowboy, The Arcade Bombing, Funboy’s Last Stand, The Liquor Store Robbery and Shootout at Top Dollar’s.
The Skull Cowboy is an interesting if marginally over-the-top sequence which, whilst derived from the graphic novel, never actually takes place in the novel. The dialogue was good, but the end was silly.
The Arcade Bombing explains more behind the background to the Extended Scene on this, with the person tortured and left to burn in the building.
Funboy’s Last Stand does the same for the Extended Scene with Funboy.
Liquor Store Robbery (as mentioned in the main body of the review) shows us a more complete look at the events during this scene, with Eric crashing through the windscreen of the car as he does in the novel.
Shootout at Top Dollar’s offers up little difference from the final cut but is interesting to use to contrast and compare. Most of these storyboards are not only interesting for their unfilmed elements, but also because what was filmed, sticks very closely to the design work here.
Finally we get the film’s original Theatrical Trailer to round out the disc.
A flawed but compelling vision, Alex Proyas’s The Crow was steeped in tragedy – not least in its horrific revenge plot, but also of the real-life variety: both the needless death that inspired the story, and the fatal accident on-set which cost the life of upcoming star Brandon Lee, son of the late Bruce Lee. Whilst almost fatally impaired by the loss of the lead actor, there is plenty to still enjoy in this eminently broody, moody affair, from the poetic avenging angel to the colourful, evil villains; from the almost supernatural environment, steeped in darkness and drenched in interminable rain, to the action-packed confrontations. Ultimately, this is Brandon Lee’s fitting epitaph, a testament to his capabilities and a haunting tribute to what could have been. Powerfully evocative, there are few films that resonate such palpable doom masquerading as impossible salvation.
On Region A-locked US Blu-ray The Crow finally getting the release that it deserves, complete with excellent video and audio, as well a wealthy selection of extras which should satisfy most fans. Indeed, anybody with any love for the film should consider this a must-have release. Those less familiar, or who don’t remember it as well, should regard this as a great time to get reacquainted. A dark, oppressive movie that may leave you feeling quite melancholy from its actual haunting significance, welcome to Brandon Lee’s proud final act. Recommended.
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