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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Raven

November 1st, 2012

The Raven - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

When I first heard about The Raven, I was excited. I like Edgar Allan Poe's writing and I like John Cusack as an actor. The idea of John Cusack playing Edgar Allan Poe in a movie was enough to get me interested. Having Edgar Allan Poe trying to catch a serial killer who was using his writings as inspiration was a solid enough hook to get me excited. However, given the film's box office numbers, something clearly went wrong. Were moviegoers correct in avoiding the film? Or is it an undiscovered gem?

The Movie

After a title card tells us what really happened to Edgar Allen Poe, we watch as a group of cops are summoned to a building where a woman is heard screaming. They arrive too late to save her, or the other victim. More troublesome, whoever did this escapes, despite the fact that the only door was locked from the inside and the window nailed shut. Inspector Emmett Fields figures out how the man escaped, but only because the crime scene seems familiar to him.

We are then introduced to Edgar Allen Poe as he returns to Baltimore. He's returned for a couple reasons. Firstly, he hopes to sell a review of his to the paper to make some much needed money. He is also here to win the heart of Emily Hamilton, but her father, Colonel Hamilton, is prepared to kill Edgar to prevent that. When the paper declines to print his review, he's desperate for money. The Raven might be world-famous, but he only made $9 from it. Even in the 1840s, that's not a lot of money. He is still famous enough to perform readings of his stories, but that's not enough.

One such reading is interrupted by the police and Edgar Allen Poe is brought in for questioning. Inspector Emmett Fields has finally recognized the crime scene. It comes from The Murders in the Rue Morgue, a story by Edgar Allen Poe. At first he might be a suspect, but that seems improbable given the little evidence they have, but Poe is the only lead thus far. A second crime is committed, this time a critic, Ludwig Griswold, is killed in the same manner as the narrator in The Pit and the Pendulum was subject to. This time Edgar Allen Poe is brought in, not as a suspect, but as a consultant in the hopes he can help them catch the murderer before he strikes again. The clues left lead him to believe the next murder will take place at a costume ball, just like the one in The Masque of the Red Death. Just like the one Colonel Hamilton holds every year. In the story, it is the host who dies first. However, they learn too late that is isn't the colonel who is the target, but Emily, who is kidnapped during the commotion.

The next day a message is delivered to the police. Edgar Allen Poe is to write about the crimes and have them printed in the paper. If he does not, Emily will die. The murderer will continue to kill, but with each victim clues will be given to help find and rescue Emily. But will Edgar Allen Poe figure out the clues in time?

The Murders in the Rue Morgue is considered by many to be the first detective story. Making a detective story with Edgar Allen Poe as the protagonist seems like a great idea. So why doesn't it work? Unfortunately, and I really hate to say this, a large part of this has to do with John Cusack. The Raven is a period piece, but I didn't buy it. There's something about the way John Cusack talks and acts that takes me out of the 1840s. He's far too modern in that regard. To be fair to John Cusack, he is not the only actor in this film who feels out of place and the script is partially to blame for that. Far too often the dialogue sounded too modern as well. This would be forgivable if the central mystery was intriguing, but alas it is not. The use of Edgar Allen Poe is superficial at best. Instead of being the heart of the mystery, its mostly reduced to minor references that point to the next murder / clue. It lacks the depth needed to be intriguing. Additionally, the late action scenes are too generic to be engaging. The filmmakers take what is an incredible central idea and waste it with some of the worst execution.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD is an audio commentary track with the director, James McTeigue, and a trio of producers, Aaron-Ryder, Mark D. Evans, and Trevor Macy. The Blu-ray also has 11 minutes of deleted / extended scenes. There's a 14-minute making of featurette and 10-minute look at the real life of Edgar Allen Poe. A 2-minute promo piece is next. John Cusack joins James McTeigue for a 3-minute interview featurette. And finally, there is a five-minute featurette on the music.

The film looks good, given the stylistic choices made by the filmmakers. It is often a dark film and the color palette is limited in range, so there is not a lot of flash there. Granted, there's nothing overtly wrong with the transfer, as there are high level of details, strong contrast, no compression issues, no digital manipulation, etc., but it isn't the best example of high definition either. The audio is good with very clear dialogue, good fidelity, etc. There's good separation with nice dynamic and directional effects and the surround sound speakers are put to good use.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack does cost 40% more than the DVD, which is a bit much, even given the number of exclusive extras.

The Verdict

Wasted opportunity. That's the best way to describe The Raven. Even if you are interested in the movie, there's not enough extras on the DVD to be worth a rental. Meanwhile, calling the Blu-ray Combo Pack a rental is as enthusiastic as I'm willing to go.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Raven, John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, James McTeigue, Luke Evans, Aaron Ryder, Mark D Evans, Trevor Macy, John Warnaby