Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Raven and Distraction: A Movie Review (Blu-ray)

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*full disclosure: a Blu-Ray screener of this film was provided by 20th Century Fox for review.

Director: James McTeigue.

Writers: Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare.

Cast: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill, Sam Hazeldine, Pam Ferris, Brendan Coyle, Adrian Rawlins, Aidan Feore, and Dave Legeno.

Tagline: "The only one who can stop a serial killer is the man who inspired him."

The Raven originally released in theatres in April, 2012. The film was well received; but, this title was by no means a hit. Recently, this feature was released for the first time on home video formats (October 9th). The Raven is light entertainment. Although Edgar Allan Poe was a famous American writer with an interesting history, the film here is a fictional account of Poe's final days. Poe must track down his nemesis by revisiting his best works such as "The Raven" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." Poe's life and works are thus merely a means to and end: light entertainment and distraction.

The Raven begins with a scene of Poe (John Cusack) in his final minutes. On a park bench, this character seems to ponder the meaning of his life before expiry; a raven screeches hauntingly nearby. The film then transitions to a few weeks earlier. Here, Poe is very much alive and in pursuit of the untenable Emily (Alice Eve). Her father wants nothing to do with the pauper, Poe. Another man, a fanatic of Poe's work, also intervenes in the protagonist's life and he demands written works before he will release his hold on Emily. The next hour or so is spent with Poe chasing this mysterious character through Baltimore, Maryland as bodies turn up here and there.

Readers might clue in quickly that this film is crafted in the style of a murder mystery. Poe and Det. Fields (Luke Evans) must team up together to solve a puzzle, the killer's identity. There are many suspects. But, with the bodies turning up in an ever more frequent fashion, there are few left who can be accused of murder.

There are also elements of the thriller genre in this picture. The Raven involves several repetitious chase scenes. Poe chases the antagonist at least three times with his efforts always unsuccessful. As well, the character Emily does her best to escape from a gravelike predicament. Every time she escapes, she is captured again. Some of these repetitious scenes lose their excitement after so many failed attempts. But, the film seems to be selling itself as a thriller through action scenes, nonetheless.

Overall, The Raven is light entertainment. Poe's works are given little attention. A few lines are spoken from the poem from which the film takes its title. Or, scenes are brought to life from the novel "The Pit and the Pendulum" onscreen. Viewers will learn very little of Poe's actual life or of his many famous works. Viewers are encouraged to read Poe's poem "The Raven" below to see how melancholy and dark Poe's works actually were. Poe was a tormented soul after losing his first wife at a young age and his mother in a tragic fashion. His struggles are chronicled much better in his actual writing than in the film seen here.

There are a few historical elements hosted in The Raven's special features of note. There are eight special features in all. But, "The Madness, Misery and Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe" is the most interesting. Here, Poe's life is researched and told from fact. This viewer learned that Poe was an orphan and placed in the care of a foster family. This was surprising to at least one watcher. Other uncommon aspects of Poe's life are retold in this short documentary. There are also extended and deleted scenes. Many of the scenes add little to the narrative. Only the commentary from director James McTeigue and two of his producers is equally interesting. These filmmakers laugh about the challenges of filming in Hungary. As well, many of the other short films such as "Behind the Beauty and the Horror" and "The Raven Presents: John Cusack and James McTeigue" are too brief to offer any real insights. There are hours of extras here and only a few of the features are worth a viewer's time.

The Raven is meant as entertainment and fans of Poe's works will not find much new historical material here. This work is fictional and the film is meant to be sensational. The many chase scenes in this feature become mundane over time. However, the settings and costumes are expertly produced to create a realistic 1840's Baltimore. It is just too bad that Poe's real life tragedies were not chronicled into this film's fictional narrative.

Overall: 6.75 out of 10.

"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe is here:

"The Raven" at Heise

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