Quantum Geek: The Crow (May 1994)

You could spend your entire life exploring the meaning and the possibilities of immortality and never see the real tragedy or terror of such a prospect. Such is the power of romanticism in the face of death that we, as humans, never cease to dream, even with our eyes wide open!

nerdgenious.com presents Quantum Leap reviewing Alex Proyas' The Crow starring Brandon Lee

The media industry has long ago tapped into that infinite well of dreams. While the advertisers continue to mass-market secret monkey spunk formula anti-ageing creams and happy pills, Hollywood reminds us that James Dean, River Phoenix and Heath Ledger live on. In Hollywood, in fact anywhere you die young and famous, you live forever. Music legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Ronnie Van Zant, Tupac Shakur, Kurt Cobain and Dimebag Darrell proved that.

Caught somewhere between is Brandon Lee, who shared the same fate as his father, the immortalised martial arts legend Bruce Lee. Today, we aim to define the cultural impact of a very important film made twenty years ago...

nerdgenious.com's Quantum Geek reviews 1990s comic book movies


Brandon Lee's last movie, comic book adaptation of James O'Barr's The Crow
Created in 1989 by writer and artist James O'Barr, only a few years back was Eric Draven, the protagonist of Caliber/IDW Comics' The Crow, billed as the 37th greatest comic book character of all time. Bear in mind all your Justice League, Avengers and X-Men favourites, not to mention so many standalone greats, and that's a hell of an achievement. To this day it remains of cultural importance as a merciless rock icon of a culturally uncertain era!

The nineties were a bad time for the likes of Marvel and DC, especially when you look at their movie fare back then. Beyond Batman Returns lay failed attempts such as Captain America and Steel, while independent publishers such as 2000AD, Image and Dark Horse scored with Judge Dredd, Spawn and The Mask. The Crow was one such adaptation that thrived, and yet it didn't succeed merely because its lead star was accidentally killed during filming.

It tells the tale of rock band guitarist Eric Draven, who is already dead by the opening credits; brutally attacked, stabbed and thrown from the window of his apartment before his fiancee is raped and left for dead. They were set to get married on Halloween, but this Devil's Night, the city burns and chaos reigns. A year later, Eric is risen from the grave by the titular big black bird. Driven to despair and anger, and in possession of supernatural powers, he sets out on a dark and bloody journey to hunt down those responsible before Devil's Night comes to a close once more.

Brandon Lee died after gun accident on the set of Alex Proyas's action revenge film The Crow
The one and only Eric Draven, Brandon Lee
What really separates The Crow from all other movies of its time, aside from the comic book movies of the era, is its pitch black tone, violence and bleak aesthetic. There are very few characters you can call good, other than the orphaned Sarah - Eric and Shelly's one-time friend - and Officer Albrecht (Ghostbusters' Winston, Ernie Hudson), the downtrodden ex-detective who investigated the couple's deaths. The likes of T-Bird (The Warriors' Luther, David Patrick Kelly) is one of the most vile and disgusting villains devoted to film. If that's anything to go by, each member of his gang are worse in their own individual way.

T-Bird's last rites in The Crow
"Warriors, come out to pla... oh, fuck me!"
Rather than go straight in for the kill, like a psychotic clown-faced nightmare, Eric introduces himself to the guilty and gives them the chance to define their villainous natures before dispatching of them like a serial killer Jesus. It not only makes for some awesome horror theatrics, the dialogue flows pure trash and gallows humour. Add to that the alternative rock soundtrack and Graeme Revell's gothic, mystical scores, the hopelessly grimy and lawless city of The Crow, where it always rains, remains a huge nod to the drug-addled filth and debauchery of the grunge era. Cleverly, the land of the living, where Eric's enemies reside, is painted almost like a living purgatory. There is virtually no colour, just a lot of textures, but for the odd explosion of blood and fire. It really makes you wonder who suffers the most here, the living or the dead?

Essentially, it's a action movie at its core, with a love of horror theatrics, over the top characters and engaging drama. I'd even go so far as to call it a rock opera. Not only does it have the same sort of pace, humour and grim set design as the likes of Walter Hill's Streets of Fire, you can see the same intentions in countless comic book adaptations and action movies to this day. If you're naive enough to argue, you probably think that leather pants and trenchcoats were made popular by The Matrix. A lot of music video directors owe Alex Proyas a huge thank you. In fact, there are many directors who have Proyas to thank for their careers.

Ghostbuster Winston Zeddmore actor Ernie Hudson co-starring in The Crow with Brandon Lee
"What about the Twinkie?"
The movie also sports an excellent supporting cast. Aside from our resident Ghostbuster and former Rogue, we have Candyman Tony Todd, Michaels Massee and Wincott, Jon Polito, Marco Rodriguez and Anna Levine, all of whom are great character actors. Brandon Lee genuinely gave the best performance of his live as Eric Draven. It was the first character in his career that really gave him the opportunity to combine his skills as an actor and martial artist. The Crow really thrives from Lee's intensity and physical prowess. He isn't the untouchable action hero with muscles upon muscles and a repetetive one-liner. He's a revenge-thirsty corpse and he looks like one, and he fights like a force of nature!

Up until then, he had been cast in forgettable fare such as Rapid Fire and Showdown in Little Tokyo. Not only would The Crow had seen him go beyond his father's legacy, it would have made him an unlikely sex symbol. Tragically, just like his character, Brandon was engaged to marry, before his untimely death. An accident with a stunt gun caused a projectile to shatter his spine and he was pronounced dead after five desperate hours of emergency surgery. It proved to be an event that totally devastated James O'Barr, who was well aware of the similarities between real life and fictional tragedies.

When you think of that and watch the movie over again, there are moments that so easily cause you to well up, making it such a dynamic and powerful little gem. On the opening subject of immortality, it's something you can reach out to, but you can't touch. It's a dream. I can't imagine the pain it causes those close to Lee to see his character reaching out to Shelly, no longer able to touch her. That ending just makes you want to fall to pieces and I'm sure a lot of people did.

The Crow action movie T-Bird death scene burning crow sign
"Call me the Punisher... Goddammit, it worked in the car park!"
Regardless, The Crow took the world by storm. For its purity and simplicity, it defined an era that didn't quite know what it was, and it probably should have been left there. Instead, the essence of the character and its success was too good for producers to have some fucking respect for its late star. Sequel upon sequel was churned out up until 2005, and they became increasingly bad from the outset. If that wasn't enough, they even made a TV series that almost bore no resemblance whatsoever. Thankfully, they're so unmentionable that the original, along with Brandon Lee, remain king of the hill. It's the least he deserves for that shining light he left in the aimless years of many a teenager back then. And this may not be a movie you'll slot into the shelf next to Goodfellas or Star Wars, but it's definitely a collector's item and a keeper for anyone that has any taste whatsoever!

Please feel free to share your favourite Crow moments below and thanks for reading. Stay tuned this week for a bit of classic Danny Boyle!

-Dan Ashley

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