Monday, December 17, 2012

The Cinema File #64: "The Raven" Review

I think I'm too good to use "Nevermore" as a pithy one word review for this movie about Edgar Allen Poe fighting crime, but the lazy hack in me is very tempted.

This sounds weird, but my first exposure to Edgar Allen Poe as a small child was actually an episode of the Beetlejuice cartoon show. I don't remember much about it now, but if I remember correctly, an evil Masque of the Red Death torments Beetlejuice and sends various Poe-related monsters after him, including I believe the orangutan from Murders In The Rue Morgue (perhaps also influencing my love of supernatural monkeys). Eventually I was inspired to actually read Poe, and I've been a fan ever since. I can't say that I am offended by the lame blandness of The Raven from the standpoint of being a fan, certainly not to the same extent that I was offended by A Christmas Story 2 being a fan of the original film in that series, but I can definitely say that I am more than a bit miffed just as a committed fan of entertaining cinema.

The Raven follows Poe at the end of his life, just before his mysterious death alluded to in a pre-movie text crawl, a broken-down drunk at the end of his rope who finds himself first a suspect, than a consultant for the police as they attempt to track down a killer who is using Poe's stories as inspiration for his crimes. I love the hell out of that premise, and more than a few close friends mentioned when this movie came out that it sounded like something I would come up with. I wish I had, because as arrogant as it sounds, I could have easily made something better out of it. Anyone with a basic understanding of or and appreciation for the canon of Edgar Allen Poe could have done better than this. The filmmakers seem to just barely have the former, but lack the latter, and the potential wasted in this movie as a result makes it come off as much worse than it otherwise would be.

The opening scene detailing the discovery of two murdered women in a situation reminiscent of Murders In The Rue Morgue, stuffed in a chimney and nearly beheaded, is legitimately stylish and gripping and holds the promise of an exciting crime thriller with an intriguing literary backdrop, but that promise is almost instantly broken, and it all goes down hill from there. They spend so little time on the story-inspired deaths before spiralling out into this too long and convoluted cat and mouse game that when they slip right into The Pit And The Pendulum, I only have just enough time to note that they forgot the Pit before its over and we're onto the next thing. Admittedly, seeing something like that actually played out, with the blade doing its gruesome job, is kind of cool to watch, but by this point, I'm already left wanting more, and I never get it.

John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe was not as bad as others who have seen this movie had told me. I wouldn't go so far as to say he was entirely miscast, even if I can think of at least a few better alternatives, and I have to say that by the end, his performance was probably the one thing that actually grew on me. Everyone else, especially the chief inspector who becomes his close confidant, is wooden to a person, which perhaps makes Cusack's role more engaging by comparison. And don't get me started on that sham of an ending. The movie sets up a mystery as though one would be able to follow along with it and maybe guess the identity of the killer, but there are no clues that make any sense until the final one that just preceeds the ultimate reveal, which is just some guy who has like two lines in the entire movie up to this point. I didn't even realize who he was or what he did until he flat out said it during his villain speech, which given the lack of adequate set up almost seems like a parody of this kind of scene in crime movies. I almost thought the moment might have been redeemed as it seemed like Poe was about to launch into a tirade about the killer's plagerism of his work, even as a life hangs in the balance, but that would have been too clever for this movie.

I wish they would have focused more on the supernatural element of Poe's work rather than the raticionation aspect, making it a story of a man inspired to write about ghosts and such from his real life experience. Just making it a murder mystery without the mystery seems like a missed opportunity. If you're going to do revisionist history anyway, you might as well go for broke as far as I'm concerned. This movie is nothing but missed opportunity. As the credits rolled, I found myself imagining all the ways it could have been better. I ultimately got to a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen style historical romp where a group of authors with powers inspired by their work team up to stop some great evil, with a Time Traveling H.G. Wells, A Steampunk Jules Verne, A Ghost Hunting Poe, A Dimension Hopping Demonologist HP Lovecraft, and an eccentric detective Sir Arthur Conan Doyle going up against Evil Ninja Bronte Sisters.

Okay, that would probably suck, but it still would have been better than The Raven. And A Christmas Story 2. Fuck that movie was awful.

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