Friday, July 8, 2011

Completist Guide to The Crow series (1993-2005) (Part 2)

The Crow: Salvation (2000)
So after a failed sequel and a failed TV show, they decided to blindly make another sequel! It sounds like a bit of doomed concept but The Crow had continued in comic books during the late 90s to modest success (we'll get onto those later) and the original film was still selling well on video and dvd. Also, anyone with a knowledge of Dimension studios knows how many DTV sequels they crank out – Hellraiser, Children of the Corn, Mimic to name a few – they'll crank out a sequel to almost anything that sounds violent and horror orientated.
Luckily the film opts to shun the lighter touch that Stairway to Heaven had and again tells a pitch black tale of revenge like the first two films. Unlike the original film and City of Angels, both of which were deliberately stylised pieces of cinema set in undefinable times, Salvation chooses to go for a far more realistic look and grounds the film in the present. 
Eric Mabius plays Alex Corvis, a 21 year old about to be sentenced to the electric chair for murdering his girlfriend, something he's repeatedly denied. In the first 10 minutes we see him executed but of course, he's resurrected by a mysterious crow and sets about solving who really killed his girlfriend.
I like what they did here. The writer Chip Johannsen (a TV writer for shows like Millennium) and director Bharat Nalluri (who's directed a lot of glossy British TV shows like Doctor Who and Hustle) recognised they couldn't repeat the exact same formula and the film shows potential in turning Alex's mission of revenge into an investigation rather than straight forward killings. Sadly, it gives too much away too quickly and it's not too long before we know the identity of the killers. 
Also, the film's noticably much lower budget than the baroque original, at times it feels too much like a TV movie than a piece of cinema. The production history for this, like all Crow films, was again troubled. It was intended to go to cinemas (I even remember seeing the soundtrack way before the film came out) but the film tested poorly and it was said certain points were confusing. Some reshoots were done but the project was eventually shelved and then released DTV.
Eric Mabius makes a nice fit for Alex and it's a shame he didn't get more leading roles (this probably killed his chances). Kirsten Dunst makes a nice sidekick character as well and the cast of cops is nicely put together – it's good to see Walton Goggins (of The Shield) too, playing his usual racist/sexist/violent cop role. 
Once again, we've got a good premise but very average execution (no pun intended... okay maybe it was). It's nice to see the series break away and try something new. This film seems far less in debt to the original than City of Angels was.
Score by Marco Beltrami
Marco Beltrami's score is far less memorable than Graeme Revell's work. It's mostly generic sounding piano that doesn't really have any identity (something Beltrami repeated when taking over scoring duties on Terminator 3). In fact during the film they more often drop in a rock song in lieu of score. Apparently the film was shot for way under budget and the soundtrack department went overboard buying up rock tracks – in this case, check out the soundtrack over the score.
The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005)
And so we come to the most recent Crow film Wicked Prayer, directed by Lance Mungia (director of the almost great Six String Samurai – see earlier review). The first thing that hits you when you look at the front cover is... Edward Furlong?!? Edward Furlong as in the squeeky voiced kid who played John Connor in Terminator 2. Yep, that Edward Furlong.
Wicked Prayer is one long massive misfire of a movie, in almost every department, and it's unsurprising that no sequels or indeed any other Crow paraphernalia has followed it. The story has Furlong play Jimmy Cuervo, a former criminal living in a dusty desert town near an Indian reservation where he's met the love of his life, Lilly. Unsurprisingly, their happiness is cut short when an ex-con Luc Crash (David Boreanaz, Angel from the Buffy TV show), a former friend of Jimmy, and his gang decides to murder them both and take Lily's eyes out as part of some Satanic ritual. Jimmy comes back and... yah dah yah dah yah dah. You get the picture.
Okay, the plot sounds a little bonkers but in the right hands I'm sure it could be okay-ish. The makers have tried to give everything a really fresh spin with the desert setting. Unfortunately, everyone in this picture seems to be at complete cross purposes. There is A LOT of terrible acting. I'm not just talking about one or two actors. Everyone is uniformly terrible. David Boreanaz tries to channel Jack Nicholson's Joker and fails. Edward Furlong still looks like a teenager and isn't intimidating in the slightest. Tara Reid, once again reads his lines like someone who's just learnt to talk. Yuji Okumoto struggles with most of his lines too. Cage wrestler Tito Ortiz comes across more campy than scary. Danny Trejo embarrasses himself towards the end by doing a topless Native American dance (um, pretty sure he's Mexican) that is meant to be very serious and moving but just comes across as a 60 year latino wobbling his man boobs in the desert.
Worst of all is Macy Gray (yep, the singer) who has a tiny role but manages to garbles (and I mean garble) her way through a couple of lines before being shot. Sadly, I couldn't find a clip of her on youtube so you'll have to settle for this one of Dennis Hopper, for completely inexplicable reasons speaking in ebonics...
On top of all this terrible acting is terrible directing. Again, like his earlier film Six String Samurai, Mungia can create some great shots – some interesting dream-like shots of Jimmy and Lilly work really well – but the guy cannot structure his shots. For a lot of film it's difficult to tell geographically where everything is. It's something you don't really think about when you watch movies but it's headache-inducing when its missing. With a plot this crazy you need to take the time to tell it coherently.
Now I will forgive the makers a little because they obviously had a very small budget and I'm guessing they didn't get the opportunity to do any reshoots that would have cleared up the story. The Weinsteins, executive producers, are notorious penny-pinchers and it shows here – 90% of the shots of the crow are taken from the previous films. Production history on this again was interesting. Shot in 2003, it didn't arrive on DVD until 2005. Inbetween then a poster was released reading just Wicked Prayer (no mention of the Crow) leading everyone to think that even the producers were ashamed of what they'd made.
Basically there's no way of escaping it, this is a terrible, terrible movie. It's got nothing to do with the fact that I liked the earlier movies, it's just a mess of film. You can't even call it so bad its good.
Score by Jamie Christopherson
You know what? The score to Wicked Prayer by Jamie Christopherson, who's back catalogue is mainly video game work, is actually pretty good. It's miles away from the gothic score by Revell and at times drifts dangerously close to middle of the road hippish Native American muzak but suits the film and shows a glimpse of originality that the film was aiming for. My pick from the album, which I think Jamie gives away for free on his website, is 'Bike Ride' a great little triumphant soaring track.
Comic books
The original book by James O'Barr is a comic book masterpiece that deserves to be placed alongside Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen. Illustrated in black and white and with quite a different plot to the original film it's really worth picking up even if your not a Goth. It's a powerful story, creatively told – for instance, the artwork is deliberately schizophrenic - the happy flashbacks are drawn in a soft focus painting style while the grim present day scenes are pencilled in a rough, scratchy fashion.
The Crow was followed up a series of spin-offs, all four issues – usually with a unique spin. The first Dead Time, details a Civil War soldier returns to take revenge in present day to his reincarnated murderers. Waking Nightmare delves into the world of the yakuza. Flesh and Blood is probably the best of all of them – telling a story of a female federal agent coming back to avenge her own assassination. Least essential of all is the series by Image Comics that came out in the late nineties that tried, similar to Stairway to Heaven, to retell the story of Eric Draven as an on-going series.
Spin off novels
There were also a series of novels written during the late nineties. Again, like the comics these retell the same story with a unique spin. Quoth the Crow is quite a good read, about a writer obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe coming back and the City of Angels novelisation by Chet Williamson gives a good overview of how the original screenplay played out before it was recut by the Weinsteins. And Wicked Prayer by Norman Partridge, which the fourth film loosely based on is a more coherent version of that story. Best of all of them is The Lazarus Heart by Poppy Z Brite, is an utterly bizarre read about gay man who is wrongly sent to the electric chair and comes back to avenge his lovers death that probably served the basis for the third film.
Video games
Only one video game ever got made for The Crow series - City of Angels for the Sega Saturn - and it's a terrible game that regularly tops lists for worst game ever. Similar in fashion to the early Resident Evil games, it's all fixed perspective but rather than shoot your enemies you beat them up. Something which is pretty difficult to do if the camera angle isn't right (and it frequently isn't).
At the time of writing Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) has been announced as director of the new Crow film (very likely a remake) with Bradley Cooper apparently negotiating for the lead role. Should be interesting...

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