Directed by Russell Mulcahy and based on the long running pulp star of the printed page, the radio and countless comic book adaptations over the years, the 1994 big screen major studio adaptation of The Shadow begins in China sometime in the 1920s. Here a mysterious and cruel Caucasian man lords over the locals as he violently controls the drug trade in the area. His life changes when he learns how the clouding of men's minds prevents them from seeing what's really there. On altercation with mystic later and we cut to New York City where a trio of thugs are about to toss a man clad in some cement boots over the Brooklyn Bridge. Before they can do that a mysterious man in a black hat, cape and coat appears, laughing ominously before dealing out justice in his own ruthless style. He's picked up by a cab driver named Moe (Peter Boyle) along with the man he's just saved, Doctor Tam (Sab Shimono) and told that as he owes his life to him, he is now one of his agents.
Cut to a swanky upper class restaurant where top cop Wainwright Cranston (Jonathan Winters) waits for his perpetually late playboy nephew, Lamont Cranston (Alex Baldwin). It turns out Lamont was late because of an incident on the bridge. When Wainwright espouses his intentions to get an NYPD task force on this ‘Shadow' character Lamont uses his abilities to cloud men's minds to talk him out of that. From there he meets a beautiful young woman named Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller) but after meeting her and realizing she can read his mind, his interest quickly wanes. She, however, digs him and isn't going to just let him wander off like that.
Meanwhile, a strange crate arrives at the museum and inside a massive silver sarcophagus is found. After it opens under its own power, Shiwan Khan (John Lone) pops up. Once he adapts to his surroundings and meets The Shadow, he quickly realizes who the mysterious avenger really is. When The Shadow refuses to join him, they wage war across New York City. Khan, with some help from Margo's father, a scientist named Doctor Reinhardt Lane (Sir Ian McKellen), and his slimy business partner, Farley Claymore (Tim Curry), sets about building a device capable of levelling the city while The Shadow and his agents race against time to stop him.
Well paced and completely stylish from start to finish, The Shadow is a whole lot of escapist fun. Not to be taken too seriously, the movie nevertheless plays things pretty straight. Sure there's some witty dialogue and moments of humor here, but the cast pull it off without ever feeling the need to wink at the camera or let us know that they're in on the joke. What makes the movie a lot more fun than a lot of the more sour faced superhero movies Hollywood has crammed down our throats as of late is a palpable spirit of adventure and the decision not to shy away from the character's pulp roots. While the movie does take a little too long and go a little too far in explaining how and why Lamont Cranston became The Shadow in the first place (this is a character better served by mystery than by explanation) it's otherwise quite successful in nailing the feel and tone of character and his roots in pulp fiction.
Making very good use of a solid cast, Mulcahy gets a great performance out of Baldwin. While now he may be content doing Capital One commercials and talk radio on NPR, it wasn't that long ago that he was an A-list marquee star and he is very well suited for the lead role in this picture. He has that sense of smug awareness and self-entitlement you expect out of a spoiled rich kid but when the tux comes off and the nickel plated twin .45's come out, he's just as effective as the cold hearted enemy of crime. Penelope Ann Miller is also pretty good here. Not only is she a stellar looking woman but her looks suit the era, she has a classic beauty about her that really just works in the context of the story being told. When she first appears on camera in that white evening gown, you can't blame Lamont for losing track of his conversation with his uncle, she demands your attention. She and Baldwin have a good on screen chemistry here, they make a good couple. Throw in solid supporting efforts from Tim Curry and Sir Ian McKellen and some fun work from John Lone as the principal antagonist and it's easy to see how and why the movie was cast this way.
Though the limited use of CGI in the movie shows its age and limitations and a little too much mystery is left exposed and explained, The Shadow remains an entertaining take on one of pulp fiction/comicdom's most enduring characters. It might not be a perfect film, but it definitely is a fun one.
The Shadow was previously released on Blu-ray by Universal as a barebones disc and an outdated VC-1 transfer. Shout! Factory's re-release presents the movie in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 and generally it looks quite nice. While this isn't a flawless image it is a strong one, offering up nice detail and beautiful color reproduction, the kind that really lets the lush set design and costuming in the movie really shine. Detail is generally pretty solid here, close ups showing off the little bits and pieces of the movie very nicely but even medium and long distance shots letting us take in what the movie has to offer. This does make some of the matte paintings used in the background a little more obvious but the movie never really tried to hide any of that in the first place. Skin tones look nice and natural here, never too pink or too waxy, and while some minor print damage can be spotted in the form of some small white specks without having to look for them all that much, the image is otherwise pretty clean.
English language audio options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Master Audio tracks with option closed captioning offered up in English as well. The 5.1 track is pretty solid, we get some really fun channel separation in the front throughout and frequent use of the rear channels to fill things in with the effects and the score. Bullets zip past us, The Shadow's maniacal laughter cackles throughout the soundscape and the roar of a fireplace comes at us front and center. The mix is properly balanced so there are no problems understanding the dialogue but the effects and score have enough punch behind them that they're able to really add to the fun. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion and all in all, the audio sounds very good here.
The main extra on the disc is a twenty-three minute featurette called Looking Back At The Shadow that is comprised of interviews with director Russell Mulcahy, actors Alec Baldwin and Penelope Ann Miller, screenwriter David Koepp, production designer Joseph C. Nemic III, and cinematographer Steven H. Burum. There's a lot of emphasis here on the look of the movie, how they not only tried to get the details right for the 1930s setting that the story takes place in but also tried to make the movie look, to a certain extent at least, that it was made in the 1930s. Hence the decision to use optical and practical effects rather than computer effects (which, when used in the feature, don't look so hot as they were still in their infancy). They also discuss what Baldwin was able to bring to the role, Miller's turn as the female lead, Jerry Goldsmith's score and a fair bit more. It's a little clip heavy at times but overall it's an interesting retrospective piece that offers up some interesting memories of the movie and its production history.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options. It would have been nice to get a feature that went into the history of the character and his origins or maybe a commentary track but that didn't happen. The featurette is pretty decent though.
Shout! Factory brings The Shadow to Blu-ray with great audio, a solid transfer and a decent featurette that looks back on the movie's history. The movie itself remains a lot of fun, an ultra-pulpy story with style to spare, a great performance by Alec Baldwin and a really talented supporting cast. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.