Although it followed Tim Burton’s “Batman,” Alex Proyas’ “The Crow” was perhaps the most instrumental film in a new era of comic adaptations — at least ones that took their source material seriously. At the time of its release, creator James O’Barr endorsed Proyas’ version of his anti-hero, and the film went on to become a modest hit, scoring $144 million in ticket sales as well as one ill-fated theatrical release sequel and a pair of straight-to-video outings. But O’Barr isn’t a fan of those sequels, none of which left strong impressions on viewers, which is perhaps why it came as a surprise that he unexpectedly announced his support for a new version of “The Crow” to be directed by Javier Gutierrez (“Before The Fall”).
Speaking to the duo at Comic-Con International in San Diego, their collaboration seems personal and intimate, born of mutual respect and confidence rather than the tenuous link of financial recompense. Comic Book Resources spoke with O’Barr and Gutierrez about the upcoming film, which thus far has only one actor cast: Luke Evans as the eponymous anti-hero. In addition to discussing what makes Evans the right choice for the role, Gutierrez revealed how his take differs from previous adaptations, while O’Barr candidly looked back at the character’s cinematic legacy, and offered a few clues as to what might make this film as memorable — and impactful — as the iconic source material.
CBR News: Javier, what was the approach that you wanted to take with this project, and what maybe distinguished it from previous ideas?
Javier Gutierrez: When I entered, I wanted to start from scratch. I saw the material that was developed, but we decided to take another direction and start from scratch — and actually go to the original source too, to investigate what was there.
James O’Barr: To go back to the source material.
Gutierrez: That’s basically the main direction that we are taking, actually — we are going back to the source material. Of course there’s going to be some changes, adding some background and some stories as subplots to the movie. But I think I think the fans are going to find there are a lot of pieces of this movie that they’re going to love, because they come from the original comic book series.
O’Barr: It’s more of an expanded version of the graphic novel. From what we’ve talked about, not necessarily any thematic changes, but just exploring the relationships on a deeper level.
James, you only recently announced your support of this project. Why were you apprehensive about a new take on “The Crow” and how does Javier’s approach to the material address those concerns?
O’Barr: Well, after the first film with Brandon, I felt the story was done. Other than greed, there was no point in making sequels if you had nothing new to add to it. And so I just distanced myself from the whole thing; I pretty much would just say, “Do whatever you want and send me the check. I don’t care, I don’t want to watch them, I’m not going to be involved.” A great deal of that was my loyalty to Brandon and Alex Proyas as well. I think Javier came out to see me in Dallas, and I think the very first thing I did say to him was, “You know, I loved Brandon like a little brother, and I never would do anything that feels like a betrayal to him.” I spent about an hour trying to talk him out of it, explaining that all of the directors of the sequels, and the main actors for the most part, have never worked in film in America again — for a very good reason. They — in essence — did betray the source material and tried to turn it into a Star Trek or James Bond franchise, and it just wasn’t built for that. A Ford Escort is not built for racing, and what they were trying to do was just wrong and inappropriate. Javier explained that his idea was to go back to the original book and be as faithful as possible, as faithful as possible as you can be when translating one medium to another. I understand that a 230-page graphic novel lasts about 70 minutes on the screen, so you need to expand some characters’ relationships; not necessarily introducing any new plot devices, but just add more layers to the characters’ emotional lives.
Coming from the success of Proyas’ adaptation, do you feel emboldened or more pressured in conceiving a new “Crow” film that’s equal to the original?
O’Barr: I have no fear or trepidation. I think given the proper resources, we can make an absolutely stunning film. “The Crow” — and hopefully this doesn’t sound arrogant to any degree — kind of invented a whole new genre, kind of the dark anti-hero, and it was I think probably the first comic-related film that took the source material seriously. There was nothing satirical or parodic about it, and I think this is the opportunity [because] we’re not calling it a remake or reboot — it’s a re-vision. We’re going back to the source material, and the analogy I’ve been using is — okay, you have Tod Browning’s Lugosi “Dracula,” and you have Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula,” plus all of the Hammer films — and they’re all based on the same source material but they’re all completely different films. Every single one of them is valid, they’re just a different vision — so we’ve taken to calling this a re-vision of the graphic novel. In my mind there’s no fear or trepidation about competing with the first “Crow” film; that’s something separate entirely. I think that film is a classic, and the fact that it’s still so influential 20 years later, it stands alone. In essence, there’s no point in remaking that. The point being that we can show things in a different light and add our artistic flourishes to it, that for various reasons either weren’t in the first film, or budgetary constraints wouldn’t allow them to do it.
Gutierrez: Basically, that’s the thing — it’s a new take on the original comic book. That’s the thing that encouraged me. I mean, I liked the first movie and I understand all of the fans and I respect it very much, but the thing we are doing is taking the comic book and trying to do a new take, a new version, and at the same time trying to get all of the heart and the emotions that are in that comic book when you see the drawings and the strength in the strokes. It’s that passion and that darkness, that suffering, that love — that’s the kind of thing that attracted me to this movie. I never thought of it like a remake or something like that, I just thought of it as having a lot of poetry and darkness and beauty, and that I had a chance to do something fun, artistic and original, and take the amazing things that are in the comic book that no one has seen. Because there are a lot of people who don’t remember the comic book — they just stick with the movie, and they didn’t take the time to go and see some of the pages. And they are amazing. There are a lot of amazing things there that we’re going to be able to do in this movie. Of course we’re going to have some new elements for this take because we need to — like James said, we have two hours and we have to give some background to the characters, and some story mechanics to make it a little bit more substantial. But the beauty and thing that really excites me is that we’re going to be so truthful to the heart of this story, and we’re going to have some really beautiful moments that were there that a lot of people didn’t know, and they’re going to be very unusual for a movie. And that’s the beauty and the poetry of the work of James — and it’s going to be there.
Luke Evans is a terrific actor, but what do you think he brings to the role of Eric Draven, particularly because Brandon Lee gave it so much gravitas?
Gutierrez: I think Luke brings a lot of personality to the character. When I thought about the cast, it was really, really hard because it’s a really complex character who has a dark side, a violent side, tender —
O’Barr: Merciless. He’s not a hero in any sense of the word.
Gutierrez: At the same time he has a real heart — he does everything moved by love.
O’Barr: Love justifies everything in the end.
Gutierrez: To show that heart, we needed an actor who could come being able to portray those abilities and to show soul in his eyes — and at the same time, to have a strong character, and to be able to handle this character that is really, really complex. That is why it has been forever — we have been doing research and talking with a lot of actors, until we found Luke, who I actually loved since we talked about the character. We’re waiting until he finishes his commitment with Dracula, where I guess we’ll see his dark side, and after that we’ll kill with this one. I’m very excited about having him — I think he’s a very talented actor. I think all of the fans are lucky to have such a great talent in the lead role — because that was a challenge.
O’Barr: Javier showed me in confidence a lot of the people they had spoken to about the role, right down to, I don’t know if you guys photoshopped make-up on them, or some of the actors actually did it themselves, and for the most part they were laughable if not hysterical. He was showing me on his smartphone, and when he flipped to Luke, I didn’t even know who Luke Evans was. In retrospect, I’d seen a lot of his movies, but he was always a secondary-tier character. He didn’t have a lead role. But instantly when I saw him, I said, this is the guy right here. Because there’s a real subtle tragedy that’s etched in his faced — you can see it in his eyes, there’s a sadness in there. He looks tremendous in the make-up. Rather than hide that tragedy, it really emphasizes it. It doubles it.
Gutierrez: The make-up was key for Luke.
O’Barr: And once I did some research on him and realized I’d seen all of these films he was in, I realized, okay, he looks great — and he can actually act. He’s not just a pretty boy to try and draw in the “Twilight” crowd; he can actually act.
What do you think is the most important aspect for you to pull off successfully in order to make the film as good as it can be?
O’Barr: Personally, I think representing the Eric and Shelly relationship is the key factor in making this film work. The actress hasn’t been cast yet, but in my mind, Luke has the easy part; the actress who plays Shelly has the most difficult part, because she will have, perhaps, 20 minutes on screen to make the audience fall in love with her, because everything hinges on that relationship. If they don’t have the right charisma, if she doesn’t have a smile that turns your knees to Jell-o, it will lose all of its authenticity; all of the justification for the violence that follows will be lost. So I think the key role is Shelly, even though, I don’t want to say it’s a secondary role, but it’s not the lead role.
Gutierrez: Obviously, I agree — as I said, this is a love story overall. It’s a very dark love story, but the thing we want is to take care of that core of the movie, the love story.
O’Barr: There’s an innocence and a purity to their romance that once she is killed, it flips it over to the b-side where Eric’s fury just turns brutal and merciless. But like I said, all of that hinges on the audience falling in love with Shelly. So if we can find the right actress —
Gutierrez: Yeah, we’re working on that. [Laughs]