Shadow: Collector's Edition, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe knows what malaise lurks in the hearts of the men that watch this movie...
Formerly a ruthless opium-dealing drug lord, Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) is trained to harness his mental powers by a Tibetan holy man named Tulku and returns to New York to atone for his crimes as The Shadow. Cranston’s secret identity is in danger when he meets a telepath named Margot Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), whose father, Reinhardt (Ian McKellen), is developing a nuclear weapon for the War Department. Meanwhile, another student of Tulku named Shiwan Khan (John Lone) arrives in New York to challenge Cranston and capture Reinhardt’s weapon for an evil and destructive plan.
The Shadow was made in the delightfully confusing period following the surprise mega-hit status of Tim Burton’s Batman. Every studio wanted a comic book hit of their very own, but, for whatever reason, none of them wanted to license currently popular superheroes for big budget productions (Captain America and The Punisher got low-budget, STV treatments). Instead, they saved their cash for cult antiheroes ( Judge Dredd, The Mask, Tank Girl, The Crow), original characters that paid heavy homage to established heroes ( The Meteor Man, Darkman), and pulp heroes that predated most established comic book conterparts. The latter category produced three enjoyable, family-friendly action films that were met with varying degrees of box-office failure – Joe Johnston’s The Rocketeer (which was technically based on a modern cult comic that paid homage to established characters, I suppose), Simon Wincer’s The Phantom, and Russell Mulcahy The Shadow. All three were uniquely ‘90s movies, but The Shadow is perhaps the most indicative of the decade it was made in, because it includes a number of awkward CG effect augmentations and absolutely refuses to stick to any established tone.
The Shadow was invented by Walter B. Gibson in an era before the traditional superhero aesthetic had fully evolved (thanks in large part to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster). His power set is vaguely defined, his alignment is sort of ambiguous, and his origin story is a bit convoluted. He has all of the ingredients of a character as enduring as Batman; it just took a team like Bob Kane and Bill Finger to simplify him. The reining king of ‘90s screenwriting mediocrity, David Koepp, attempted to compact the dated complexity of the Shadow’s history into a film that would appeal to the short attention spans of mid-‘90s audiences. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), his script, though structurally sound, never succeeds on a simple story level (the one thing he usually gets right), nor does it feature enough oddball deviations to detract from its nebulous tedium ( The Phantom was a lot of things, but it was never dull). Most of Koepp’s characters fit the material and have some fun interactions, but the uncommonly great cast is constantly wasted by limited screen time (Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Peter Boyle, and Tim Curry all bring class to thankless roles) or, in Penelope Ann Miller’s case, terribly characterized (she seems to exist only because Koepp realized he should probably include a love interest).
The only thing that really holds The Shadow together is director Russell Mulcahy’s flashy, ‘80s music video sensibilities. Mulcahy is high on the list of talented directors that consistently make bad movies. After making a series of popular Duran Duran music videos, he made the outrageously hallucinogenic Australian creature feature Razorback (still his best film) and Highlander, the latter of which grew into an entire franchise of movies and a television series. His post Highlander movies, including its super strange sequel, have been minor achievements at best ( Ricochet is a fun little movie). But even his worst movies tend to have interesting visuals (and a handful of outstanding sequences. The Shadow fits the Mulcahy template, though its successes may have more to do with the efforts of its production, art, and costume designers than its director. Despite Highlander II’s bad reputation, it looks to me like it was the movie that actually got Mulcahy the Shadow job. The films share a distinct mix of cartoon coloring and noir shadows and a number of swooping crane shots through barely-disguised back-lot sets. You can also tell it’s a Mulcahy film because just about every window or mirror will burst in slow motion at some point. The Shadow is never lacking for ambition – if only it had the urgency and pacing that ambition deserved.
Shout Factory’s most recent catalogue releases, specifically those released under their Scream Factory imprint, have used pre-existing HD transfers. In many cases, this has worked out just fine, while in a few others, the recycled transfers were not the ideal fodder for special edition re-releases. For whatever reason, Shout has chosen not to use Universal’s Blu-ray transfer this time, opting instead to create their own, apparently remastered transfer. Based on the last two straight-from-Universal discs they released – Cat People and Darkman – which were over-sharpened and smoothed over with excessive DNR (especially in the case of Cat People), I assume this was a good choice. I haven’t actually seen The Shadow since I rented it on non-anamorphic DVD several years ago, so I’m not going to be able to directly compare this transfer to any already available versions (German company Koch Media also released a Blu-ray).
On its own merits, Shout’s new, 1080p, 1.78:1 (the other two HD discs were 1.85:1) transfer looks a hair soft, but otherwise filmic and relatively natural. Grain levels come and go without a lot of noticeable DNR enhancement. There are more print damage artefacts than I was expecting, but little in the way of compression noise. Details are tight throughout, though the wider-angle images are occasionally muddied and the most textured close-ups occasionally feature sharpening effects. Surprisingly, the unconvincing, early CG actually blend quite well with the 35mm material. The overall print looks a bit darker than expected, but the hard shadows lend themselves to a slightly crushed look. Mulcahy and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum (a Brian DePalma favourite) create a vibrant and stylized palette that recalls other comic book inspired films before digital grading processes, like Dick Tracy and Streets of Fire. Some scenes are practically mono or duochromatic (often blue and red), while others are more chromatically eclectic, at least for a film that strives for a distinctive period look. Dr. Lane’s lab and the Chinese restaurant where Cranston and Khan briefly do battle feature the most diverse palettes and the most impressive hue separations. Some of the richer reds are blocky when set against muted hues and the harshest edges feature slight edge haloes.
It may appear that Shout Factory once again has the advantage over previous Blu-rays because it has included both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sound options, but The Shadow was an early DTS release (it came out one year after DTS’ debut film, Jurassic Park), so the 5.1 track is original theatrical mix. The 2.0 track is seemingly an uncompressed version of the one that accompanied early home video releases. It is a typical early 5.1 mix in that it is full of directional enhancements – ricocheting bullets, expanding explosions, and flying minions – but it’s not a particularly immersive track when it comes to layers of sound. Only a brief trip through Chinatown really stands out on an ambient effects level. The dialogue is appropriately centered, aside from the supernaturally-enhanced voices, those echo and slide nicely throughout the stereo and surround channels. Vocal clarity is consistent, aside from some very obvious ADR performances. Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic East meets West musical score is another of the film’s saving graces and at times seems wall-to-wall, bellowing through action scenes and flowing under dialogue. The music could perhaps use a slight LFE bump, but there are no vital aural shortcomings.
This collector’s edition’s one major extra is Looking Back at The Shadow (23:40, HD), a slightly disappointing, retrospective featurette. It’s worth celebrating, I suppose, simply because Shout was able to get interviews with so many key players, including Mulcahy, Baldwin, Miller, production designer Joseph Nemec III, cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, and writer David Koepp. The interviews are broad in subject matter, including the character’s history, Koepp’s career, Mulcahy’s style and concepts, casting, photography/lighting, the early CG effects, and production/set design. The only other extras are the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.
The Shadow is an interesting artefact of its era, but no matter how hard I may try, I am unable to really enjoy it beyond its ambition. Clearly, mine isn’t the only opinion in this case and the film has enjoyed a fine cult reputation that earned it this collector’s edition release. Shout Factory’s new transfer looks and sounds pretty good to me, but I don’t have the benefit of being able to compare it to previous releases. I am afraid that fans might find the special features a little disappointing, though, as they boil down to only a single, 23-minute featurette, a trailer, and a photo gallery.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 25th February 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 English
Extras: Looking Back at The Shadow, Trailer, Image Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Fantasy and Film-Noir
Length: 108 minutes