Revisiting The Crow, Alex Proyas’ enchanting cult classic film
“People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can’t rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right”
For die-hard fans of cult classic film The Crow, this iconic line is one held dear and is unlikely to ever be forgotten. Adapted from James O’Barr’s 1989 comic book of the same name, The Crow was released in 1994 and was well received by both critics and viewers for its alluring premise, emotional complexity, and distinctive visual style, in addition to its diverse cast, strong performances, genuine characters, and memorable soundtrack. Directed by Alex Proyas, the film stars actor Brandon Lee in his final performance, and tells the story of young musician Eric Draven, who along with his fiance is murdered on the eve of their Halloween wedding. Exactly one year later, Eric is risen from the grave to seek revenge.
From its onset, the concept behind The Crow was fueled by death and tragedy. O’Barr created the comic book as a way of coping with his own loss following a drunk driving accident that killed his fiancee. Furthermore, he was impacted by an outlandish account he heard about a couple that was murdered over a wedding ring. “That became the beginning of the focal point, and the idea that there could be a love so strong that it could transcend death, that it could refuse death, and this soul would not rest until it could set things right.” he discussed in a production book titled The Crow: The Movie.
Unfathomable tragedy struck the film a mere 8 days before production was to be completed, when lead actor Brandon Lee was accidentally killed on set at the young age of 28. In an effort to honor Lee in his final performance and with permission from his family, the producers opted to move forward with the film’s completion. Utilizing an emotionally-softened, reworked version of the script, the remaining scenes were concluded using a stunt double and cutting-edge special effects. The film is dedicated to Brandon Lee and his fiancee, Eliza.
Lee’s untimely death inconceivably follows that his father, martial arts icon Bruce Lee, who also died unexpectedly at a young age. Given the unlikelihood that both father and son would suffer such devastating fates, there is much controversy and speculation surrounding their misfortune. Many even theorize that they were killed by an ancient Chinese curse, an idea which was explored in a segment of Unsolved Mysteries that aired on October 25th, 1995.
In addition to the catastrophic death of Brandon Lee, the production suffered a series of on set accidents that lead many to believe that The Crow is one of those cursed films. These include Lee getting cut by breakaway glass, a carpenter accidentally drilling a hole in his own hand, a truck catching fire, a crew member getting burned by power lines, and set designer deliberately crashing his car onto the set. Despite it’s many setbacks, the film still managed to prosper and ultimately achieve cult status.
The adaptation from comic to film saw several deviations to the narrative, including bringing the love story to the forefront, eliminating Eric’s drug use, and fleshing out some plot points that gave the villains a more complex agenda. Additionally, characters are switched around and some are eliminated altogether. Most notably is the absence of a character named Skull Cowboy, who serves as a spirit guide to Eric and discloses the rules of his return to the land of the living. Originally included in the film and played by Michael Berryman, director Alex Proyas ultimately decided to leave the character out.
“I was never happy with the effect…I felt he lowered the standard of the film, made it a little cheesy,” he said in the dvd commentary. “But also because I felt that the character was kind of unnecessary. I feel that you get what’s going on, you understand it, you don’t really need someone telling you, as an audience, what’s happening at various points, and that seemed to be the function that he was playing. We only got to shoot one scene with him, and there were two other scenes planned that we didn’t get to shoot. How do you make more of him without Brandon to relate to him, and why would you even want to bother? It was an easy decision to drop him.” The character’s absence was replaced by Sarah’s narration.
Nevertheless, the film always remained true to the source material in spirit and most fans of the comic remain pleased with the outcome. The changes essentially shifted the focus of the story, making it as much about dealing with grief and loss as seeking justice in the form of revenge, giving the film an intricacy that viewers could find relatable.
As is common with successful films, The Crow was turned into a franchise and was followed by a number of sequels of lesser caliber (similarly, the comic also saw several spin-offs). Released in 1996, The Crow: City of Angels starred Vincent Pérez and Mia Kirshner, who played an older version of Sarah. Additionally, a Canadian television series starring Mark Dacascos as Eric Draven titled The Crow: Stairway to Heaven aired from 1998-99, as well as two direct to video titles – The Crow: Salvation in 2000 starring Eric Mabius and Kirsten Dunst and The Crow: Wicked Prayer in 2005 starring Edward Furlong and Tara Reid. A planned sequel titled The Crow: 2037 was to be written and directed by Rob Zombie, however the project never came to fruition.
It would not be the last venture for the franchise to never see the light of day, as several remakes and reboots have been planned since as early as 2008. A slew of directors have been connected to the title, including Stephen Norrington, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Francisco Javier Gutiérrez, and most recently Corin Hardy. Likewise, even more names have been rumored in connection with the leading role, such as Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, Ryan Gosling, Tom Hiddleston, Norman Reedus, Alexander Skarsgard, Luke Evans, Jack O’Connell and Nicholas Hoult, among others.
Currently it appears that director Corin Hardy (The Hallow) is still on board as director, and Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Justice League, Aquaman) is in talks for the leading role. The actor all but confirmed as such via an instagram post in which he shared a photo of himself and Hardy sharing a beer and shaking hands to apparently seal the deal (using the hashtags #sealthedeal #dreamjob #greatnewstocome #wearemarriednowfucker #cantwaittotelltheworld). It seems an official announcement is forthcoming.
Many loyal fans have mixed feelings regarding a reboot, fearing that it would be in poor taste and disrespectful of Brandon Lee’s legacy. While this position is understandable, a reworking of the film seems inevitable, and one can only hope that the project is handled with the utmost care and respect.
Comic creator James O’Barr has been linked to at least one of the remake attempts as a creative consultant, and had the following to say on the subject: “We’re not remaking the movie, we’re readapting the book. My metaphor is that there is a Bela Lugosi Dracula and there’s a Francis Ford Coppola Dracula, they use the same material, but you still got two entirely different films.” Moreover, he added the following regarding Lee’s legacy: “Brandon Lee was a friend, and I’d never do anything to hurt his legacy. Eric Draven was a creation of the movie – if you read the comic, Eric and Shelley never have their last names revealed. Hopefully, this is one area the new movie being more faithful to the comic will come into play, and Eric won’t be going by Eric Draven in the new film…Brandon Lee will forever be Eric Draven.” While O’Barr’s connection with the film is uncertain at this time, fans surely expect the producers to aspire to a similar standard should the project ever prevail.
In essence, The Crow is a visually stunning masterpiece that deeply moved fans with its emotional complexity, and Lee’s mesmerizing performance and tragic death only proved to magnify their devotion. Equally, it remains one of the most revered comic adaptations to date. Regardless of whether or not a remake is successful, the original will always stand on it’s own and be remembered and beloved by all, and Brandon Lee’s legacy and memory will live on indefinitely.
What are your feelings regarding a reboot, and who would you like to see in the leading role? Let us know in the comments below!
Image credits: Miramax, Caliber Comics