The Raven USA/Hungary/Spain 2012
Directed by James McTeigue
Playing at UK cinemas now
Warning: Beware the spoilers scratching at
the wood and masonry with their fingertips!
The Raven is the latest in a long line of many things...
Firstly, it’s the latest of about a gazillion and one* movies to be called The Raven. Hollywood studios do really seem to believe that people watching these films have blindingly short memories or, I dunno, never pick up a book or turn on the TV. That the audiences are somehow, to quote Woody Allen completely out of context (as is my right as a blogger I reckon)... “unaware of any event pre-Paul McCartney”. Except... maybe insert Lady Gaga or someone in place of McCartney. That’s the kind of people these film studio’s think are watching their movies... and if they’re right then we’re all really in trouble as a worldwide collective audience.
Secondly, this is also the latest in a long line of movies to be, or in some famous cases claiming to be, somehow inspired by the works of that literary genius Edgar Allan Poe** (a quote from the poem from which this very film takes it’s title has always been visible in the right hand column of my blog if you’ve ever scrolled down the sidebar). Edgar Allan Poe movies have been with us since the dawn of cinema but, the trouble is, the majority of his short stories aren’t really stories as such, at least not in the sense of the word as we come to use it today. They are short sketches of incidents really and so, with even the most skillful directors and writers, Poe movies tend to go off and do their own thing and make reference to the source material in a scene or two during the length of a feature... but you can’t really blame the movie makers for that, what else could they do? This one does pretty much what Dario Argento’s adaptation of The Black Cat does in Two Evil Eyes, in that it references a few Poe stories and successfully, at least to a point, manages to get away with it.
Thirdly... this is yet another movie to feature an actor portraying Poe as a main character... this has been done quite a bit more than you might imagine throughout the history of cinema and the last time I remember seeing it done was when Jeffrey Combs played him a few years back in yet another homage to The Black Cat, this time as a TV episode in the Masters Of Horror anthology series.
Okay... so this particular movie starts off in a most off-putting manner, following a brief opening sequence depicting Poe dying, as a police carriage rushes to the scene of a murder. I say it was off putting because I found myself already counting the number of seconds that each shot in this sequence was held... there can’t have been many shots in this opening that went on for more than 3 seconds tops I reckon. Fortunately the pacing settles down a little later but, it has to be said, this opening seemed to me to be very much trying to capture the same “lightning in a bottle” that the opening of Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes movie captured.
The police come in to a murder scene which has so obviously been inspired by Poe’s The Murders In The Rue Morgue that it was interminable waiting for the characters on screen to catch up with me. I believe The Murders In The Rue Morgue was the first ever detective story (please correct me if I’m wrong), the main protagonist of which was referenced in Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story, again if my memory is serving me correctly... it’s been a while since I read it either of them.
Anyway, when a second, gruesomely depicted murder (more so than even Argento’s own homage to this particular story... so can’t think why this one was unleashed on the general public in the UK as a 15 certificate, unless money changed hands), based on the swinging axe of Poe’s The Pit And The Pendulum is discovered, this leads the police into strong-arming Poe into... how does the saying go? Helping the police with their enquiries?
Soon the game is afoot and we are awash with murders, kidnapping and intrigue as Poe must write some last stories for daily publication inspired by each day’s events or lose the life of the woman who he loves, held hostage by the killer. Turns out... threat of death of a loved one can be a good motivator. Out of the bottom of a bottle of alcohol and back into the swing of producing great literature.
That’s as much as I’m saying about the plot. The pacing just about works and the film engages the eye, if not the brain, for most of the time. John Cusack as Poe is absolutely outstanding and his version of the gothic genius is empowered with a sense of energy which lends able support to the frantic journey of what is almost an action movie. However, it has to be said that there are some problems on the way... one of which is the fact that when the killer asks Poe a question near the end of the picture, Poe dismisses the question and just says “Pass”. Now I may be wrong (and again correct me if am please, as I’d like to know), but I don’t think that particular one word phrase, especially in that particular context, was around in Poe’s day now, was it? I understand the need to make it at least in some ways relevant to a young audience (it’s called keeping your eye on the money) but I think injecting a period piece with this kind of controlled (presumably, if the writers caught it) anachronism is not necessarily a good way to do it. In fact, I’m sure it’s not.
Another thing I felt about this movie was that, since it was trying to pitch itself as a kind of serial killer action fest, we could have done with a little less preamble and characterisation than what’s up there on the screen in this one and maybe jumped into the actual pursuit of the killer a little more quickly. Either that or give the movie another half an hour on the run time because, by the time they get up to pursuing the killer, the whole thing felt too short and almost like it was just a frame of a script to hang set pieces on... granted, that’s what most modern US movies are these days but, this doesn’t make this kind of “script construction” any less boring than it actually is... and it really can be boring sometimes.
And the bit that really enraged me and left me foaming at the mouth is what is literally the last minute of the movie. I don’t want to give the game away here but it felt really tagged on, cowardly in every way and like it was pandering to some stupid preview audience. It seriously made my blood boil and I’d hoped we were above needing such endings these days. Never mind... I guess it could have been worse.
That being said, The Raven is a fun little movie and is a lot better than some of the junk they’ve got playing at your local cinema at the moment. I’d personally rather be watching either of the two Boris Karloff starring movies of The Raven (from both 1935 and 1963) but this doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this little romp for what it is on its own terms. It’s an enjoyable enough ride if you want a pseudo-gothic night out at the cinema to soak up a movie with, at the very least, a nicely chilling atmosphere to it. It’s no “From Hell” but it’s definitely worth a look if you’ve got nothing else on and I’ll certainly be picking up the DVD for another watch when it hits the shelves.
* approximate number of movies only, not an exact amount but close enough. ;-)
** There’s a pretty cool book which is just about still obtainable called The Poe Cinema: A Critical Filmography of Theatrical Releases Based on the Works of Edgar Allan Poe by Don G. Smith which is worth a read if you are interested in the subject.