The tragic life and eerie stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe have been mined to make James McTeigue’s The Raven, a mystery story revolving around both the life and works of one of America’s literary greats. This historical fiction has a clever concept at its core, and those with knowledge of Poe’s most famous works will find a certain amount of pleasure in their adaptation and manipulation here. But the film has serious flaws that its unusual conceit and rather inventive mystery can’t obliterate.
The Raven (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by James McTeigue
Studio: Relativity (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 110 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Review Date: October 9, 2012
In Baltimore of 1849, Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack), penniless and devoid of the creative urge, is mortified to realize that a serial killer is using aspects from some of his most famous stories in his murder spree. After police detective Fields (Luke Evans) clears Poe of any involvement in the crimes, he uses Poe’s expertise about his own works as a kind of road map to the killer, a person who is zeroing in on Poe’s latest lady love, the wealthy and beautiful Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) whose father (Brendan Gleeson) is violently opposed to Poe having anything to do with his daughter. When Emily is inevitably kidnapped, Poe must comply with the killer’s desire for a new Poe story plotted with aspects from the current case in order to get clues that will aid in rescuing Emily.
It’s very obvious that screenwriters Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston have enormous regard for Edgar Allan Poe and his brilliant works with homages being paid to the likes of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Berenice,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and, of course, his haunting poems “Annabel Lee,” and “The Raven.” And since Poe’s last few days of life are shrouded in mystery about his actions and his subsequent death, it’s fair game for the authors to invent their own tale of mystery around the “father of the mystery story.” The murder mystery they’ve concocted is a fairly good one, and once the villain is unmasked, the motivations we discover make a fair amount of sense even if it seems that in order to pull off all these crimes, this person must have been a combination of the Phantom of the Opera and Jack the Ripper, both of which lend overtones to the killer’s modus operandi in the movie. But while director James McTeigue stages some of the killings rather stylishly (when he’s not having blood splashing all over the place) and the production designer has done a fine job of creating a Baltimore at mid-19th century from European locations (the fog-shrouded streets are quite impressive), one can’t help feeling many of the actors seem too modern to fit comfortably into this period mystery. Occasional dialogue and body language often betray today’s attitudes and demeanors, and how the destitute Poe manages such an elaborate costume for a fancy dress ball is anyone’s guess.
Despite losing a fair amount of weight to play the part, John Cusack still doesn’t much resemble the Poe we know from photos and illustrations looking far too hale and hearty and sounding very modern throughout. Luke Evans is a little more period in look and manner, and he’s a character we’d like to know more about. Alice Eve and Brendan Gleeson as Hamilton daughter and father have one-dimensional roles that they can’t do much with (though Eve shows some pluck as she continually tries to escape her imprisonment). Kevin McNally and Sam Hazeldine as the newspaper editor and his linotype operator do well with their limited roles.
The film’s theatrical 2.40:1 aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The image has been desaturated in color with timing that makes the image dark even in the bright lights of the ball. Thus, flesh tones on all are pale and practically lifeless. Contrast has also been lightened to give a rather murky look to the film sometimes resulting in black levels that are less than optimum. Shadow detail is better than adequate throughout. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is very effective throughout. There is plenty of ambience found in the party scene, in the streets, and in the tunnels underground where much of the action takes place. Bullets have a tendency to bounce around the surround channels after they’re fired making for a lively listening experience. Lucas Vidal’s score, which seems counter to the period mood of this piece, also gets an excellent play through the fronts and rears. The dialogue has been nicely recorded and can be found in the center channel.
The audio commentary is by director James McTeigue and producers Aaron Ryder, Marc D. Evans, and Trevor Macy. Though there is sometimes a tendency to describe on-screen action, the four men do come up with interesting comments and observations about the film’s production which fans of the movie will enjoy hearing.
There are six deleted scenes which can be viewed separately or in one 10 ¾-minute bunch.
All of the bonus features are in 1080p.
“The Raven Guts: Bringing Death to Life” features brief interviews with many of the production’s cast and crew including director James McTeigue, writers Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston, production designer Roger Ford, and stars Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, and John Cusack.
“The Madness, Misery, and Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe” offers a 9 ¾-minute biography of Poe’s sad life and struggle to make a comfortable living despite the enormous popularity of his stories and poems.
“Behind the Beauty and Horror” is an EPK fluff vignette running 2 ¼ minutes promoting the movie.
“The Raven Presents John Cusack & James McTeigue” is a very brief 2 ¾-minute conversation between the star and director of the film.
“Music for The Raven” introduces us to composer Lucas Vidal and the team of arrangers and sound men who put the music together along with explaining their reasoning behind using synthesizers and modern music effects to a period movie. It runs 5 ¼ minutes.
The theatrical trailer runs 1 ¼ minutes.
The disc features promo trailers for House at the End of the Street, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Sound of My Voice, and Act of Valor.
The second disc in the set is the combination DVD/digital copy of the movie.
3.5/5 (not an average)
There’s a fair amount of mystery afoot with The Raven even if the film has problems with plotting and getting all aspects of the production into the proper period mood of the film. It’s more mystery than horror film, so fans looking for a horror genre movie should probably look elsewhere.