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In 30's New York City, the Shadow battles his nemesis, Shiwan Khan, who is building an atomic bomb.
For more about The Shadow and the The Shadow Blu-ray release, see the The Shadow Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 10, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry
Director: Russell Mulcahy
» See full cast & crew
The Shadow Blu-ray Review
"The sun is shining, but the ice is slippery..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, June 10, 2013
Who knows what what joys lurk in the depths of superhero cult classics? The Shadow knows! There's so much fun to be had with director Russell Mulcahy and screenwriter David Koepp's late-camp era adaptation of the 1930s pulp novels and radio drama of the same name that it's almost criminal. Alec Baldwin as a reformed opium kingpin who's transformed into a mystically super-powered New York vigilante? Locked in a battle to the death with the last surviving descendant of Genghis Khan, a calculating telepath hellbent on world domination? With the help of a secret network of everyday working joes who owe their very lives to the wealthy crime fighter? All for the love of a beautiful young woman -- yet another mind-reader -- desperately searching for her father, an elderly, unstable atomic scientist? Count me in. And that's just scratching the surface. The Shadow was a box office flop upon its initial release, the victim of poor reviews and haphazard marketing, and was all but forgotten. Nineteen years later, though, a small but faithful fanbase have managed to keep its memory alive.
Now those same fans have not one but two Blu-ray releases to consider: the first from Universal, available now but hindered by a mediocre transfer and barebones disc; the second a more enticing edition from Shout Factory, which remains shrouded in secrecy yet will reportedly offer a more meticulously mastered video presentation and a proper supplemental package. True believers will no doubt purchase both, no matter how many issues haunt the Universal version. Videophiles and more selective Shadow loyalists will want to wait for news and reviews for the upcoming Shout Factory release, if only to hedge their bets and make a more informed decision.
Tibet, shortly after the end of WWI. Merciless crime lord Lamont Cranston (Baldwin), a former American soldier who went mad after the war, is given a chance to redeem his vile deeds as The Shadow, a telepathic hero capable of disappearing at will, turning invisible, clouding men's minds and exerting incredible psychic influence over their decisions and desires. Returning to his home in New York, Cranston begins cleaning up the streets with the help of the very people he saves; an ever-expanding secret society of sidekicks and allies -- selfless everymen like driver Moe Shrevnitz (Peter Boyle) -- who agree to help the superhero whenever he comes calling. It isn't long, though, before The Shadow meets his match when a powerful psychic warrior named Shiwan Khan (John Lone) arrives stateside, determined to level city after city, beginning with the Big Apple, until every nation bends its knee to his rule. With the help of burgeoning telepath Margot Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), Cranston sets out to stop Khan, his army and the traitorous scientist in his employ, Farley Claymore (Tim Curry), from destroying New York; rescue Margot's kidnapped father, War Department scientist Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellen); and become the hero he was destined to be.
The Saturday matinee serials of the '30s and '40s. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Tim Burton's Batman. The Rocketeer. Fuse 'em all together and you'd have something strikingly similar to The Shadow. Mulcahy and Koepp play fast and loose with the series' original dime novels and radio dramas, filling in gaps as necessary (particularly in regards to The Shadow's origin story), yet retain a surprising number of elements, from the hero's strange powers and abilities to his friends, associates and nemesis. Part of the fun is the early 20th century vibe the filmmakers evoke; part is the script and dialogue, which are so deliciously corny they're irresistible; and part is the camp-tastic cast. Between Baldwin's mugging, Lone's sneering, Miller's dangerous dame routine, McKellen's flabbergastery, Curry's sleaziness and Boyle's chummy brutishness, hardly a scene goes by without a grin, a laugh or a cheer to be had. Even when cheesiness takes a reprieve, the melodrama and theatrical flourishes that take its place are a period-perfect blast, with just enough hard-hitting action, decent FX, character-driven oomph and inner turmoil to lend Cranston and company big screen legitimacy.
It's an acquired taste, though; one that involves a lingering, so-bad-it's-good bitterness that requires a particular palate to appreciate. Whether by nostalgia, amusement or genre fondness, The Shadow strikes a tone and a pose, and neither is for everyone. Some will complain about the film's dated effects. Others its mix-n-match world-domination plot. Some will balk at its semi-silly, mumbo-Eastern mysticism. Others its over-the-top villains. Some won't warm to the distinct '20s and '30s flair. Others the references upon references and nods upon nods they're much to young to understand. Some will grimace at the bam pow fisticuffs. Others the pulp detective work. Some will wince at lines like, "I guess you would call it an implosive-explosive sub-molecular device!" Others, "you have no choice, you will be redeemed, because I will teach you to use your black shadow to fight evil." For every fan of The Shadow, there will be at least three who dismiss it entirely; most of whom will come and go -- or walk past altogether -- without ever giving it a fair shot to work its magic or cast its spell. It's by no means a perfect movie, but it deserves more credit than its often afforded by its relative obscurity and cult status.
The Shadow Blu-ray, Video Quality
There's an argument to be made that a 2.0 is far too kind. Universal's 1080p/VC-1 encoded video transfer is an unholy abomination from a bygone era. Built on the back of a DVD-era master, The Shadow's high definition debut looks as if it was prepared for release when HD-DVD still roamed the Earth. It struggles with dull, diluted colors, weak primaries, sickly skintones, severely crushed blacks and countless contrast inconsistencies and inadequacies. And it has nothing to do with age, inherent softness or the filmmakers' intentions either. Artificial sharpening boosts detail but only artificially. (It seems obvious, I know, but it's amazing how often viewers mistake sharpness for genuine clarity.) The result? Edge halos are out in full force, and the most revealing textures remain unnatural. Worse, grain is harsh, chunky and problematic, compression anomalies aren't uncommon, and eyesores of all stripes abound. It isn't as bad as a DVD upscale, thankfully, and it does offer a marginal upgrade over its SD counterpart. But fans hoping for a revitalized, rejuvenated Shadow will have to put their faith in another would-be catalog hero: Shout Factory. Unfortunately, Universal has failed to deliver.
The Shadow Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Shadow's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is more rewarding, even though the thin, tinny, comicbook nature of the soundscape makes for a less-than-immersive experience. Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout, without much in the way of prioritization mishaps. A few lines are dragged beneath the chaos when action erupts, but nothing of any consequence. LFE output is decidedly decent too, bringing solid punch and hefty kick to the fight whenever Cranston becomes The Shadow. The rear speakers get a mild workout too, but busy as they get, they aren't very efficient. Directionality suffers and dynamics aren't quite up to snuff, although much of that traces back to the film's original sound design rather than a deficiency in the lossless track. All told, The Shadow's DTS-HD MA mix isn't a disappointment, it just doesn't leave much of a mark.
The Shadow Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Universal release of The Shadow doesn't include any special features. The soon-to-be dated and detailed Shout Factory release will, although the nature and extent of those extras have yet to be revealed.
The Shadow Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Shadow is a mid-90s diamond in the genre rough; one that's much better -- and much more fun -- than its initial critical reception and cult status suggests. How its name isn't mentioned in the same breath as Dick Tracy and The Rocketeer remains a mystery, no matter how flawed it may be. There's no mystery to Universal's Blu-ray release, though. It isn't very good, and its subpar video transfer is to blame. Extras would've been nice, of course, but no amount of extras could make up for such a faulty presentation. I'd recommend holding out until Shout Factory details its upcoming release of The Shadow. The Universal edition simply doesn't cut it, no matter how low its price point falls.
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The Shadow Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Shadow Blu-ray - March 19, 2013
Universal Studios Home Entertainment is bringing director Russell Mulcahy and screenwriter David Koepp's The Shadow to Blu-ray on June 4th. The action-packed adaptation of the 1930s pulp radio serial stars Alec Baldwin as playboy-by-day, vigilante-by-night hero ...
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