The Crow started out as an intense and very well done comic book
series written an illustrated by James O'Barr. Well before the trend
to turn comics into blockbuster movies gained its full head of steam, the
comic was adapted to the large screen, aptly titles The Crow (1994)
staring Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee's son, he tragically died during filming)
in the title role. Another thing set this movie apart from many of
the comic-based films that have come out recently: it didn't suck.
In fact its blend of action and emotion has turned it into a cult favorite.
That's when the story starts to go wrong. Faced with a successful
movie, the producers naturally wanted to make a sequel, the fact that the
star was dead didn't seem to have bothered them. The Crow:
City of Angels (1996) was a pale imitation of the original (and that's
being kind). Still wanting to milk the series for all that its worth,
the property was turned into a TV series in 1998. The Crow:
Stairway to Heaven is yet another step down in quality. TV Guide
has released the entire series in a five disc set, with the TV guide logo
prominently displayed on the cover and menus, just in case you forgot who
released it. Lasting only one series and ending in a cliff hanger
that is never resolved, this sanitized for TV 'Crow-lite' version won't
appeal to many fans of the original movie.
The first two episodes of the series basically retell the story from
the first movie. A year after he and his girlfriend were killed,
Eric Draven (Mark Dacascos) mysteriously returns to the living. While
his girlfriend Shelly (Sabine Karsenti) is waiting for him somewhere between
the world of the living and the afterlife, Eric has come back to seek revenge.
He's no longer an ordinary man however. He has gained super-human
strength, a psychic ability that allows him to see crimes that happened
in the past, and the ability to regenerate from any wound, even fatal ones.
hunting down the people who killed him and Shelly, Eric doesn't get to
go on to the afterlife. According to his friend Sarah, a 13-year
old urchin who likes to hang around, he's still on Earth to put things
right and avenge those who can't avenge themselves. Detective Albrecht
(Marc Gomes), the inspector in charge of investigating Draven's murder,
ends up having an uneasy alliance with the undead Eric. Draven will
go where the police can't and point out the bad guys and Albrecht will
swoop in and arrest them. The arrangement works at first, but later
has unpleasant consequences.
There are a lot of problems adapting a violent R-rated movie into a
TV show and unfortunately this show isn't able to solve them. The
explanation for Eric staying around is pretty lame, it basically boils
down to "if he passes on we won't have a show any more." Okay, I
can live with that. I was hoping for more, but it's not a fatal flaw.
The way the Crow is characterized is however. The Eric Draven in
the movie was a killer. Plain and simple The Crow killed the people
who had wronged him. Of course TV frowns upon that sort of thing
and so in this version The Crow is satisfied with scaring the villains
straight. The biggest problem with the show is that it doesn't have
the emotional impact of the first movie or comics. In those, Draven
was a tortured soul. In this he's simply a brooding man.
this is a watered down version of the character, the show isn't nearly
as grim and gritty as it should be. It also lacks the atmosphere
of the original movie. That creates a big problem as the show isn't
nearly eerie enough for a supernatural thriller. The characters are
also run of the mill too (the good cop fighting the system, the not-so-ruthless
vigilante who doesn't kill etc.) Because of that the program has
a very generic feel to it. There's not a lot to separate it from
the legion of other similar shows on TV.
The stories can't hold a candle to the original movie either.
The movie was written by David J. Schow, splatter-punk author of Kill Riff,
and the TV scripts just aren't as tight or interesting. One thing
that I will give the series is that there is continuity between episodes.
They make an effort to bring back old characters and refer to events in
the past. Unfortunately many of the plots are pretty stupid.
The writers really seemed to have trouble coming up with story ideas.
It's hard not to roll your eyes when Eric is arrested for the murder of
his girl friend. That plot gets even sillier when he's convicted
of the crime on the flimsiest amount of evidence. Later in the series
they introduce a female Crow, basically in an effort to jump start the
show. It doesn't work.
On the positive side Mark Dacascos does a good job in the role.
It's clear that he knows how to fight, and the action sequences are better
than average. He's also a good actor and manages to breathe a little
bit of life into the role. It's just a shame that he's hampered with
such poor scripts and some really bad dialog.
Note: TV Guide only sent out preliminary check discs for this
review. While the menus and extras look complete, the video and audio
quality may or may not reflect what's on the final retail discs.
I assume that they will use the same master that was used to press these,
but there's no guarantee. If I ever receive the final product I'll
update the A/V section of this review.
The stereo soundtrack that accompanies this disc is acceptable but not
anything spectacular. There isn't a lot of use made of the soundstage,
but the dialog is clear and the background music sounds fine. There
are a couple of instances of distortion, mainly during explosions or when
someone is shouting especially loud, but this is the exception rather than
Eh. The full frame video quality was okay, but honestly not as
good as I was expecting. The colors are fairly solid and image has
an acceptable level of detail but there are several minor flaws that work
together to make this a less than stellar viewing experience. First
off there's a large amount of mosquito noise in the image. This is
especially visible in large patches of color such as the open sky.
In these shots the areas seems to shimmer and vibrate on their own.
Aliasing is also a problem and there is a greater than average amount present
in these shows. Diagonal lines have a stair-step effect to them,
and when the camera pans across they jitter which can be distracting.
The first disc includes a commentary with executive producer Bryce Zabel
and star Mark Dacascos. Bryce does a lot of the talking and tries to explain
what they were going for with this reinterpretation of the Crow.
He didn't sway my opinion of the film, but he does a good job of selling
The 5th disk carries the majority of the extras. These include:
- Gag Reel: 9 ½ minutes. Some of these were pretty
funny, and others were just so-so.
- Production Dailies from the episodes A Gathering Storm (2½
minutes ), Death Wish (16 minutes) and Dead to Rights (4 minutes):
raw footage from the shoots.
- Scripts for all episodes: accessible with a DVD-ROM drive,
the scripts are in .pdf format. The series 'bible' is also included.
- Original Score by Peter Manning Robinson: 7 songs from the show.
It would have been nice if there were accessible as music files from the
disc itself so you could burn your own CD of the music, but it isn't.
- Photo Gallery: a reel of photos from the show that lasts a
little more than a minute
- Mark Decascos Filmography
- Reprints from two Kung Fu Magazine story about Mark Decascos and
The Crow: more .pdf files
- TV Guide crossword puzzles: a printable file that contains
a Crow-themed crossword puzzle. It is not interactive.
Overall there is an exemplary collection of bonus materials.
For a TV show, this is only mediocre. There really aren't any
characters or plot elements to set it apart from all the other shows out
there in TV-land. If you compare this to the original movie however,
it comes across even worse. The show doesn't have the grim feeling of the
film, nor does it have the emotion or intensity. Watching through
these, there was never a moment when I was really wondering what was going
to happen next or couldn't wait to see the next episode. There are
so many really good TV shows available on DVD, it's not really worth wasting
money or time on something of this quality. Skip it.