Studio: Intrepid Pictures
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve
Director: James McTeigue
Time: 111 mins.
While investigating a gruesome double murder, police detective Emmett Fields (Evans) discovers that the crime scene mirrors the setting depicted in one of Edgar Allan Poe’s (Cusack) works of fiction. Suspecting Poe at first, Fields ultimately enlists his help to catch the killer. In a deadly game of cat and mouse, the stakes are raised when Poe’s true love, Emily Hamilton (Eve), is taken by the killer, sending the pair racing to catch a madman before the next story is brought to life.
John Cusack, James McTeigue, & Brendan Gleason. To a lessor degree – Alice Eve, Luke Evans, & Brendan Coyle.
When you see these players involved in a project you expect good things. Especially when they are gathered to do a movie about Horror-Meister, and the father of the modern day detective story, Edgar Allan Poe.
Expectations are a hard thing to manage. When I see a group of people like this gathered together my initial and immediate perception is that they are going to do some form of biographical movie. When the final product is a highly fictionalized and fantastical version of the last days of Poe, disappointment is inevitable from the moment the story direction is made clear.
So with a great deal of readjustment my task is reviewing what this movie is rather than what I hoped it to be. I did my best but no doubt, my disappointment has still managed to seep through my review.
The film looks gorgeous and shot beautifully. Shot on location in Budapest, Hungary used to stand in for Baltimore, Maryland quite successfully. The sections of Budapest chosen to depict either the cozy or creepy sides of the city both work wonderfully.
John Cusack, with many of his Cusackisms still intact, brings forth an unsympathetic yet convincing and compelling portrayal of the near mythic writer. Too bad it is in service to a pretty silly murder mystery story. Oops – there goes my disappointment slipping out.
For all the murder story line is built up to mine Poe’s source material for the crimes, the murders come across as pretty bland and/or tame. They do recreate the iconic scene from The Pit and the Pendulum and in the process it seems they blew their SFX budget on that set piece. One section of the movie with Alice Eve playing Poe’s love interest, has its tension literally undermined by a shot that blows the illusion we are being led to believe is happening.
Still there are some great moments of atmosphere bolstered by Budapest architecture and a more than capable cast of supporting characters. Embarrassingly, I must admit to having my fancy tickled by the manner in which the last few days of Poe and his death are tied into the conclusion of the story.
Unfortunately, the movie ends one sequence later than it should have.
Crave Factor – 6
Shot on 35mm, The Raven captures the gloomy cinematography onto Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer with no apparent attempts at digital correction as grain is apparent throughout the film.
Given the mood of the picture and the abundance of night scenes the grain is much more evident than it would be in ‘lighter’ fare. Detail is very strong throughout and notably so in such scenes as the masquerade ball where the grain is at its least visibility.
Many of the night scenes use the blue tint feel that has become the de facto tone of many movies dealing with nocturnal scenes of tension and horror. These are contrasted by the warmer interior scenes that are softened by candle glow.
A very pleasing presentation overall.
Crave Factor – 8
In most respects the DVD is the same with the expected loss of detail and a slight loss of clarity in darker scenes where the blacks are bit more crushed.
Crave Factor – 7
The film’s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is very active. It can be heard that a lot of work went in to aural soundstage of this film. Low level ambiance sound can be heard across speakers as the filmmakers fleshed out the soundstage of 19th century Baltimore. Church bells, water dripping in tunnels, voices echoing in the same tunnels, the clop of horse hoofs on the cobbled streest etc all go together to put one in the head space of the late 1800s.
None of this synthetic soundscape interferes with the dialogue. It is always clean and understandable and matched properly with the speaker’s position on the screen.
First time composer Lucas Vidal has crafted a score that mixes classic orschestral sound with a modern low end pounding rhytm. His score seems a little over zealous at trying to provide the appropriate emotional cues but I must admit I did enjoying lisening to it.
The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles—in easy-to-read white lettering—but no dubs or descriptive audio.
Crave Factor – 9
The 5.1 Dolby surround on the DVD is no slouch either. Much of what is available shines through in this mix as well with just a slight loss of clarity and separation with the score sounding a little less warm.
Crave Factor – 8
On the Blu-ray only and in 1080p. Only the Audio Commentary is present on both discs.
- Audio Commentary: Director James McTeigue and producers Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy, and Aaron Ryder discuss the challenges and rewards of shooting in Belgrade and Budapest. With several years of such commentaries having been available to consumers to listen to, it has reached a point where the players change but the details are remarkably similar for each movie. This commentary is no exception and your enjoyment will depend how attached to the finished product you are. Full props to the commentators of this one as they do a good job of being engaging to listen to.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (10:41): Six short deleted scenes of which, as is often the case, none offer crucial information left out of the finished version.
- The Raven Guts: Bringing Death to Live (13:32): A short behind the scenes featurette incorporating on-location footage covering production logistics plus interviews with the cast and crew.
- The Madness, Misery, and Mystery of Edgar Allen Poe (9:50): An altogether brief overview of the life of Edgar Allen Poe. Fascinating stuff. Pity this is not more.
- Behind the Beauty and Horror (2:18):EPK-style featurette.
- The Raven Presents John Cusack & James McTeigue (2:45): Cusack and McTeigue briefly interview one another as to why they chose to take on the Poe project.
- Music for the Raven – The Team ( 5:10): A brief overview with the people involved in scoring the film including the composer, music editor, and others who helped bring the film’s score into existence.
Crave Factor – 6
Rabid foes of Poe will probably watch this as a curiousity to see Cusack’s Poe portrayal and Poe’s cachet may be alluring enough to casual horror fans to attract them as well. The Raven is a competent movie that I admittedly can not fully endorse because of what I was hoping the film would be instead of what it is.
Even taking my disposition into consideration I am quite comfortable with stating that The Raven falters with the two most important elements of a movie: creating characters we care about and putting them in a compelling story.