Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Crow: City of Angels - Collector's Series (1996)
Studio Line: Dimension Films - The Thrilling Sequel To The Crow…Now In The Exclusive Director's Cut!

This fast-moving, action-packed sequel to The Crow explodes on screen with hot new stars Vincent Perez and Mia Kirshner! After a brutal attack by an evil drug cartel, the murder victim is brought back to life by a mysterious crow. With the help of a beautiful woman named Sarah, he exacts revenge on his killers one by one… only to realize his enemy, the lethal Judah, has discovered the one weakness that can destroy him forever! Powered by a sizzling, chart-topping soundtrack, The Crow: City of Angels is an intense and exhilerating motion picture experience!

Director: Tim Pope
Cast: Vincent Perez, Mia Kirshner, Richard Brooks, Iggy Pop, Thomas Jane, Vincent Castellanos
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1; audio English DD & DTS 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 14 chapters; rated R; 91 min.; $29.99; 3/20/01.
Supplements: Behind-The-Scenes Featurette; Production And Costume Design Featurette; Feature Commentary Track With Producer Jeff Most, Composer Graeme Revell, Actor Richard Brooks, Production Designer Alex McDowell And Costume Designer Kirsten Everberg; Original Poster Concepts; Production Design Stills.
DVD-ROM Features: Screenplay Viewer & Novelization; Production Art Gallery; Weblinks.
Purchase: DVD | The Crow Boxed Set

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B+/B

Many sequels face a difficult road on their way to movie screens, but 1996’s The Crow: City of Angels stands out from the crowd. Although 1994’s The Crow had been a modest hit, the sequel didn’t seem to be any form of “sure thing” because of one major obstacle: Brandon Lee, the first movie’s star, died during its filming so he obviously could not return for the new flick. As such, two obstacles confronted the producers. For one, they needed to figure out how to get past the issue of the presence of a new actor, but even greater was the issue of whether or not they should create a new entry in the series.

Lee’s death made him more prominent than otherwise might have occurred, and the fans of the first movie clearly felt defensive about his legacy. As such, the filmmakers wisely chose to use a different character as “the Crow” in the sequel. Instead of the original movie’s Eric Draven, the sequel went with Ashe (Vincent Perez), a single father who is killed along with his son when he witnesses a drug gang’s brutal dispatch of a victim. After his death, Ashe comes back to life as “the Crow” and he stalks all involved with the incident until he’s wiped clean the slate.

That should sound pretty familiar if you saw the original Crow, as COA definitely follows the same template. That said, I found that while the sequel did little to alter the story or atmosphere of the first film, it somehow created a life of its own, and in many ways, I thought it was as good or better at what it did.

The differences between the two flicks are pretty subtle. During the “behind the scenes featurette” and audio commentary found elsewhere on this DVD, the filmmakers go to pains to tell us how they varied the experience; for example, while The Crow was drenched in rain, there’s no such elements to be found during COA. Instead of rain-soaked streets, the roads in the sequel are covered in broken glass. All of that creates the same impression, so the efforts made to differentiate seem a bit silly, but I suppose that had to do what they could.

The only genuine commonality between the two films is one character: Sarah, the little girl who was friends with Eric and his fiancée Shelly in The Crow. In the sequel, she’s grown up and - as played by Mia Kershner - has moved to LA, where she paints and works as a tattoo artist. Inevitably, her path crosses that of our new Crow Ashe, and minor romantic sparks fly, even though technically he’s dead.

Nonetheless, I didn’t think Sarah played all that strong a role in the proceedings, as the emphasis was on Ashe’s quest for payback. The first film also featured a Sarah-related subplot, and I felt that her parts of the sequel were better integrated. Frankly, the aspects of The Crow that dealt with Sarah and police detective Albrecht were the film’s slowest and least-necessary moments, and since the sequel dispatches them, I thought it moved more quickly and smoothly. The moments of COA with Sarah still can be a bit slow, but I didn’t think they dragged down the movie as badly.

Really, I found COA to be essentially the same film as The Crow except it was more streamlined. It moved at a quicker pace and the different elements seemed to combine better. The sequel has received a terrible pounding over the last five years, but I honestly can’t understand the fuss. While the original may be a better movie - it was certainly more original and creative - I think the differences are minor, and many of them come out in favor of COA.

This statement may brand me as a heretic, but for the most part, I preferred Perez as the Crow to Lee. Both have similar strengths and weaknesses, as the two actors provide strong physical presences but are less positive when it comes to the emotional aspects of their films. Perez actually displays greater range and seems more natural with his feelings, but Lee did much better with dialogue; Perez does not appear comfortable with English, and his accent renders quite a few lines difficult to understand. However, I liked his general demeanor in the role and he simply felt like more of a complete actor to me than did Lee; the latter may have developed had he not died, but he still needed a lot of work.

I also found the villain’s list to be more compelling in the sequel. Key here was the wicked presence of Iggy Pop as scummy baddie Curve. I don’t know how much of the Ig’s performance was acting and how much is just him, but he was a consistent delight in the role; he made Curve nasty but fun all at the same time. However, I really could have lived without the inside joke perpetrated by the director: on a couple of occasions, Iggy’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” plays at a club. That was silly and distracting; it took me out of the film in an unnecessary manner.

Although Michael Wincott was quite good as chief bad-guy Top Dollar in The Crow, I preferred the coolly evil presence of Richard Brooks in COA. His Judah Earl is quiet and subdued, but he radiates nastiness from within, and his lack of agitation makes him seem all the more powerful. It wasn’t a well-written role, but Brooks creates a strong aura through the part and offers a good antagonist.

The real star of COA is the production design, which provides an immersively gloomy place. Some of the efforts to make the sequel look different from the original do feel pointless, as they both inhabit a similar dank universe - though The Crow took place in Detroit and COA is in Los Angeles - I felt that the general atmosphere was provocative and well-executed. COA seemed more like a fantasy than did The Crow. While stylized, the latter’s Detroit remained part of our universe, but the tinted appearance of LA found in COA feels like some sort of “otherworld”. Whether that’s good or bad will depend on your interpretation, I suppose, but I preferred it.

Note that this DVD includes what the box describes as an “exclusive director’s cut”. I never saw COA prior to the receipt of this DVD, so I don’t know if this version differs from any of the others. Actually, I had difficulty discovering information about different editions of the film. Apparently the theatrical cut ran for 84 minutes opposed to this DVD’s 91 minutes, but oddly, some listings for the old DVD of COA state that it ran 116 minutes! That one also touted the “exclusive director’s cut”, but I’d have to guess the length is a misprint; I can’t imagine that version would differ so much from this one.

In any case, I must acknowledge that I found The Crow: City of Angels to provide a surprisingly compelling affair. The movie does little more than repeat themes and stories found in the original movie, but I thought it added some flair and atmosphere to the experience. Most fans of the first film seem to loathe this one, but I thought it did what it set out to do.

The DVD:

The Crow: City of Angels appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not flawless, most of the movie looked excellent and I found this picture to appear very solid as a whole.

Sharpness seemed immaculate. At all times the movie looked crisp and well-defined. And virtually no examples of softness were witnessed. It was a clear and accurate image that appeared very detailed throughout the film. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, but I did detect a few print flaws. On occasion, I saw some light grain and a little grit, though these always remained minor. Actually, I wasn’t totally sure that some of the apparent defects weren’t intentional; in this kind of film, it can be difficult to discern whether problems appear due to a dirty print or if they are supposed to be there. In any case, these flaws were very small and never interfered with the visual experience.

COA featured a heavily stylized palette, and the variety of colors came through wonderfully. Much of the movie used a greenish tint, and other segments went with red or yellow casts. All of the tones were clear and accurate, and they seemed cleanly-reproduced. I saw no signs of bleeding or noise and though that the colors were excellent. Black levels also seemed terrifically deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but never excessively thick. Ultimately, I thought this was a very strong visual experience.

Although the film’s soundtracks also were very good, they didn’t seem quite as strong as the picture. As is the case with many new DVDs from Buena Vista, The Crow: City of Angels included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. As is also often the case, I thought the two tracks sounded virtually identical. The DTS version provided moderately stronger low end, but otherwise I couldn’t distinguish between the two.

For the most part, the film’s soundfield seemed to offer a nicely broad and engaging experience. The audio used all five channels to a solid degree, and I found that both effects and music cropped up from all around quite frequently in the film. Sounds moved reasonably well between channels, and panning sounded smooth and realistic. The soundfield mainly stayed with the front speakers, as they provided the lion’s share of the audio. I found that music presented good stereo imaging, and effects appeared appropriately placed and distinct within their spectrums. The surrounds generally stuck with atmospheric audio, but they added a nice dimension of ambience to the track.

Audio quality sounded fairly good as well. Dialogue seemed natural and accurate, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects usually seemed clear and accurate, with reasonable dynamic range. I heard modest distortion to some elements; gunfire presented some problems and wasn’t as clean as I would have liked. Nonetheless, most of the effects came across as clean and distinct. The score seemed acceptably clean and crisp, and the rock tunes showed appropriately sludgy and dense qualities. I found that bass levels were fairly high and the low end usually seemed strong, though these elements could have been a little tighter. While The Crow: City of Angels didn’t provide a stunning auditory experience, it worked fairly well for the material and it earned an overall grade of a “B+”.

This new “Collector’s Series” release of Crow: COA replaces an old “movie-only” edition and adds a slew of extras. First up is an audio commentary from producer Jeff Most, composer Graeme Revell, actor Richard Brooks, production designer Alex McDowell, and costume designer Kristin Everberg. Though it was hard to tell at times, it sounded as though Most and Brooks were recorded together, while Everberg and McDowell also seemed to sit with each other for their session; only Revell appeared to be on his own, and the results of all three tapings were then edited together for this track.

All in all, I thought the commentary provided a nice look at the movie. We hear from a variety of perspectives, and they offer some good information about the creation of the film. I can’t say that any of the participants really stood out, as this seemed to be a pretty balanced track. There’s a nice balance between the technical and the creative sides of the story, and the piece moves along nicely. Fans of the film should enjoy this commentary.

Next up is a Behind the Scenes Featurette. This program lasts for 20 minutes and 30 seconds and it includes the typical mix of cast and crew interviews, shots from the set, and film clips. However, the latter are better integrated than usual; very few movie scenes appear on their own, as most of them are discussed by interview subjects while they run.

As such, this was a much better than average featurette, and I thought it provided a pretty solid look at the creation of the film. The best elements stemmed from the footage taken on the set, as it was a lot of fun to watch director Tim Pope interact with the performers. I also found it unintentionally amusing to hear the participants relate how they tried to keep this film consistent with the first Crow movie but also make it different; basically it sounds like they tried to gently alter many of the first flick’s elements in some marginally creative ways. In any case, I rather liked this featurette; it was a little brief, but it still provided a pretty compelling experience.

Also strong was the second program on the DVD, a Production and Costume Design Featurette. This 22 minute and 40 second show combines art work, stills, and movie clips with commentary from costume designer Kirsten Everberg and production designer Alex McDowell. The show lasts for and it offers a nice look at these elements of the film. Both participants expand on the remarks they made during the commentary and add depth to their work. All in all, I thought it was a good piece that provided a solid view of these aspects of the production.

Two still galleries also appear on the DVD. The “Original Poster Concepts” offers 21 shots of various advertising ideas, while the “Production Design Stills” give us 64 examples of drawings and other art created for the film. I’d already seen many of the latter during the related featurette, but it’s still good to have them available for individual viewing.

Sneak Peeks gives you access to a variety of ads for other Miramax/Dimension product. You’ll find promos for Hellraiser: Inferno, The Prophecy II, Halloween H20, Highlander: The Final Dimension, and Teaching Mrs. Tingle. As was the case with the DVD for the first Crow film - and also the subsequent sequel, Salvation - there’s no evidence of a trailer for COA or any of the other Crow flicks. Very odd!

In addition, The Crow: COA provides some DVD-ROM elements. We get a “Screenplay Viewer and Novelization”. This displayed the movie in a small box while the text scrolled at the side; you’re given the choice of either the script or the film’s novelization in that area. The former ran fine, but I was unable to get the latter to work on my machine

The “Production Art Gallery” included a variety of drawings created for the film. You’ll find thumbnails for 32 images that can easily be enlarged. Lastly, the DVD-ROM area offers a link to the “DVD Destination Website”. There you’ll find a connection to the official page.

Although The Crow: City of Angels won’t be called a classic, I thought it ably lived up to the reputation of the first film. Granted, much of the sequel felt like little more than a rehash of the same elements, but I found it to offer enough of a distinctive experience to warrant my attention. The DVD offers terrific picture plus solid sound and a nice roster of extras. Ultimately, COA was a moderately compelling film that provides a positive DVD experience.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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