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A fictionalized account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe's life, in which the poet is in pursuit of a serial killer whose murders mirror those in the writer's stories.
For more about The Raven and the The Raven Blu-ray release, see the The Raven Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on October 11, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Director: James McTeigue
Writer: Ben Livingston
Starring: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans (I), Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kevin McNally
» See full cast & crew
The Raven Blu-ray Review
Quoth this critic: "Total bore."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 11, 2012
Edgar Allen Poe was America's first preeminent "genre" writer. He penned macabre Gothic chillers and dark mysteries. He loved cryptography, helped perfect the short story form, and practically invented "detective" fiction. While his works have quite confidently stood the test of time—influencing everyone from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Stephen King—the author's tragedy-riddled biography, eccentric personality, and enigmatic death have given him a legendary status in his own right. The Raven, from director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) and screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, inflates the myth of Poe further still, inventing an explanation for the alcoholic scribe's mysterious final days, one that involves a frantic mission to stop a serial killer inspired by Poe's own gory tales. This makes some kind of deliciously absurd sense—turning Poe into a fictional, Sherlock Holmes-style deducer, forced to confront the horrors of his imagination grimly realized in the real world—but the execution, so to speak, is sloppy. The Raven is one those unfortunate films that wants to be thrilling, with a score that pounds mercilessly away, trying to drum up tension, but it forgets a key principle of filmmaking—if the viewers don't care about the characters, they aren't going to care at all.
Just to be clear, The Raven most definitely is not an Edgar Allen Poe biopic, like the one Sylvester Stallone has supposedly had in the works for years. Instead, it takes a few basic details from Poe's life and then runs wild with kooky speculation and trumped up thriller movie cliches. John Cusack plays the captital-R-Romantic poet, and—unlike most aspects of the movie—he gets it right, with a performance that convincingly combines writerly arrogance with pitiable alcoholism and financial desperation. His Poe is a shambling, penniless drunk, far too convinced of his own genius, with a bar credit that's long been exhausted. He's recently returned to Baltimore, hoping to propose to his latest love interest, Emily Hamilton (Alive Eve) and also to drum up some freelance story work from his erstwhile newspaper editor, Maddox (Kevin McNally). There are two problems, Emily's father, Captain Charles (Brendan Gleeson), absolutely hates him, and Maddox knows that Poe's got a serious case of writer's block.
Make that three problems; someone has just gruesomely slain a woman and her young daughter in a manner that strongly resembles the killing in Poe's story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." (No, English majors—and spoiler alert to everyone else—The Raven doesn't end with the reveal of an orangutan as the killer.) Police detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) understandably calls Poe in for questioning, but rather than being ambiguous about the writer's possible involvement in the crime—as a more interesting film might've done—The Raven quickly establishes Poe's innocence and his horror that someone is using his work for grisly inspiration. A series of additional murders inevitably follows, each patterned after another short story, from "The Pit and the Pendulum" to "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" to "The Cask of Amontillado," forcing Poe and Fields to join forces—like a riff on Holmes and Watson—to solve the crimes. Essentially, the film becomes a tired, trussed-up procedural, a 19th century C.S.I. with Fields using nascent forensic science and Poe as a kind of psychological profiler.
Now, this premise could've worked. Poe unraveling murders his own twisted mind cooked up? Sure, why not. But where The Raven falls out of the sky is how it handles the characters and their inner lives. It doesn't. Midway through the film, during a masquerade ball thrown by Captain Charles—yes, we get a "Masque of the Red Death" homage—the killer kidnaps Emily and secrets her off to his lair, where he keeps her in a coffin. He then forces Poe to play along by threatening to off her if Poe doesn't write a lurid true crime newspaper serial based on the ongoing events. Essentially, Emily is only here as a plot device—a reason to keep Poe motivated—and we never really get to know her or get a feel for her relationship with the troubled writer. This goes for the other characters as well. They're sketched out sufficiently enough to keep the story moving, but not enough for them to matter.
I know what you're thinking—"this is supposed to be a thriller, not a drama"—but without well-written characters, The Raven feels as lifeless as a stuffed bird. It's dull and rote, which are probably the worst things a thriller can be. Edgar and Fields go to a crime scene, do some snooping, and find a clue that leads them to the next. Rinse and repeat. Poe's best stories work so well because they build up unbearable anxiety about what's to come; not so for The Raven, which hurriedly speeds from one Se7en-esque murder set-piece to the next. There's no build up. No lingering. No pause for reflection. Worse, the ultimate identity of the killer is nearly arbitrary and will likely leave you saying, "Oh, him? Wait...who is that guy again?" Cusack is well-cast, and McTeigue gets the period look of soggy old-timey Baltimore down—the film was actually shot in Belgrade and Budapest—but The Raven is somehow more forgettable than its antagonist.
The Raven Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Raven alights onto Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that does justice to the film's appropriately gloomy cinematography. Shot on 35mm, the movie retains its inherent filmic texture—no signs of digital noise reduction here—with a layer of grain that settles over the image and does noticeably spike somewhat during darker scenes. Of which there are many. If there's one issue with this picture, it's that it's very dark, so try to minimize glare on your screen before viewing. Black levels do crush a bit, although this seems to be an intentional part of the film's moribund look. Otherwise, this transfer is quite strong, with no overt compression issues, no weird digital anomalies, and no encode problems. While not the sharpest film I've seen recently, The Raven's high definition image yields a considerable amount of fine detail, most noticeably in closeups, where facial features and clothing textures are keenly defined. As for color grading, the film alternates between scenes with a chilly blue cast and those with a soft candlelight glow; either way, the picture is appreciably dense, with no wishy-washy grayness in the shadows. Overall, the film has a very stylized look— not unlike the Sherlock Holmes movies it so clearly wants to be—and the Blu-ray presentation seems faithful to both source and intent.
The Raven Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Depressive 19th century Baltimore is brought to aural life with the film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, a bombastic amalgam of high-intensity music and carefully sculpted sound design. The dynamic mix makes full use of the multi-speaker presentation, with fairly frequent cross- channel effects and quiet but near-constant environmental ambience. The low blow of a fog horn. The clang of a distant bell. Carriages buckling through the rears. Glass bottles broken stage left. The party clamor at the masquerade ball. Claps of thunder, water dripping in tunnels beneath the city, and gunshots piercing the soundfield. The dialogue is always clean and understandable, with voices that seem to accurately reflect the acoustics of their surroundings. Spanish composer Lucas Vidal provides a pounding, wound-up orchestral score that sounds great, even if it does feel like a forced attempt to ratchet the tension. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles—in easy-to-read white lettering—but no dubs or descriptive audio.
The Raven Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Raven Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
And The Raven, as is fitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
On a crowded shelf inside your favorite local big box store,
A/V specs? Yes, satisfying, but surely there is no denying,
That the film itself is trying, trying hard to make us snore,
The Blu-ray disc will sit collecting dust and, slowly, mold and spores,
It shall be purchased—nevermore!
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The Raven Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Upcoming Blu-rays from Fox Home Entertainment (Updated) - July 25, 2012
In the fall, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will bring the following titles to Blu-ray: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lola Versus, The Raven, Sound of My Voice, October Baby, Season Seven of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Season Three of The ...
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