The 1994 movie largely kept the source material's plot intact – a young couple is murdered in a particularly brutal fashion, only to have one of them (Eric) brought back from death to enact vengeance. There were things added and subtracted, of course, but for the most part the film was in keeping with the story of the comic book. Plus, it had a killer soundtrack.
Earlier this week, we caught a glimpse of what Bradley Cooper's Crow would have looked like had it come to fruition. While I have no real qualms with the casting or the visual look they were going for (though IGN Australia's Stephen Lambrechts took issue with it), the larger issue at hand is if The Crow is a cinematic property worth resurrecting in the current Hollywood environment. I think the Brandon Lee Crow is a great film, but it's undeniable that the sense of tragedy surrounding Lee's death contributes to the film's appeal, especially considering its subject matter. The issue of its financial success is another matter entirely. Would it have been as successful if Lee hadn't been killed? His performance would have remained largely the same, but would it have drawn in nearly $150 million worldwide on a $15 million budget?
There's a great Entertainment Weekly article from 1994 discussing the crew gathering back together after Lee's death in order to finish the movie, and how there were many rewrites involved to shape the film around what was unable to be shot. Ultimately, it changed the final film pretty significantly. There's one quote in particular that stands out, though its speaker is unknown. They said, "In a way, the film became about something different. It became about how you deal with grief. What happens when someone you love is taken from you? How do you incorporate that into your life?"
In a sad way, it's almost as if the '94 Crow movie was only able to replicate the thematic punch of the original story because the filmmakers went through this experience; as if tragedy is a prerequisite for involvement in the property. Similarly, Lee himself had gone through the very early, tragic loss of his father, Bruce Lee, as a child, no doubt helping him identify with the role in the first place.
The Crow was followed by a set of increasingly miserable sequels (and a TV show), none able to capture the pure emotion that fueled the original comic book and movie. With Hollywood high on the idea of bringing this property back, I'm left to wonder if there's anything more devaluing to an extremely personal work of art than resurrection by reboot. That's not to say that I'm opposed to any and all reboots (read: Why the Spider-Man Reboot Will Be Amazing), but The Crow is special in its place in pop culture and art; it's a work born of tragedy to showcase something beautiful across multiple mediums.
It's unlikely that an attempt at a new film franchise would hold any of that kind of weight. There's a reason that the comic and original film are so widely loved: the emotion involved feels real and genuine. Even if the '94 film began as another Hollywood fabrication of someone else's artistic therapy, by the time it released it had become anything but.
So why is it okay for characters like Batman and Spider-Man (whose own origins have huge helpings tragedy) to be constantly reimagined and revamped for audiences while the Crow is untouchable? The Crow, as a comic book creation, is a singular vision of O'Barr. His experiences alone birthed the character. A DC or Marvel character, though their creations are attributed to one or two people, the characters' status as icons comes courtesy of multiple generations of creators that have added to the stories over time. While the Crow, at a base level, is a superhero (coming in at #37 on IGN's Top 100 Comic Book Heroes, in fact), it's O'Barr's connection to the character that makes it a unique vision, personalized to a level that few "corporate" heroes can match.
As characters, Batman, Spider-Man and the rest have undergone various retellings and updates since their inception. It's the nature of superhero comics. Superheroes themselves are little more than modern updates of classic myths and legends. But with something that consists of such an intense personal connection to the subject matter, there are few that can successfully replicate it to a degree that rings true to the source material.
Of course I could be proven wrong in the end. I just hope it doesn't take another miserable tragedy to make the next iteration of this character something worthwhile. If there was ever a character that should be left standing exactly as he is in this world of increasingly regurgitated content, it's the Crow.
Source: IGN Hero Worship