PART ONE: 52 MEETINGS FROM THE COMIC TO THE SCREEN
By Ryan J. Downey
Sure, there’s Richard Donner’s Superman, the Christopher Nolan Batman films, but to many, “The Crow” remains the greatest comic book flick ever made.
The late, great Brandon Lee, who was killed in a tragic onset accident just days away from completing the film, completely embodied the pathos, grace, otherworldly invincibility and dark humor of James O’Barr’s Joy Division fueled black and white comic book about murder, heartbreak, the afterlife and justice.
It’s hard to believe that it was 15 years ago that “The Crow” finally made it to theaters, one year after shooting took place in North Carolina with the son of famed martial arts star Bruce Lee in the lead. Lee delivered a star-making performance as Eric Draven, a musician whose wife is raped and murdered by colorful criminals and returns from the grave to avenge her, aided by a mysterious crow.
It was a time well before comic book movies dominated the box-office. Producer Jeff Most was developing a movie at Warner Bros. with cyberpunk novelist John Shirley when “The Crow” entered his life, where it would stay forever (Most has co-produced all of the sequels as well as the short-lived television series and co-wrote the screenplay for the most recent flick, “The Crow: Wicked Prayer”).
Jeff Most: I had this idea to turn what we were working on into a comic, as a way of both exploiting the really strong visuals in the screenplay and also kind of as a way to use the comic as a sales tool to show executives at the studios and production companies. We went looking for a comic book artist. John had gotten a recommendation [about James O’Barr] from a freelancer at the Detroit Free Press. I bought the only two copies of “The Crow” at Golden Apple in LA. I called John and said, ’I want to make this into a movie!’
The comic just kind of brought me back to where I had been in my late teens and early 20s. The way the comic unfolded in this ethereal manner, it was not linear, it had a very cinematic quality. I found Caliber in Detroit and they hooked me up with a phone number for James O’Barr. I was fortunate that he had not given away the film rights. He said I was the second person to call and he already had an offer on the table. James never pulled any punches, he was very forthright with me. I assured him that no matter how I did it, I would see to it that the tone of the comic book was kept and that it would be an R-Rated film for certain. And I said I wanted to keep making these films and make it a franchise.
I took the comics around with the treatments. I was told it was too dark, too bleak, too out there. One studio executive, who later became a president of a studio, threw the comics across the table at me and said, ’I didn’t think you were gay.’ I said, ’What?!’ He said, ’Well, your character is gay. He’s got long hair, he looks gay, he’s dressed up in makeup.’ Interestingly, I had a meeting with somebody else about a week later who also later became president of another studio who said to me, ’I heard you’ve got a comic book about a woman who kills people.’ Studios all turned their backs. I had 52 meetings before I was introduced to Ed Pressman, who had done “Bad Lieutenant,” “Wall Street” and “Badlands.”
When the film was completed, there was nobody there to accept it. We had originally done it for Paramount but now the studio was being sold, they couldn’t take it on. I had a head of a studio tell me, ’This movie is too dark and it will never be released.’ Again, no studio wanted anything to do with it.
Miramax was really an art-house label at the time, but we had a meeting with the Weinstein brothers. They liked the film. Harvey really loved it. Bob said, “I’ve got this dream to start a genre label and open a new branch of the company called Dimension Films. And we’d like ’The Crow’ to be our first film.'”
(“The Crow” went on to do nearly $100 million worth of business worldwide.)
Come back to Splash Page tomorrow for the next chapter in our week-long look at “The Crow,” its origins and legacy.