Brandon Lee had a handful of film credits at the time of his passing in 1993. The last feature he worked on was supposed to be his breakout performance; that role was also the cause of his demise.
Lee was shooting a career-defining role as the title character in The Crow at the time of his death. Based on the Caliber Comics superhero comic books, The Crow features Brandon as Eric Draven, a young man brought back from the dead to avenge the brutal rape and murder of his fiancé, as well as his own death.
On March 31, 1993 Lee was filming a scene that required another actor to shoot him. The gun being used in the scene had been used several times throughout the day. Different camera shots required different ammunition, ranging from blanks to dummy cartridges. Somehow a bullet became lodged in the barrel of the gun. The producer had sent the firearms expert home for the day, leaving a prop assistant in charge of gun safety. The assistant didn’t know to check the barrel of the gun before it was to be used in the scene. So, when a blank round was fired it sent the lodged 44 Magnum bullet out of the barrel with the same force as an actual round.
When the bullet struck Lee, it caused massive damage. A 44 Magnum is not a small bullet. Lee was rushed to the hospital where he underwent six hours of surgery, but ultimately died.
Lee died before filming had completed. The producers took a break in production to rewrite the script into one that could make sense with the existing footage. At this juncture the distributer, Paramount Pictures, exited the picture, but Miramax stepped in with a pledge of $8 million to complete filming. Lee’s stunt double, Chad Stahelski, was used as a stand in. CGI was then used to superimpose Lee’s face on Stahelski.
We will never know how good or bad the original concept for The Crow film would have worked. Was it already a masterpiece in the making? Or, was having to piece together the film after Lee’s death what ultimately made the story telling so good? (For the record the original script was drafted by David J. Schow and John Shirley; the rewrite after Lee’s death was completed by Walon Green, René Balcer, and Michael S. Chernuchin)
What I can say is that The Crow in it’s final format is not only one of the greatest superhero movies of all time (see Top 10 Superhero Movies of All Time), it is one of the best movies of all time period.
The Crow was a huge success, grossing over $50 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $43 million internationally. Producers always like to see if they can tempt lightning to strike more than once. As such, The Crow has spawned three film sequels and a television show.
The Crow: City of Angels in 1996 was the first attempt to repeat the success of the original film. Director Tim Pope and screenwriter David S. Goyer set out to create a film as different from original movie as possible. However, Miramax overruled them and ordered the film re-edited to look and feel as much like the original as possible. Interestingly, Jon Bon Jovi auditioned to play the hero Ashe Corven, but the part ultimately went to Vincent Pérez. Although Pérez had the right look to play The Crow, he never stepped out of Lee’s shadow. The film was a commercial and critical failure.
In 1998, we were treated to a television interpretation of The Crow, under the title The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. Mark Dacascos played Eric Draven, the same character played by Lee in the original film. Dacascos is by far the best of the actors to follow in Lee’s footsteps. Sadly, once the premise of The Crow was sanitized for television it lost its magic. The show was canceled after 22 episodes.
In 2000 we saw the third film in The Crow franchise. The Crow: Salvation starred Eric Mabius as The Crow, in this case Alex Corvis. Mabius is the worst of all the actors in The Crow franchise – by far. With his choirboy haircut, and nerdy boy-next-door delivery, he never captures the otherworldly element necessary to play a character of this type. There is no poetry to his delivery.
The best of the sequels to The Crow is 2005’s ultra-low budget straight-to-video feature The Crow: Wicked Prayer. The film starred Edward Furlong as Jimmy Cuervo, this instalment’s hero. Furlong does a pretty good job. He shows that’s he’s a good actor. David Boreanaz plays the villain, and he is a delight. He chews up the scenery like nobody’s business. Of all the sequels, this is really the only one worth watching.
There has been talk of re-booting the series. At one point Jason Mamoa was attached, but he has since departed the project. Hollywood is too enamored with remakes to not bring The Crow back to today’s audiences. At some point a new The Crow film will be produced. The question is, will it be any good or will it just capitalize on the marquee name value of The Crow?
Come to think of it, I have an idea for a script. Perhaps it will be me that writes the next installment. Stranger things have happened in Hollwyood.
Peace. Love. Trust.
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