Judge Joel Pearce was guided by a crow as he wrote this review.
Things can never be right. My soul will never rest until we are together again.
After The Crow exploded into underground popularity, the popular media has been trying to recreate that excitement (and financial gain) ever since. None of the remakes and sequels has been very successful, but the closest to that was arguably the short-lived The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. It was canceled after one year, when Universal purchased Polygram and decided not to continue the series. Now, for the first time in almost a decade, we have a chance to watch the season as a whole.
Facts of the Case
Eric Draven (Marc Dacascos, Brotherhood of the Wolf awakens after being dead for a year, the victim of a terrible murder. He is guided by a crow to his revenge, against the killers of himself and his soulmate, Shelly (Sabine Karsenti). This is quickly taken care of, thanks to his new-found invulnerability as the crow, leaving the killers behind bars. But Eric doesn't get to return to the other side—yet. He is left on Earth, to make things right until he can be reunited with Shelly.
He is hesitant to accept this fate, but gradually grows into his new life with the thanks of tough detective Darryl Albrecht (Marc Gomes, Fuel) and the spunky young Sarah Mohr (Katie Stuart, X2.
The Crow has always been a fascinating franchise. The original graphic novel was written by an angry, grief-stricken James O'Barr, trying to get over the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a drunk driver. Alex Proyas's 1994 version of the film took full advantage of that anger, also tapping into the underground music scene and the talents of Brandon Lee, who died in an accident on set.
Of course, it's hard to bring that tough, edgy anger to broadcast television. As a result, a number of changes take place. The biggest is the shift from revenge to redemption, as not all the bad guys can be horribly eviscerated. To accommodate this new, gentler Crow, any evildoer that The Crow kills now returns as a Snake, an equally powerful villain. Of course, this sort of destroys the purpose of having The Crow return in the first place, which is a consistently problematic side of the series. The Crow has returned to set things right for himself, as an avenging ghost of sorts. When he becomes a local vigilante (who doesn't kill anyone) here, it simply doesn't line up.
The problems don't end there. It's clear that the creators of the series didn't have a long-range plan for the show. The first two episodes cover the basic plot of the film, and then the series settles into a "freak of the week" groove, as Eric takes care of a new baddie in each episode. In the second half of the season, though, the creators throw in every trick they can think of to maintain excitement and interest in the series, including some terrible choices. New important characters, another Crow, secret societies, flashbacks to former lives, the return of dead characters…after a while, it simply becomes impossible to keep up with all of the plots the show tries to juggle.
That's not to say that the whole series is terrible. There are some nice moments and decent episodes, even though the series suffers from the Superman dilemma. There isn't much suspense with an invincible hero, and there's only so many times we can watch with excitement as he's loaded full of bullets, only to come back again. Fortunately, Marc Dacascos is a great physical actor, and he does a fine job with the martial-arts sequences. His emotional range is a bit less impressive, but at least the fighting is cool. The performances from the rest of the cast are a mixed bag. Marc Gomes does a fine job as Albrecht, providing some much-needed acting stability to the series. The minor roles are full of easily recognized but unnamed television performers, most of whom are not great performers. Many sequences fall flat, and the series never had a chance to expand and improve with a larger budget.
Is it worth returning to on DVD? I'm not sure. It does feature a number of indie bands from the era (taking one of several nods from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and I never wished someone else was reviewing the series. That said, it simply isn't as good as so many other series that do the same kind of thing. The end is a disappointment, and we can be sure now that there won't be any additional closure for the series. It's better than some of the follow-up films have been, but that's really not saying much.
Now, if you are one of the series' fans and have been waiting to see this again for the past eight years, you will be pretty happy with what Time-Life has put together for you. The episodes don't look or sound particularly great, but they have been decently presented. On the last disc, they've loaded up a surprising number of extras. There's a gag reel, as well as some production dailies for several episodes. These give a peek into the production of the show. We also get the original score, and a collection of text articles and images. The full script from the series has been included as well, which will give fans plenty of material to dig through. Finally, executive producer Bryce Zabel and Marc Dacascos deliver an entertaining commentary track on the first two episodes.
The Crow: Stairway to Heaven has a lot of fans who have been begging to get it on DVD for years. Those fans will be thrilled with the treatment the show has received here, after being pretty much ignored for almost a decade. I don't think it will convert many new viewers, but it's also not the travesty that many have said, either. Had it been given the opportunity to grow and develop through more seasons, I think it may have had a chance to get darker, and turn into a much better show. It lacked a larger vision, but it has a number of excellent moments.
While The Crow: Stairway to Heaven is far from perfect, it has already received more punishment than it deserved. It's free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Arts Alliance America
• Commentary on First Two Episodes
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