The Crow, 1994, 102 mins, Netflix
Saturday night I watched Alex Proyas’ The Crow, for the first time in… possibly twenty years. The gaps sometimes between viewings of films never fails to be a mixture of surprise and alarm for me, if only because the years pass and accumulate so quickly.
Naturally some, possibly most, people watch a film once and that’s it, they never feel any need to revisit it. Alternatively, some people can watch some films far too many times than can be possibly healthy, and the reasons for returning to films like that can be many. I suppose its often less to do with the film and more to do with the pull of nostalgia for the original time when we first experienced a film, whether it be a childhood favourite or a formative experience when growing up (usually in teenage years). In the case of The Crow… well it’s a film I watched back in 1994 in the (incredibly now a car showroom) Showcase Cinema and later bought in those heady days of importing R1 DVDs. Two things spring to mind: those were fun days going to the Showcase with my future wife every week, and boy, DVDs were so special – you know, actually owning films, in widescreen format, in great quality, with lots of special features, it was all new back then, especially as I’d never experienced anything of the laserdisc era. Who’d have thought DVDs would be so replaceable by so many new formats, given time?
The Crow has been on my mind a little while because late last year Varese finally released its soundtrack score in a complete edition 2-CD set (decades overdue but hey, we’re STILL waiting for the official complete Blade Runner…). I couldn’t resist it and have listened to it several times since – its a great score, dark and melancholy and with beautiful, often heart-rending music, richly thematic, something all too rare these days. Hey, even the song playing over the end titles (a trend I hated back then, much preferring the carefully-constructed end-title suites written by composers like John Williams) was a lovely piece that really worked for the film, and felt a part of the whole. Whenever I’ve listened to the CDs I’ve often thought it’d be nice to watch the film again (I don’t have it on Blu-ray, and the days of me playing my R1 DVDs -even if I could find the box they are in- are long gone). Anyway, I noticed that its popped up on Netflix so hey, bravo for streaming services (not something I write here very often!).
But sticking with the film’s music a little longer- electronic drones drenched in reverb, guitars, children’s choir, women’s voices, ethnic instruments… its a score that was ahead of its time and subsequently imitated numerous times over the years. I found it interesting in the CD booklet that Graeme Revell refers to Blade Runner‘s score, as The Crow‘s ‘world music/multi-cultural’ approach always reminded me of Vangelis’ opus. Both films sound rather ‘outside of time.’
So anyway, back to rewatching the movie. Has The Crow aged well? Its hard to say, really. I suppose its a wonder the film even got released at all: The Crow is always remembered for Brandon Lee’s tragic death (from an accidental gunshot wound during the filming), and it was only able to be completed by then-cutting edge use of computer graphics patching scenes together using various shots of Lee, body-doubles and careful composition of scenes, in a similar way to how Gladiator would later be completed following the death of Oliver Reed during filming in 1999. You can see the trickery in places but on the whole it works well- its nothing too distracting.
What was distracting, at least this time around, was that the film seems to have been cut in several places; weird edits occur that makes it look like some of the violence or more graphic shots were cut, like something is missing. Whether anything has been cut, I don’t know; I assume this UK version is the same as the American R1 DVD disc I watched all those years ago; its not something I can remember from back then which is why it makes me curious now – it really rather felt like I was watching one of those ‘TV versions’ of films that were so common years ago (the TV version of Robocop for instance, is legendary). Maybe the film was always toned down a little from its original intent, in respect of Lee’s death.
The film also wears its ‘pop-video director’ vibe clearly; back then it possibly hardly seemed a thing at all, it was all the rage, but these days, with MTV and pop videos a more distant thing now, it seems to stick out more (I believe The Crow was Alex Proyas’ first film after years shooting pop videos). Too many slow-motion shots with over-powering music; it reminded me greatly of Highlander (1986) but on the positive side, there was some great use of music juxtaposed with the visuals at times. Inevitable visual nods to Blade Runner or Tim Burton’s Batman movie, regards endless rain and gothic art direction. I was such a fan of this film back in 1994/1995- its odd, with it being so long ago when I first watched it, the perspective from being in 2022 now. All those miniatures!
Director Alex Proyas certainly seemed to be someone to follow back then, and I simply adored his next film, the magnificent (if ill-fated, as I recall) Dark City that was one of the very best genre films of the 1990s, but his career sadly tailed off somewhat after that. Proyas skirted with major studio projects like I, Robot (a film I quite liked but don’t have any interest in ever watching again) but the bizarre casting for Knowing (Nicolas Cage as an M.I.T. professor!) pretty much ruined that particular film for me, and I never got around to watching Proyas’ Gods of Egypt at all. So it doesn’t seem that Proyas fulfilled the possibilities inferred by The Crow wowing me like it did in 1994.
I’m out of the loop somewhat regards The Crow, its been so many years since I last watched it. I’m not certain I ever watched the sequel and wasn’t even aware of the third or fourth films in that film series, or indeed that there was a 22-episode television series back in 1998. I must have been living under a rock or something, or maybe that’s just indication of so many straight-to-video films or television series ‘hiding’ on some obscure cable channel.
So anyway, I really quite enjoyed the film. Its such a sad film, inevitably so due to the circumstances during the making of it, the tragedy which seems to loom over most every scene. An unfortunate result is that its hard to really judge Brandon Lee’s performance, judging the line between narrative and reality but I still think a huge part of why the film works so well is Revell’s music; it seems to dominate everything. Which isn’t to say Lee isn’t excellent- his performance is really very good and I’m certain he would have gone on to considerable success in future films, but between what happened to him making the film and the music being such a symphony of melancholy, its really almost overwhelming. The Crow is a very dark gothic fable, a reminder that nothing is trivial, and there ain’t no coming back…. except maybe for movies.