My rant about The Crow remake
The Crow remake has been in the news a lot recently in the last few weeks, after finally settling a lawsuit with Miramax over film rights that has kept it from moving forward until now. Mainly making waves with rumored casting decisions over just who will play the lead, largely centered on Tom Hiddleston or Alexander Skarsgard, before announcing that Eric Draven will be played by Luke Evens, according to press releases.Of course, that’s not the worst of it – early insider’s reviews of the script show that there is a good reason why almost every actor offered the role until now has turned it down. By all accounts, contrary to claims the remake will be based more on the comic book, if the script is any indication, we are looking at a crappy remake for the record books – Eric Draven has been turned into a bible-quoting cop, as opposed to the guitarist, and his powers now make him a ghost who paints his face so people can see him. Other horrid changes – the one that struck me the most was making Eric and Shelley childhood friends from an orphanage – have basically had anyone who has seen the script agreeing that it needs a page one rewrite, if not to be tossed out entirely. As is, the film may make even The Crow: Wicked Prayer look good in comparison.
Needless to say, the fans aren’t happy. As mentioned before, as with the last time the Crow remake showed any signs of life, the fans have been VERY vocal that they do not want the original film to be remade. It doesn’t help the people behind the remake, mainly producer Edward Pressman, have made no effort that this is a cash grab hoping to capitalize on the recent glut of comic book movies. After a combination of fan outrage and the Miramax lawsuit stopped it in its tracks, many hoped this would be the end of it – the recent casting rumors prove otherwise, and already fans are once again hoping to put an end to it once and for all.
Of course, why wouldn’t they? When the people who worked on the original film, including Crow creator James O’Barr, call it out for being needless, and by all accounts, there isn’t much faith to be had when a rookie director and a cash-hungry producer team up for a remake that has had actors walk away just based on the script. It probably doesn’t help that they have done a magnificent job bungling public outreach, ensuring that the fans not only have no faith in the project, but take up arms whenever its talked about – remember, these are the folks who suggested casting Skrillex as Eric Draven, before outrage forced them to recant, calling it an ‘April Fool’s Day joke’. By all accounts, the film is shaping up to be a fiasco, and anyone who isn’t working on the remake knows it.
Needless to say, I haven’t much faith in the project either. The Crow is one of my all time favorite films, and seeing it get remade, let alone remade of this terrible caliber, is heartbreaking.For starters, as I’ve said a dozen times before, and will say a dozen times more, The Crow is a classic, and many critics recognize it as such. It was the first serious comic book film-adaptation, a full decade before the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Nolan Batman films made such adaptations the golden rule. The story is a solid revenge tale, one tinged in themes ranging from regret to redemption, and masterfully told. The cast brings their A-game, from Ernie Hudson as Officer Albrecht to Michael Wincott as the villain Top Dollar, and of course the hauntingly powerful performance of the late-great Brandon Lee, whose own tragic death tinges every frame of the film. The look and feel of the film is the gold standard for dark, gritty or moody films, something the half-dozen ‘dark and gritty’ films every year these days would do well to imitate. Finally, it’s got one of the best soundtracks ever put to film, both in regards to orchestra score and the track listing that acts as a sampling of the best of the grunge era, something even people who don’t care for the film admit. It was, and shall always be a beloved classic by millions of people.
Overall, there is a reason the Crow remake has been received with such outrage and skepticism – the Crow is one of the relatively few movies that should NEVER be remade. For starters, the film is near perfect – there’s a reason many critics regard it as one of the best films ever made, not just the movie’s legions of fans. Part of what makes it so great was that it truly was a product of its times – even a remake reverent of the source material would find it a daunting task to replicate or match things like the grunge rock soundtrack, gothic look or the angst over urban blight that fringed the film’s setting, given the dismal state of the modern rock scene (a comparable issue for the rumored Highlander remake), the fact Goth culture has been laughably watered down, and the thankfully improved state of many cities.
Finally, you have the big one – that any would be remake will have to deal with the vocal accusations that the remake treads on hallowed ground, as Brandon Lee died in an accident filming the Crow. It’s one reason his performance as the similarly cut-down in his prime Eric Draven is so haunting and so powerful, and why even a great actor would struggle to do try to match it. Whether or not the producers of the remake like it or not, the tragic death of Brandon Lee is as much a part of the Crow’s legacy as James Dean’s death is as part of Rebel Without a Cause’s legacy, or Peter Finch’s death is a part of Network’s legacy, or how Bruce Lee’s legacy is so tied to Enter the Dragon and Game of Death. Part of what makes these films timeless is that they serve as a living epitaph for the actors who poured their hearts and souls into their roles before they breathed their last, perhaps more true with Brandon Lee than almost anyone else. Unlike recent examples like Heath Ledger or Kurt Cobain, Lee’s death was completely out of his hands, caused by an accident on set while filming, in a cruel twist of fate, during the filming of the scene where Eric Draven was killed, making Brandon Lee is one of the very few actors killed during a performance. When seeking to understand why so many people are outraged over the very idea of remaking the Crow, imagine if someone tried to remake Rebel Without a Cause or Enter the Dragon, let alone going about it as rashly as the folks pushing for remaking The Crow have been – it would rightly be called out as both needless and tasteless, and decried as the cinematic equivalent of defiling a tomb. More than anything, this is why the backlash against the Crow remake has been so steady and so vocal.
That backlash was able to get the idea of remaking The Crow shelved before, and though I remain hopeful that it may do so again, or lacking that, common sense and decency might win out in Hollywood over greed. I’m not optimistic though. As mentioned before, the reason they are remaking the film has nothing to do with there being demand for one, or creative vision, or updating it for a new generation, but because producer Edward Pressman, who owns the rights, hasn’t had a major hit in years, and save perhaps Thank You for Smoking, hasn’t had his name tacked onto a major hit with moviegoers or critics since The Crow. Most of his recent efforts have flopped or were straight to DVD, and odds are, Pressman hopes remaking The Crow may prove a change of fortune, in hopes it will be able to overcome the fan backlash by capitalizing on the recent comic book movie boom. A bet that, I, like most people, feel safe to bet will come up snake eyes, but that’s neither here nor there.In short, a Crow remake will live or die by Pressman’s call. Some Crow fans have their fingers crossed he’ll back off, or lacking that, the film will remain in development hell long enough for 70-year-old Pressman to pass away, upon which film rights will revert back to James O’Barr, who has repeatedly said he has no desire to see the 1994 film remade. I however, offer some constructive criticism and suggestions instead.
I say again, that I have no desire to see the film remade, and in its current form, I not only would not see the film, but would openly call for a boycott. I’m far from the only one. However, there are some simple changes to be made that would no doubt cool the tensions between those pushing for the remake, and those decrying it. In the off-chance anyone tied to the remake happens to read this, I have some advice for you.
For starters, listen to the fans of the original film or the comics, and perhaps just as important, the industry insiders already writing the remake off as a disaster of legendary performances. No film adaptation will ever truly succeed without first earning, and then keeping the support of the original work – just ask how well pissing off the fans worked for Dragonball Evolution, the Star Wars prequels, Superman Returns, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Alien 3, The Last Airbender, Terminator Salvation, Sahara, The Postman, or the Conan the Barbarian remake, just to list a few off the top of my head. There’s a reason most of them flop, and even the ones that don’t end up being just as destructive in the long-run – because in the long-run, the fans are the ones that will either see it in theater three times and buy the new version of the DVD every time a new version is released, or decry it at every given chance and will turn it into a bad punch line. I can already see ‘Eating Crow’ join ‘Nuke the Refrigerator’ as a pop cultural gag if this remake is even half as bad as it looks like it will be.
The reason I say to listen to the fans has less to do with my membership in The Crow’s fan base, but with the realities of the current market for films, let alone comic book movies. The Avengers was the film that finally did for comic book movies what Star Wars did for sci-fi films and what Lord of the Rings did for fantasy films, finally bringing their respective genre to the mainstream, and setting off genre booms in their wake. Though there were certainly other factors, perhaps the biggest reason those three movies broke through the barrier into mainstream pop culture where countless predecessors had tried and failed was BECAUSE they listened to their fans. Star Wars tapped into the rich nature of science fiction, ranging from Dune to Foundation to John Carter of Mars, and brought it to screen. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy took the seminal work of the fantasy genre and showcased a faithful adaptation that is every bit the sweeping epic of Middle Earth as Tolkien’s novels. Most relevantly, The Avengers was the proof of concept for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, itself notable for not taking the campy or dismissive approach of prior Marvel films, or the dark and dogmatic realism of the Nolan Batman films, but by taking the subject matter seriously, showing that not only could a comic book movie have the fantastic stories, interlocking characters and expansive universe that form the core of comic books, but made billions of dollars doing so. Now, like the sci-fi and fantasy genre before it, where comic book movies had either demeaned or abandoned the source material when bringing it to screen, they seek to tap into what made the source material so popular with its fans. The reason for the comic book movie boom isn’t because people suddenly like comic book movies, but because The Avengers changed the way they are made, making films that are faithful to the source material and loyal to the original fan base the norm, rather than the exception – something you’d think the folks behind the Crow remake would realize, since The Crow was arguably the first movie to do that.Having looked at the nature of the market, take a look at both the Crow license, and how that may be applied to the new realities of the comic book market. A common misconception of The Crow is that Eric Draven is the Crow, it serving as his moniker – anyone whose seen the movie, it’s various sequels, or any of the dozen or so comics knows however that the Crow refers to, big surprise, the crow that follows the alternating protagonist around, a spiritual guide for the wrongfully murdered on their path to revenge, redemption and solace, so that they can move on into the afterlife. This is part of the reason it’s such a shame that the sequels to The Crow are generally pretty bad to abysmally bad – the title has massive opportunities as a genre-crossing franchise or even a TV show, presenting a different protagonist guided by the Crow in every installment on a different road to revenge. The comics have done this splendidly for years, with recent examples including an incarnation in a near-future Cyberpunk Tokyo hunting down cases of literal identity theft, and a Holocaust victim who returns to make the Nazi’s rue the day they planned the Final Solution, and both would make fantastic films in their own right. Hell, rather than remake the original Crow, remake some of the sequels – The Crow: City of Angels in particular seems particularly deserving, as with a better cast and a more polished script, it could have been a worthy sequel to the original. Rather than remake the original, reboot the franchise that followed it, this time taking more care in its execution.
Of course, here’s another bold idea – rather than remaking the original, why not just re-release it? Dozens of other older films have done so, and made millions in doing so. Like most of the films that did so, The Crow is a highly regarded film with a loyal fanbase – re-release it in theaters, and I’d guarantee that fans of the original would happily go see it in theaters, especially since many fans, myself included, were too young to have seen it in theater the first go around. The producers get their cash-in without having to pay for and produce a new film, the fans not only don’t have to suffer though a remake, but get to support the original, and in the process scores of new people are introduced to the film in the process.
Lacking that, if the powers that be insist on continuing down the path of just remaking the original in the forlorn hopes that ticket sales will outnumber the angry fans and bad press, grant fans of the original a few small mercies and go the Karate Kid route with it. What do I mean? The Karate Kid remake from 2010, though panned by critics, derided by original fans, and forgotten by most moviegoers today, mostly avoided fan backlash, despite the fact it’s a remake of a widely revered classic, one bought and produced to serve as a film credit for Jaden Smith at that. How did it do this? It wasn’t a straight remake of the original – they changed the names of the characters, as well as the setting. As a result, people can continue to watch Mr. Miyagi and Daniel LaRusso for generations to come, and Hollywood got millions from the Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith remake that was swiftly forgotten. Quite literally a win-win.
Now apply that to the Crow remake. Don’t call the protagonist Eric Draven – as far as most people are concerned, Eric Draven died on March 31st, 1993 along with Brandon Lee. Call the protagonist literally anything else – Eric Draven should be reserved for the man who died playing him. If you want, add a tagline to the title like all the other Crow films, or go the Judge Dredd route and just call it Crow. Doing both of these would no doubt do wonders to placate the angry fans angry at the remake – in the end, the fans can console ourselves that, even if it does involve a bible-quoting ghost cop, at least the remake didn’t spit on Brandon Lee’s grave on the way to the box office. If Crow fans can pretend The Crow: Wicked Prayer doesn’t exist, we can do the same for this.Which is why, no matter what happens involving the remake, there is always one bright spot to remember – no matter how god-awful or distasteful, or downright infuriating remaking the Crow may be, and how depressing the final product ends up being, in the end, we still have the original, and nothing will change that. The Crow is a modern classic loved by millions, and though some may try and take that from us, the way to have a movie live on is to never stop watching them. Hollywood is greedy; Remakes are painful; but real classics are forever.