The Crow (1994): Brandon Lee’s Swan Song

Cover of "The Crow (Miramax/Dimension Col...
Cover via Amazon

The Crow originally started life as a 1989 graphic novel by James O’Barr. The novel was darkly Gothic and had an almost ‘punk rock’ edge to it’s already  heavy metal dressing. That O’Barr is a genius goes without saying and it was only a matter of time before someone realized that his novel needed to be brought to life on the ‘big screen.’

Using the graphic novel as a starting point, David J Schow and John Shirley co-wrote the screenplay that Alex Proyas would work from as he directed the film. The cast was of a good calibre. Brandon Lee (in pretty much his best ‘starring’ role to date as Eric Draven) Ernie Hudson, Michael WincottRochelle Davis, Bai LingDavid Patrick Kelly and Tony Todd.

Perhaps best known as the film that Brandon Lee died on (he was accidentally shot  by a ‘prop’ gun that had been handled incorrectly) the film has gone on to become a cult favourite. It is arguable as to whether the film would ever have reached the heights of popularity that it enjoys had Brandon Lee not died during the filming. I personally believe that the film would have still built a firm fan-base just because it captures O’Barr’s world so well.

Eric Draven and his fiancée Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) are just two more casualties of Detroit’s Devils Night, a night that Top Dollar (Wincott) and his gang attempt to burn and destroy as much of Detroit as possible. They also terrorise the local inhabitants in their pursuit of destruction.

On the one year anniversary of their deaths, Eric claws his way out of his grave and follows a crow (who as his talisman, makes him impregnable to pain and death) back to his and Shelly’s apartment. Once there Eric gets flashbacks of what happened that night. He puts on the make-up of a black and white harlequin and goes to exact revenge on the gang who raped and murdered his fiancée

Along the way he bumps into police Sargent Albrecht (Hudson) and street urchin Sarah (Davis) who both recognise him as the deceased Eric. As he hands out personal retribution to each gang member on his way to Top Dollar (Wincott), Dollar’s right-hand woman, Myca (Ling) discovers that Eric’s power comes from the crow. Top Dollar and Myca work out an ambush where they intend to destroy the bird and Eric.

The Crow is darkly beautiful. It’s Gothic imagery reaches out to you from the screen. The inhabitants of this dark, wet and depressing world ane bigger than life and just as jaded. Everyone except for the films ‘good’ guys are in search of excitement and meaning to their lives. Cop Albrecht lost a crucial part of himself on the night that he watched Shelly Webster die, Sarah the street urchin lost her mother (figuratively)  and the only people who cared about her, Eric and Shelly.

The villains of the film are all in search of excitement via destruction and death. They inhabit this world vicariously through drugs and boredom and a certain level of insanity.

Brandon Lee as Eric Draven aka The Crow RIP

The soundtrack of the film is probably the best I’ve ever heard, including songs from The Cure (whose song Burn became the films main anthem and was not included on the soundtrack or on The Cure’s album as a sign of respect for Brandon Lee), Nine Inch Nails, among others and the overall feel of the music was like the film dark, gritty, and Gothic.

My only complaint about the film would be that actor Tony Todd could have been in the film a bit more. Just a personal preference of mine, I hasten to add and I adore the man’s work.

Overshadowed by Brandon Lee’s death, this Independent film has managed to overthrow the stigma and continues to gain in popularity. At one point it was listed as one of the top 500 films of all time (468th). Some of the actors were not so lucky. The young Rochelle Davis who performed so outstandingly as Sarah has never worked in the industry again. She was extremely close to Brandon Lee and his death affected her the most.

Brandon Lee
Brandon Lee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actor Michael Massee who actually discharged the pistol that killed Lee was so upset that he took a year long sabbatical from the entertainment world to get over it. When investigations regarding the incidents that led up to Lee’s death concluded, it appeared that a series of errors and misunderstandings combined with poor prop control all contributed to Lee’s death.

There was talk at one point of re-making the film with more emphasis being placed on realism and giving the film an almost documentary feel. This has apparently been shelved indefinitely as most of the main players involved with the intended re-make have dropped out of the project.

Another reason a re-make may not happen any time soon is the fact that the film has been beleaguered by several lawsuits that are still outstanding. Not only affecting the profit margins of the film but also hindering the chance of re-imagining the film.

Still, the original is just as great to watch now as it was when it was first released in 1994 and I cannot think of a better epitaph for the fine actor that Brandon Lee was becoming before his untimely death. Definitely a classic and a worthy film to have in your library.

Dreamscape (1984): Inceptions Pappa

Cover of "Dreamscape"
Cover of Dreamscape

Directed by Joseph Ruben (The StepfatherThe ForgottenDreamscape  is about dreaming, going into someone else’s dream and controlling it.

If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The concept has been used to great effect in two other films. The Cell (2000) and Inception (2010) both utilized the plot device of entering another person’s dreams and either controlling or changing them. All three films are very different from Dreamscape, but it is obviously this film that spawned the latter two.

Starring a young Dennis Quaid (Pandorum, Legion), younger Max von Sydow (Shutter IslandMinority Report), Christopher Plummer (Up, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of DoomSpaceCamp) and Eddie Albert  (The Longest Yard, Escape to Witch Mountain) the film delivers an entertaining punch.

Dreamscape deals with entering dreams via psychic powers and a little help from machinery that lets the psychic know when the target has started the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) that shows they have started dreaming.

The film opens with a woman running from what looks like a nuclear blast. The whole scene is surrealistic and the colours run together in a psychedelic fashion. We are watching the United States President (Eddie Albert) have a nightmare. It turns out that he has nuclear nightmares on a regular basis.

We then see Alex Gardiner (Dennis Quaid) at the race track. Using his precognitive skills, he successfully picks a long shot to win. When he goes to collect his winnings a gang of crooks try to take his money and make him work for them. Alex evades the crooks and goes home.

Once he is there, he gets a phone call from old friend and mentor Doctor Paul Novotny (Max Von Sydow) who wants him to participate in his new dream experiments. To escape the crooks,who have found out where Alex lives, he decides to take up the offer.

Once there he talks to his mentor and meets his assistant Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw). He decides to give the experimental programme a go after he meets the man who runs it, Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer)

It turns out that only two of the psychics in the group are skilled enough to really change someone else’s dreams. Alex and a psychotic psychic named  Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly).

We find out two things about Tommy Ray. We learn that he killed his own father and that he has known Bob Blair a long time.

The film moves at a leisurely pace. This does not distract, however, as the action on the screen is still interesting even if it’s not fast paced. At one point Alex enters a young boys dream to help him defeat a “snake-man” who keeps trying to harm him. Alex enables the boy to face his personal monster in the dream and kill it

The overall FX of the film have not aged well. The monster was from the Ray Harryhausen school of stop motion. It did not convince at any time. It looked so much like  The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, that I reverted to childhood for a brief moment. But apart from feeling nostalgic, I did not get anything from the snake-man.

The film features a romance between Quaid and Capshaw. The villain, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer, along with his henchman Tommy Ray  makes us want to hiss and boo each time we see him on screen.

The film’s plot was entertaining and interesting enough that the dated FX did not spoil it at all. Unfortunately, as I have seen The Cell and Inception recently, I could not help but compare the three films.

The Cell dealt more with the technological aspect of entering dreams. Anyone could be hooked up to a machine which would enable them to enter another persons dream. Inception required that both people received injections to make them sleep deep enough that they could enter the trance-like state necessary to enter another’s dreams.

I would say that this film is definitely worth watching. If for no other reason than to see what started the whole dream mechanic utilized in the other two films. It’s also got a sterling cast of seasoned actors who deliver solid performances.

Dreamscape won’t give you nightmares, but it will entertain you.