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.
After 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.
Because 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 the rule.
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 series.
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.
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.