Monday, January 27, 2014

Riske Business: The Crow 20 Years Later

For this week's Riske Business, I invited Mike & Adam Thas (Beta) to discuss Alex Proyas’ 1994 revenge talkie The Crow and figure out if we’re still genuine hot doggers or if the movie is all “Caw! Caw! Bang! Fuck, I’m dead!” The answers might surprise you.

Adam Riske: Being comic book aficionados, were either of you fans of The Crow as a graphic novel when the movie was released in 1994? Was it a big deal in the comic world?

Mike: When the movie came out, I was really, really into comic books but had never read The Crow. I was into Marvel and DC and had not yet ventured into indie comics. I'm not sure how big of a deal it was at the time because I was a stupid kid and didn't pay attention to much outside of Gotham City. Since re-watching the movie for the article, I started to read a little bit about the comic and have more interest than ever in reading it. James O'Barr wrote it as a way to deal with the death of his fiancé in 1978. He said that he never planned to publish it and hoped it would be cathartic. Instead, he said it wasn't helpful and there is anger on every page he created. That's so interesting to me and makes me wonder how far from the source material the movie strays.

Adam Alpha: Thanks for depressing me right off the top, Mike. Beta, bring the noise.

Adam Thas: It wasn't a huge deal in the comic world because it was a fringe comic that became mainstream. The Crow was gaining a fan base because another book with a similar style and theme, The Sandman, had come out a few years earlier and had similar supporters. Fans of The Sandman couldn't get enough of it and started seeking out books of similar theme and style. I really do think that The Crow owes a lot of its success to Neil Gaiman and The Sandman.
The first experience I have with The Crow was going to see Rob Liefeld at the Extreme Studio Tour 1993 with my good old pal Mike. We waited in line for hours and there was a guy a few feet behind us with dark hair falling in his face, a neck beard, and a XXL black T-shirt that was very tight on him with a Crow comic cover on it. Some woman in her mid to late 20s asked the guy what The Crow was. The guy responded with "It's like the best comic ever; a super violent, really awesome book about this dead guy who gets revenge with the help of a crow." You'd think as a boy whose favorite book at the time was about a guy who got his powers when a chemical rack was struck by lightning would have a very open mind, but I remember saying to myself "That is absurd!"

I did read a TPB (Trade Paper Back) of the comic a few years later, but keep in mind I was barely in my teens. It was in black and white? And James O'Barr is a solid artist, but I was used to Jim Lee and Mark Sylvestri, Whilce Portacio, Dale Keown...O'Barr was not these guys. His characters looked flat and wonky sometimes and his storytelling left something to be desired.

The first time I really knew there was a movie coming out was right after Brandon Lee died. I knew who Bruce Lee was, but not really his son. I mean I knew him, saw him in a movie or two, but didn't care enough to pay that much attention. All I remember is that there were these two girls in my art class that were crying and upset because he had died.

Adam Riske: That’s like the girls who wore black to Friday night services at Temple Chai when Kurt Cobain died. It was like the old world and the new world were colliding. If the Cantor played “All Apologies” on the acoustic guitar it would have brought the house down.

I digress. Were you a fan of the movie when it was first released?
Mike: Beta and I saw The Crow together when it came out and loved it. It's as if it were written by a teenage boy, so it was right in our wheelhouse. It had swears, guitars, BOOBS, violence, cool makeup and Brandon Lee. One ticket, please! I was nervous to revisit it through the eyes of a 35-year old (I haven't watched it in a long, long time), but overall I still kind of like it. Maybe I haven't grown up that much. While I'm able to recognize a lot of the stupid touches littered throughout this movie (his last name is Draven, you guys), I still kind of enjoyed it. I admit that some of it is the Goonies Derivation, but I'm okay with that.

Adam Riske: “Quoth the Draven 'Nevermore.'" It’s a famous poem, Mike. Surprised you didn’t know that. Did you never watch Def Poetry Jam?

Adam Thas: I did like it enough to see it twice in the theater and to buy a VHS copy.  I remember being a bit confused because they kind of bounce around with the flashbacks, and I also remember how hard it was to see Brandon Lee's face throughout the movie. Needless to say I liked it, and the movie has led to me and Mike saying "Halloween ain't till manana" over and over.

Adam Riske: I say “It can’t rain all the time” after sex.

Adam Thas: So being a "non-comic" guy (a muggle, as us nerds call it), what were your first reactions to The Crow? Did you see it when it opened or later on VHS?
Adam Riske: This muggle was really excited for The Crow when it came out. It was the ultimate mall movie (the kind of movie you see after getting pizza, going to the arcade, hitting up the comic book store etc.). I knew it was based on a comic, but I did not know anything else about it. The thing that hooked me were the TV ads with a ghost-faced Brandon Lee, heavy metal music and the promise of gothic action. I saw the movie opening weekend with my dad and I really loved it. It was the perfect movie for a moody 11-year old. At the time, I had a crush on a girl named Jenny and I used to think that I would totally kill thugs if they ever killed me and assaulted my junior high crush. If that was the goal of the movie, mission accomplished.

I still loved the movie when it came out on VHS. I went to a sleepover at a friend’s house around that time, and we were so into the movie that we tried to re-enact the scene where Brandon Lee dives off the roof and into a trash bin. I was up first, so I climbed up my friend's tree and jumped about ten feet down onto his dad's hammock. I thought for sure the hammock would catch me and I would have the greatest rush ever thanks to The Crow. What ended up happening was that I jumped face forward and my stomach broke right through the hammock and I landed on my chest hard onto the ground. I got the wind knocked out of me and I was super scared. I thought I was dying. I stood up and started running in a panic trying to catch oxygen while my friend laughed at me. My friend's dad was super pissed about his hammock and I never crow dived again.

Mike: That poor hammock! After watching The Crow, I murdered Beta and his then-girlfriend in the hopes that he'd come back to life and I could then say I was best friends with The Crow. Instead he came back as The Porcupine and things got weird.

Adam Riske: BOOM!

Adam Thas: So I guess I'm the only one who didn't do any crazy shit after The Crow came out.

Mike: How do you think the movie has aged?

Adam Riske: The specificity of the time period is the best thing the movie has going for it. It is “the grunge movie.” If you wanted to tell someone about grunge music and the way the music of that era was supposed to make you feel, I can’t think of a better example than The Crow. I’m always going to kind of like it from that time capsule perspective, although the movie is deeply flawed. I was unable to recognize that until I got older.

 Mike: Did you own the soundtrack? Of course you did. Because Stone Temple Pilots.
Adam Thas: I really became aware of the movie through the soundtrack. This is just a few years after Nirvana came on the scene and essentially blew up the music world. I remember really liking Stone Temple Pilots; their first new single "Big Empty" was all over the radio, and the only place you could get it was on The Crow soundtrack. Seriously, look at that soundtrack. At the time it was AWESOME! Rage Against the Machine, Helmet, Nine Inch Nails, Pantera, Violent Femmes, The Cure, Rollins Band and, of course, STP. Everyone I knew had it. Between the soundtrack and it being a comic I had read, I was really excited for the movie.

Adam Riske: I bought the soundtrack at the Mall of America with all of the other disaffected youth of Minneapolis (my family was there on vacation and I went to a White Sox-Twins game…the Twins have THE DUMBEST fans). I listened to it again this morning while working on spreadsheets (my 2014 version of dealing with angst) and I still really enjoyed most of it -- in particular "Burn" by The Cure, "Big Empty" by Stone Temple Pilots, "Dead Souls" by Nine Inch Nails (an awesome cover of a terrific Joy Division song), "Ghost Rider" by Rollins Band, "After the Flesh" by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and "Time Baby II" by Medicine. I used to be really confused by "Big Empty," specifically the lyric “Her dizzy head is conscience laden.” I remember asking my dad what “Her dizzy head is con-toons-laded” meant. He looked at me like I was nuts, and then for years I thought Weiland was saying “Her dizzy head was cartoon-slated.” I pictured animators and illustrators hearing that lyric and being like “Oh, shit…I’ve been there before.”

Mike: That's already more thought than I've ever given Scott Weiland's lyrics.

Adam Thas:
What are some parts of the movie you like? I love that scene where he jumps off the building, and the fight scene in the club is awesome.

Adam Riske: It’s called crow diving, Beta.

Individual scenes really work for me, such as when Eric Draven is putting on the makeup and looking out from his window onto the city, or the scene where he’s running across the rooftops and crow dives before attacking Tin Tin, or the shootout at the club, or the scene with the four killers swallowing bullets and chasing them with shots, or Albrecht drawing The Crow face on Eric Draven’s publicity photos. I really love the shots and score at the end where Shelly appears to lead Eric back to the grave/into the afterlife.

I think the art direction and special effects are all terrific. It’s a very scary and interesting looking place. I can never tell when it is or is not Brandon Lee in certain scenes where I know special effects were used, so that speaks to how well they are all integrated. The score is memorable, not just the heavy metal music on the soundtrack. The movie has great mood. Overall it’s a well-directed movie. Alex Proyas definitely had a vision, and he gets it across for the most part.

The Michael Wincott performance also is a lot of fun. His scenes are the ones that get my attention right away.
Mike: For a movie that I'm kind of defending, I can't really think of any particular scene that I really liked or that at least sticks out for me. In some ways, it may be the Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) scenes if for no other reason than I came away thinking that Ernie fucking Hudson gives the best performance in this movie.

Adam Riske: He also gives the best performance in Congo.

Adam Thas: What do you dislike in it? The thing I'm not crazy about is that there are many shots of Brandon Lee standing around looking awesome that don't do much for the plot (but I ate that shit up as a teen), and a certain Asian character played by an actress that rhymes with “my wing.”

Adam Thas: Oh boy, here it comes. I feel really bad saying this, but I think Brandon Lee’s performance is very problematic. The movie is edited so poorly in certain scenes (perhaps due to the circumstances with Lee’s on-set death, I don’t know for sure) that it feels like you’re watching a reel with frames missing. The Lee performance feels that way, too. I can’t think of a single dialogue scene where he is consistently good throughout. Some lines -- check that, some WORDS -- he acts well and some he performs really poorly. There will be a stretch of a few seconds where he’s joking and then he’s dead serious immediately after that. It’s such a weird and schizophrenic performance. I also agree that Lee does a TON of vamping for the camera, which was cool to me as a pre-teen but feels very self-aware nowadays. He’s best in the scenes where he is playing up the romantic elements and in the action scenes where he has good physicality and presence.

The girl playing Sarah (Rochelle Davis) is not the best actress and her narration is painful (she says the word “sometimes” like a billion times and sounds like she’s reading off a post-it shortly after being woken up), which is true of a lot of the writing in the movie. Lastly, the movie has a plot but doesn’t really tell a compelling story. It’s just connecting dots.
Adam Thas: I want your opinion on one scene that upon re-watching it I can't tell if I love or hate: the scene where Eric goes to Albrecht's apartment. Albrecht seems really laid-back for seeing a dead guy. I mean, this would rock my world and he seems to be cool with it.  I can't tell if that I love that or hate it.

Adam Riske: That’s a scene I am not crazy about and is symptomatic of the problems I have with the movie -- it’s silly one moment and dead serious the next. I agree that it’s very weird how blasé Albrecht is when Eric enters his apartment. They only had that one interaction in the street outside of Gideon’s up to that point. Maybe the force has a ghost protocol they put the cops through so they ain’t afraid o’ no ghost. The part of that scene that bothers me the most is how Eric stares at the Coors Light bottle like he’s never seen a beer before, but then hands Albrecht the bottle like they’re about to kick back and watch a football game. It could be the worst Coors Light commercial ever made.

One scene that always bugged me is near the beginning – specifically, how did Shelly die? She looked pretty alive (albeit hurt) when they put her in the ambulance. Did they take her to the bad hospital?

Adam Thas: When you speak of the "bad hospital," it brings up the thing that rang through my head the entire time I was watching this: WHY WOULD ANYONE LIVE IN THIS CITY? It seriously is the worst place ever! And btw I looked it up on IMDB and this movie takes place in the Gothic city of...wait for it...Detroit.

Adam Alpha: It would be so great if Tim Allen’s "Pure Michigan" narration was laid over any scene in this movie.

Mike: Have you guys seen the sequels? Any interest in the reboot?

Adam Riske: I have only seen The Crow: City of Angels and I don’t like it much. I remember being upset that they hired a French actor to play the new crow. Imagine me being like “Um, Frenchie can’t be Crow, yo!” or “Haha, he talks funny. Speak American. Love it or leave it, crow.” In other words, I was Fox News when I was 14 years old. Getting mad about the French thing is so dumb in retrospect. It’s not like revenge is a solely American theme.

I have very limited interest in a reboot, because where could you take it? You can’t make it dark and gritty because they did that in the Alex Proyas movie already. The producer of the 1994 movie said the reboot would be a “re-invention” of the James O’Barr graphic novel for the 21st century. Another contributor said it would forego the gothic, stylized quality of Proyas’ movie for one that’s more realistic, hard-edged, mysterious and almost documentary-style. All of that sounds horrible to me. It’s like they turned in a paper titled "How I Can Make The Crow Worse."  O’Barr has said that he doesn’t think a reboot (no matter who is cast or what budget the movie has) could top the original movie.

Adam Thas: I did see City of Angels, and while it's not good, there are some good parts. His rebirth scene is definitely cooler than the one in the original.  You'd think I'd be a bigger fan of a movie that stars Iggy Pop, but even he can't rescue it.

As far as a reboot, maybe if they completely re-imagined it. I mean, don't you think the entire goth thing is out? I'd say make it more like a Kung-Fu movie. Ong-bak 3 had a Crow-type character, and the fight scenes with him are the only watchable part of that giant turd.

I think Mike hit it on the head earlier. The movie had a lot of things going for it at the time we first saw it: the music, the Gothic Batman feel, Sandman's influence etc. It was a perfect storm. At the time it came out, the movie totally played for our generation.

I agree with O'Barr saying that this version of the movie is the best it's going to get. Trying to re-create it wouldn't work. They'd have to go in a different direction completely...but this is Hollywood, so I think they’ll just try to do the same thing over again.

Adam Riske: I wanted to get both of your takes on something. I read some details about the comic book that I think should have been kept to make the story more interesting. In the comic, the crow not only guides the Eric Draven character, but also chastises him for dwelling on his fiancée’s death because the crow sees his preoccupation as a useless self-indulgence distracting him from his purpose of revenge.

Do you think there would be a way to dramatize that without it being ridiculous?
Adam Thas: In the comic, the actual crow does talk to him, but not very much. My answer is two fold:

1) In the comic Watchmen, there is a giant dead squid at the end. It works just fine in the comic, but in the movie, it wouldn't have worked. I think that the addition of a talking crow would have been weird and confusing. Not to mention my second point....
2) It would look absolutely stupid.  I'm fully aware that Jurassic Park predates this movie and they could have made the crow talk, but it just wouldn't look right -- especially since in the comic they don't use word bubbles for it (it's more like it's in his head). In The Crow: City of Angels, there is a part where the bad guy literally wrestles the crow and it is the dumbest looking thing ever. I just don't think it would have worked.

In the comic there is also a white cat. Now let me be clear, this is my interpretation. The cat represents his previous life, holding on to the past and to Shelly. It's a pretty awesome portion of the book where Eric is remembering Shelly and the crow starts yelling at him to remember that he is dead and what he is here for. At that point, Eric decides to give the cat to Officer Hook (Albrecht in the movie), leading into the third act of the book which is actually pretty cool. However, much like the talking crow, I don't know if the cat would have worked. It may have gotten too confusing.

Mike: I remember seeing Summer of Sam and a packed theater cracked the fuck up at the dog talking to Son of Sam. Talking animals need to be handled just right. Also, they should be put to sleep because they're super-creepy.

Adam Riske: I really liked Summer of Sam when it first came out, but that voice sounds like the same guy who did Binx in Hocus Pocus.

One last question to close. If you had to choose one of the villains to be your college roommate for a semester, who would it be?

Mike: Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). My dream in life is to have a deep, manly voice. Anyone who has ever listened to me on the podcast knows that I sound like anything but a man. If I can't have a good voice, I want to surround myself with people that do. But honestly, after a weekend of "Fire it up!" I'd be looking to transfer schools.

Adam Thas:
Skank. That dude can party. He can also barely form sentences. However, I agree with you 100% that Michael Wincott has one of the best voices EVER.

Adam Riske: I would watch a college comedy where Mike and Top Dollar hook up with the same chick and Top Dollar is all like "I think we broke her." I want Michael Wincott to be the new voice of Siri.

Mike: I would watch the shit out of Him featuring the voice of Michael Wincott as Samuel.

Adam Riske:
Your turn! What are your thoughts on The Crow? Do you like Sheryl Crow? We can talk about that here too if you want. I like her old stuff, but I’m more of a Crowlbie Caillat man myself these days.


  1. I actually revisited the Crow a while back when it was released on blu-ray. I saw it in the theater when it came out and really liked it, especially the soundtrack as you mention. I was crazy disappoint seeing it again. It looked cheap. For something I remembered seeming like a BIG movie, it felt really small. The shootout scene in the meeting room is still bad ass but not as great as I remembered it being. That being said, I still find myself quoting "Fire it up" in random, drunken moments, so I guess it's kind of memorable. I love the score to the film as well, but I believe it's a bit overused.
    I watched The Crow - City of Angels only because Mia Kirshner was in it and I had a big thing for her at the time (Exotica, anyone?!) Other than that, I don't remember it at all.

    Sheryl Crow is alright, The Black Crowes were much better.

    1. Mia Kirshner is very pretty. I would take her to a Sheryl Crow concert.

  2. Hey, I can actually tell you the exact day I saw this movie! June 17, 1994 on a date and then we went to a local bar, where something odd was happening in the corner of the Knicks game. Yep, we bookended The Crow wit the slow-speed OJ Simpson car chase.

    1. I'm probably missing the point of your comment but I can't believe you waited 5 weeks to see The Crow.

  3. I loved The Crow in '94, and was very disappointed revisiting it a few years ago. I do still think Lee had a fantastic presence, though, and that carried the movie quite a bit. The only thing I remember about City of Angels was everything was shot through a yellow filter so the whole movie was in pee-vision. Couldn't get past that.

    Have any of you seen Talk Radio? Michael Wincott plays several characters (mostly off-screen), all callers into Eric Bogosian's radio show, so it's like an awesomely-deep voice contest. If only Ted Levine had called in too...

    1. Oh, she a great big fat person?

    2. You know what looks worse than Crow 2's pee-vision? Des Plaines, IL.

    3. I've only ever been to Oak Brook. I'll take your word for it.

    4. I need to see Talk Radio. I'm a bastard person.

  4. I love that this article is basically by the Beastie Boys (Mike:Mike D, Adam:Adam Yaugh/MCA, Adam:Adam Horovitz/Adrock).

    1. Well heres a little story I've got to tell about this guy who died, you know so well, it started way back in '93 with a comic, a crow, and Brandon Lee.

  5. Firstly, The Crow is still a movie I really enjoy, and the cheap and small feel of it reminds me of what movies were, and not the crap they have generally become. You used to believe a movie set was real life, because the direction, story, acting, production design….etc, were top notch. Think about Aliens, most of the best action stuff in that flick was miniatures, sets, and fucking puppets. Obviously it is a personal preference, but I dig the Crow's look and feel, but the soundtrack was definitely a thing of the time and a lot of it is just distracting now.

    All the sequels are garbage, but if a reboot of it had to happen (it will anyway) it could be a different kind of animal. There are enough differences from the book to the 90s crow movie to make a new film interesting if they were to stick to that. It could be really cool as a 70s revenge style action/thriller ala Death Wish/Last House on the Left/Taxi Driver sorta look and vibe.

    Lastly, on the whole the squid from Watchmen would have looked dumb in a film. BULLSHIT. It is all in how it is presented and treated in the world of the film you have created. For example shouldn't a giant mechanical flying snake look stupid in the Avengers? Yes. Does it? Sorta, but it also works. It was made to work, and used in a way that functions well in the film. Man of Steel, giant rip off of matrix looking metal tentacle monster thingy…STUPID. AS. FUCK. I am not saying the squid would have been THE COOLEST THING EVER, or that people would have even liked it that never read the book, BUT in comparison to what happened in the film, it would have been an improvement of EPIC proportion. The thing people seem to forget about the squid is that beyond it appearance, the real terror is the damage it caused…not just at the time of its teleportation, but the after effects. In the film New York just basically blows up into a big crater. OHHHHH SCARY (well, of course it is, but in a post 9/11 film with super heroes and whatnot, in the end it is just a hole. There is no comparative gravity for it to seem that awful) In the book the squid had telepathic abilities and those that didn't immediately die were left insane and brain damaged from the attack. That is fucked up, not to mention the actual general bloodshed and horror of millions of people just dead on the street with horrified faces. Just arguing that the squid isn't as dumb as people make it sound like it would have been and if anything it would have been so much better.


  6. Also, the thing about this or maybe even robocop or another awesomely violent detroit movie with the pure michigan voice over is one of the most humorous ideas ever. Hope that happens soon!

  7. We were watching THE CROW in a dorm lounge during college, and then a couple of my friends came in, stopped the VCR right at the part where the Crow is getting shot up (the part where Brandon Lee was fatally wounded), and told us we need to stop watching it, and pray and repent for the violence we were watching. Maybe it was that particular scene that triggered them, but it was weird.

    1. There is no such prayer. It's too specific.

    2. Didn't really feel saved, but we did stop watching it because the vibe got too strange in the room. We ordered pizza. Full disclosure: one of the friends who was making us stop did admit later he was being weird and apologized. All's well.